My son is co-captain of the junior varsity soccer team at his high school, and yesterday the team concluded their second consecutive undefeated season. Right after the game, the coach gathered the team together; he invited the co-captains to address the team.
I asked Matt what he told his teammates.
"Sports are how you quantify effort."
Matt explained to me that it's easy to say you are working hard and trying your best, but the record shows whether or not this is true. He said, "Our record - this year and last - is what shows how hard we worked."
This was one of those moments when a son educates his father.
You see, I sometimes worry that sports instills the lesson that life is a zero-sum game in which someone wins and everybody else loses. This mindset doesn't work on a planet with limited resources and a growing population; if just a few win, eventually we all will lose.
But Matt made me see another perspective. Sports does give us a way to self-evaluate. If you think you're working as hard as humanly possible and the other side beats you 5-0, there are two possibilities:
1.) They're way more talented than your team
2.) They work much harder
In most cases, the correct answer is #2. After a few decades of standing on the sidelines watching kids compete, I know victory generally goes to the team that takes practice most seriously and that shows up on game day willing to out-hustle the other side.
Why is this important? Because effort is the secret sauce behind two essential elements that drive career - and life - success.
First, according to Carol Dweck, author of Mindset, people with a growth mindset do best in life because this mindset causes them to invest effort in expanding their abilities.
Second, grit is simply putting sustained effort behind a long-term goal, and grit is what produces results.
Get it? Effort underlies success. It is what enables you to meet your goals.
And just to complete the picture, sports gives you feedback on the level of effort you are investing. This is true whether you are simply racing the clock on a solitary run or competing in a neighborhood league.
You can make a habit out of investing effort, or you can make a habit out of going through the motions.
As I watched Matt's team hustle to preserve their winning streak, the team had a number of games in which they were down. Each time, they came back. Effort wasn't just a word; it was the driving force behind a season they will all remember.
More effort is almost always a good thing. Try it, and see for yourself.