What Being an Athlete Taught Me about Grit


What Being an Athlete Taught Me about GritThese two words—keep going—are the essence of grit. Because everyone can benefit by continuing to learn grit, I want to share with you what being an athlete taught me about this important trait and share three of your inspiring “keep going” stories.

What I Learned About Grit through Sports

My sport was tennis, and my go-to weapon was my serve. Until I lost it, that is.

I would wind up, and my arm got so tight on my backswing that I could barely pull up and over to hit the ball. Instead of a fierce cannon, I had a weak dribble into the net. It’s like a baseball hitter in a slump or a golfer with the yips—horrible, helpless and mortified.

I began telling myself as I served, “Don’t miss it” and “Don’t double fault.” This only made the struggle build on itself. It was so bad I even went to a beginner’s underhanded serve just to get the ball in play.

Here’s how I learned grit: I realized that my messaging was toxic, and I had been practicing the bad habits that would never help bring my serve back. I had to tell myself a new story.

My practice regimen changed 180 degrees, focusing on my serve and a new role playing in my mind. I pretended to be n a pressure situation such as serving 5-all in the third set of an important match, and I practiced executing successfully in those scenarios. When I could finally start producing in practice, I was ready to go back to competitive matches, with a new belief in my abilities.

By keeping going, I overcame toxic thinking and adopted a new mindset. By picking myself back up, I inspired my teammates. They voted me captain my final two years in college. Even though I played the fourth or fifth position (out of six) in singles, and No. 1 in doubles, I was far from the best player on the team.

Grit opened me up to a greater lesson: We can lead from everywhere, not just the top. And that was a super important help for me in business.

How Grit Learned from Sports Helped Me in Business

As competitive as college tennis was, it was nothing compared to being a sports agent. There are far more agents than there are pro athletes and coaches who need this help. Against those odds, you need all the grit you can muster. There are many hard things that must be tackled systematically or you will fail.

Being around top athletes and coaches, I saw how grit meant everything to their success, too. No one gets to that level, much less stays there, through luck. There are many athletes and coaches with deep talent, but none win all the time. Even great athletes get cut and awesome coaches get fired. Teams that look unbeatable on paper don’t always deliver under pressure.

The difference maker is grit. It is demonstrated when failure and setbacks happen by this powerful choice: They keep going. From tennis, I had begun exercising that same mental muscle, and by choosing to keep going after defeats in business, I developed grit in my professional life.

Without grit, I doubt I would have succeeded in sports representation and I surely would not have left that world to establish my own business as a keynote speaker and author to connect, inspire and lead with creative courage and optimism.

Your Inspiring Stories

From the hundreds of comments about my letter to every girl who plays sports, here are three great stories that illuminate how sports can be so powerful for teaching grit to our children, especially our daughters.

1. “My husband and I spent about 14 years on the sidelines watching our daughter Molly play soccer. Even though she’s hung up her cleats, it’s great to see her leverage the skills and lessons skills she learned on the field. She landed a job at her dream company right out of college by not giving up—once a defender, always a defender—and because as you say, she kept going.” – Maggie from Portland

2. “I really enjoyed your inspiring message, as I can relate having played college basketball and multiple sports from an early age through high school. I am grateful to be able to pass on those experiences and the character lessons to my three children as well as those young students I taught and athletes my husband and I coached. The coaches, teachers, and volunteers that made such a difference in my life inspired me to pay it forward. I went into teaching, volunteer coaching and eventually administration to ensure that these life lessons permeate not only the field or the court, but also the classroom and school culture. We must strive to motivate our students, so they may find a passion to pursue, grounded with strong core values, and the perseverance to succeed despite wins and losses. [We] role model for girls (and boys) that these goals may be theirs… if they just keep going!” Martha from Miami

3. “I am a mom of three girls who all played sports, one at the collegiate level. They are only in their 20s and are in management positions in male dominant industries (aviation, oil and gas, and finance) because ‘the courage, strength and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls need to become the confident leaders of tomorrow.’ Love it.” – Sherri from Dallas

Your Game Changer Takeaway

What we and our children learn through sports competition can help us push through the unexpected roadblocks to our goals in life. Keep going. Never stop. Remember there will be times when you must keep your goals in front of you even though there are so many obstacles in your way. You are not alone! Let’s keep going with this conversation about grit. I want to hear your story and advice to others.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach business people the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.