Aristotle defines virtue as a habit, the continuous and deliberate choice to be excellent in a thing. If you make good choices consistently, eventually you will naturally make good choices most of the time. This ‘habit’ of good choices makes you a virtuous person.
A brief and generalized summary of a large Aristotlian tenet, surely, but the question that remains is what this looks like in practice.
How do you learn to be the type of person that is poised to habitually make good choices that eventually lead to virtue? What things teach that skill?
One answer is sports. Look around you. Most everyone has played a sport in some capacity at some point in their lives. Be it 5 year old t-ball or 22 year old collegiate cross country, most people have had an experience in athletic competition. It is an approachable avenue to access this virtue-making skill set that characterizes the habit of good choices.
Sports teach you how to face adversity, push your body physically, overcome challenges, deal with defeat, celebrate appropriately, commit to a cause, and refuse to quit.
While these skills may seem to narrowly fit into the world of sports, they are useful life lessons.
For example, there’s a Chris Young country song with the lyrics “My dad said quit that team and you’ll be a quitter for the rest of your life”. This phrase encapsulates the general feeling people have about sports – they teach you things about real life.
When you learn to push your body to its physical limits, you learn how to keep going during a hard work week. You learn how to tell your body “No, we’re not done yet. You can do this”
When you learn to push through a season that you don’t want to finish, you learn to stay committed to promises. You learn to push down laziness, exhaustion, and fear and say “I said I would do this, so I’m going to do it.”
When you learn to juggle school along with athletics, you learn how to be careful with your time. You learn how to prioritize, organize, and execute effectively, and to say “If I hit the snooze again, I won’t have time to make breakfast before work”.
When you learn to be gentle with your body during an injury, you learn to give yourself space when you need it. You learn how to admit “This is too much for me right now. I need help.”
There are numerous other examples; however, the point remains the same. Real life lessons and skills are taught in sports.
The hard part about forming habits is that it takes a while to see the results. They take time to develop. The nice part about sports is that you get to see the results of habits much more quickly.
It’s entirely possible to beat a personal record within one season; in fact, it’s expected. To be able to see the results of your decisions in a concrete way is extremely helpful. If you train hard, you will see results.
This is an important aspect to developing confidence in yourself that you can do hard things, make good decisions, and concrete, observable results will happen.
When attempting to cultivate virtuous habits in your life outside of sports, it’s key to know that you can do it, have already done it, and absolutely can continue to do it.
Consider what sports have taught you about your ability to form and maintain good habits. These skills don’t desert you simply because you’ve hung up your jersey and department from the field for the last time.