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Originally published Feb. 2, 2016

For most, the first sports that come to mind are team oriented like basketball, baseball and football. Although they may not be the first ones you think of, there are plenty of awesome sports where athletes compete individually: gymnastics, track and field, diving, golf, and swimming, just to name a few. I’m a strong believer that sports teach you important life lessons you won’t find in a classroom, and some of the best ones come from competing on your own.

  1. Confidence When it comes to competing individually, all eyes are on you. You have to become comfortable with putting yourself out there, in many cases to be judged. That can be a lot of pressure. Whether it’s a meet, race, or match, the outcome depends on you and your training. You have to learn to believe in yourself before anyone else can, thats what makes a strong competitor.
  2. Positive Thinking It's amazing the difference that believing in yourself can make. In sports, like in life, if you go into something thinking about how terrible it's going to be or how many mistakes you could make, there's a good chance things might end poorly. But, If you go into something with positive outcomes in mind you'll find things go your way more often, and it will be a lot more enjoyable. When training individually, positive thinking has to become a huge part of your mindset.
  3. How To Lose In a sport where there are only two teams your chance of winning is fifty-fifty, more or less. In an individual sport your odds are more like one in thirty, sometimes more. You’re not always going to win. You have to accept that winning isn't always everything, and find achievement in beating personal bests and reaching goals. Focusing on making yourself better now will lead to future success, something you can take away from any loss.
  4. How To Fail Not only do you learn how to lose, but how to fail. In an individual sport you're going to fail, a lot. There are going to be goals you won't reach when you want to, or at all. You're going to have mental blocks, and fall on your face hundreds of times. But moving past all that is how you grow, and finally achieving something outweighs all the frustration that went into it. That's what makes it worth it in the end.
  5. How To Push Yourself In an individual sport you have to set your own goals and work towards them if you want to improve. When you fail, it's up to you to very literally pick yourself up off the ground and try again, and again, and again. You have to learn to ignore the voice in your head telling you 'stop' and 'can't'. The only person standing in between you and success, is you. You have to learn to work through that.
  6. How To Be Kind To Yourself Between failing and losing it's almost second nature to beat yourself up. Knowing when to push yourself is just as important as knowing when its time to step back, and realize that it's okay to not be perfect all the time. An individual sport teaches you to appreciate everything you've already achieved, even if you're not quite where you want to be yet.
  7. How To Support Others Even if you're competing by yourself, in most scenarios there are people you train with, athletes at all different levels of accomplishment. Realizing that everyone is going through the same thing mentally no mater where their skill level is, and supporting them through hard times, as well as congratulating their accomplishments, is a huge part of being an individual athlete.
  8. Responsibility When training individually there's no one to hold you accountable for skipping sets and practices and you can only cheat yourself from getting better. You have to take the initiative. Further, when you make mistakes, you have to recognize them in order to make corrections and improve. It can be hard to admit that you're doing something wrong, especially if it has become a habit. But, taking responsibility for your actions is a big part of improving in any sport, as well as growing up.
  9. Dedication To be a high level athlete in any sport takes hours of practice and competition alone, not to mention the time spent mentally preparing or reflecting off the field. Dedication means you have to make sacrifices, often social sacrifices. But it teaches you to decide what your priorities are, and work to achieve the things you want.
  10. What It's Like To Love What You Do I've never met an elite athlete who isn't obsessed with the life they're living. It takes a lot of heart to put absolutely everything you have into a sport. Not every practice is going to be fantastic, and there are going to be days you're frustrated, exhausted, and beaten down. But there's something intoxicating about waking up before sunrise, pushing yourself to the limit, and absolutely loving what you do.

They may not be the most popular sports to watch, but we love them for making us the people we are.

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