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  • Writer's pictureCord Thomas

Values & Sports

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

The line between Values and Sports at first glance may not seem direct or possibly even correlated but that’s far from where reality lies.

Values & Sports Coaching

Values are present throughout the sports sphere and there are no goals that don’t have a larger, more meaningful value behind them. John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball head coach carried around a card in his pocket that his father gave him named 7 suggestions to follow that read:

- Be true to yourself.

- Help others.

- Make each day your masterpiece.

- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Good Book.

- Make friendship a fine art.

- Build a shelter for a rainy day.

- Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings each day.

If I were to translate these 7 points into one-word values I might choose: Authenticity, Generosity, Persistence, Self-development, Connection, Safety, Spirituality and Gratitude. This already can give us a basic idea of how values and sports are extremely interconnected. Throughout this article the meaning of values will be discussed, along with the more obvious connection between martial arts and values, and how that connection expands to all sports.

Russ Harris in The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living says this on values: “Values describe what you want to do, and how you want to do it – how you want to behave toward your friends, your family, your neighbors, your body, your environment, your work, etc.”

Values are the basis for acting in a way that aligns with our moral standards and our goals for ourselves. Goals however do not necessarily need to be values. What does this mean? One may have a goal of losing 5 kilos (10 pounds) or winning an upcoming tournament. Neither of these examples are values. The values that lie behind these goals may be fitness: Looking after one’s physical and mental health. Skillfulness: To continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully when using them. Or even challenge: To keep challenging myself to grow, learn, improve, etc. These are all examples of values. The underlying word for the thing that the individual is truly striving for.

Understanding these values gives us much better insight into what it is we truly want. With the statement: I want to win the upcoming tournament, one may ask: Why do you want to win? What is it that drives you to win? And these questions often times, especially in sports come with the answer of: I want to be the best or I need to win to make everyone proud of me. This is great but the unfortunate reality is that these types of events are stressful enough in and of themselves and by adding more pressure, the likelihood is rather that one fails rather than succeeds.

By connecting with a value such as: I want to win this upcoming tournament to further challenge myself and show how my skills have grown. We see the sportsman or woman take a completely different approach to the whole situation. No longer does the tournament represent a mountain that they have to reach the top of to become successful, but rather a single, small point on the path to reaching some of their values in being skillful and to continue challenging themselves.

At the end of this article a list of 30 values have been added that I personally felt are most closely related to sports. Please read through those now, as they will help in understanding what a value is, and how they are represented. With every value one notices the main word, and a description that more closely brings a person to understand what that value means. These definitions are equally important as the main words since they fill in meaning that possibly the original word may not carry for us personally.

At this point one may ask: This article is about sports and values, but how does mental coaching play a role in this? When it comes to mental coaching, a coach most often towards the end of the first session with the client starts looking for the client to set a goal, or a few goals. These tend to be small steps towards a larger goal. If the goal again is to lose five kilos, the client may set a goal as try going to the gym once during the week. While this is good, the coach should always be trying to dig deeper with the client. Looking past the goal of losing five kilos, and rather towards what the value is behind that goal.

Does the client feel they’re unhealthy? So, the value is self-care. Possibly they are ashamed of their bodies, so the value may be courage or confidence. It’s also possible that someone is very engaged and looking for self-betterment, so the value may be challenge. All of these values behind the goal are not only important, but necessary for the coach and the client to understand. This ensures that once the goal is reached the deeper meaning behind that goal is not lost. Also, it helps to lead the client in the right direction once that goal of losing five kilos has been achieved and they’re asking themselves what now?

My personal background is in Tae Kwon Do and personally it seems that the most obvious connection between sports and values can be found in martial arts. It was my first-degree black belt evaluation test when an extremely strong and lasting event was etched into my mind. My master had his mother there and showed us how he bowed to his parents growing up. Every morning when waking up and every evening before going to bed he would do this special bow. He would first bow standing up, then bow on his knees, then bow by placing his head on the floor. In this moment once again he showed his great respect to his mother. This a man who had achieved multiple world championships and the first Olympic gold medalist in Tae Kwon Do, and he was on his hands and knees placing his head on the floor out of respect to his mother.

We were then asked to make the same gesture to our masters and their parents out of respect for what they had done in our lives. With Master Kim Je Kyoung there never existed any line between sports and values. There were values above all, and sports are a gift. Sports are just a path in which those values can be expressed. Some of the main values that were prevalent throughout my training were: Respect for myself, others, and the equipment being used. Diligence, meaning being on time, and doing things fully, not taking breaks when no one is looking. Perseverance, knowing when the brain has decided it’s enough, but the body can endure more, as well as knowing that hard training every day is what will make a champion. Gratitude, often being reminded in meditation of those to be thankful to for making it possible to attend these classes and spend the time improving ourselves.

Lastly as there are still many more values that could be mentioned, self-control and responsibility. As someone who has the skills and knowledge to seriously injure someone, one needs to not only know how and when to control their strength, but also how to control situations and avoid using that knowledge and skill in real life with everything possible. These are just some of the foundational values that I personally was taught through Tae Kwon Do but doesn’t even get close to scratching the surface. The great thing about martial arts is that the given martial art is tied closely to the traditions and culture of where that martial art came about. This gives an individual the opportunity to experience and learn not only the culture of a different part of the world, but also a culture that comes from the past where traditional elements of respect and duty were still prevalent throughout the world.

When it comes to martial arts, values, and how those values affect the mental processes of a student, the changes are quick to see to any bystander. Due to the respect ingrained throughout most martial arts, the student almost immediately becomes respectful and thoughtful in their daily lives as well. They may add to this confidence as their skills improve and others start to look up to them, while again they must show respect to those that are more beginner or lacking than themselves. In all areas of life, the student starts to understand that for success long-term hard work must be put in to achieve results.

On the sports side, the student as they gain confidence and the skill set, start to teach others, will gain a whole new perspective on leadership. With the values of gratitude and self-control one stays humble, therefore with their success comes an even greater gratitude to those that have supported them over their journey. Rather than lift themselves up as the ones who have accomplished it all by themselves, they give praise to those people who have supported and loved them. Over time also diligent meditation and training turns into high levels of being focused and relaxed at the same time while having trust in oneself and abilities. In this paragraph I have focused on the positive effect that values have on a martial artist. This of course does not cover the negative effects that any martial art may have.

So martial arts are value based, great, what does that have to do with other sports? Martial arts are a great example, and for a writer on this topic an easy target as it is a more bite-sized task to illustrate the connection between the deliberate physical growth with the mental and spiritual. Western sports tend to in a more traditional sense ignore the mental and spiritual side of training. Even though this may be true, any top athlete anywhere in the world will confirm that it is the mental work that takes them above and beyond in their sport. That there are more physically talented players than them, there may be more naturally gifted players than them, but when they are asked about their main values, they believe that no one can compete be that in perseverance, diligence, self-control, courage, power, self-awareness, challenge, flexibility, or any of the hundreds of other values out there. When there are a few values that an athlete excels in, they are guaranteed to be a step ahead of those that focus only on the physical side of things.

Kevin Garnett a future hall of fame basketball player said in an interview: “I want to be known as the best teammate ever.” Apolo Ohno one of the greatest speed skaters said: “It is not up to me whether I win or lose. Ultimately, this might not be my day. And it is that philosophy towards sports, something that I really truly live by. I am emotional. I want to win. I am hungry. I am a competitor. I have that fire. But deep down, I truly enjoy the art of competing so much more than the result.“ It is the driver of a value that creates great athletes, not the drive or the pressure of the big stage. Once an athlete grasps the idea that their legacy, or the values they represent are much more important than winning in and of itself, they are able to gain distance from their thoughts in those high-pressure situations.

They can go into competitions relaxed as they know their goal doesn’t end at this tournament, that all the hard work they put in is shattered due to the result of one event. These athletes can recognize that each event, each tournament, is something that moves them closer, that helps them represent their values that are most important to them. In this idea of creating distance from the individual, there’s also the value of contribution. By competing in a sport, no matter the level, I as an individual am contributing myself and my hard work to that sport. Just with this simple realization an athlete can go from a thought of ‘I have to win this for myself to prove that I’m the best’, to ‘I want to do my best no matter the result to show respect and contribute to the sport I love and am skilled at.’

In conclusion, a value is something that is larger, deeper and more meaningful than a goal. In sports the results of finding values that one wants to represent over trying to set the highest goals for themselves and having the possibility of not attaining those goals, is priceless. Releasing the athlete from stress, gaining relaxation, attaining supreme focus and flow, and achieving top mental and physical performance, these are all things that being motivated by a value can help achieve. Be it in martial arts where the values come before the actions and are built into the culture and spirit of the sport, or in western sports where values need to be learned, there is no better way to understand the path that one is on in the sport. Each of us can find the values we choose to represent in daily life, in chosen situations, and have this help shape our identity. It is the choice to live by those values that will drive us towards success.

List of Values:

Acceptance: To be open to and accepting of myself, others, life, etc.

Adventure: To be adventurous; to actively seek, create, or explore novel or stimulating experiences.

Assertiveness: To respectfully stand up for my rights and request what I want.

Authenticity: To be authentic, genuine, real; to be true to myself.

Caring: To be caring towards myself, others, the environment, etc.

Challenge: To keep challenging myself to grow, learn, improve, etc.

Connection: To engage fully in whatever I am doing and be fully present with others.

Courage: To be courageous or brave; to persist in the face of fear, threat or difficulty.

Cooperation: To be cooperative and collaborative with others.

Encouragement: To encourage and reward behavior that I value in myself and others.

Excitement: To seek, create, and engage in activities that are exciting, stimulating or thrilling.

Fitness: To maintain or improve my fitness; to look after my physical and mental health and well-being.

Flexibility: To adjust and adapt readily to changing circumstances.

Fun: To be fun-loving; to seek, create, and engage in fun-filled activities.

Gratitude: To be grateful for and appreciative of the positive aspects of myself, others, and life.

Honesty: To be honest, truthful, and sincere with myself and others.

Humility: To be humble or modest; to let my achievements speak for themselves.

Persistence: To continue resolutely, despite problems or difficulties.

Pleasure: To create and give pleasure to myself or others.

Power: To strongly influence or wield authority over others, i.e. taking charge, leading, organizing.

Respect: To be respectful towards myself or others; to be polite, considerate and show positive regard.

Responsibility: To be responsible and accountable for my actions.

Safety: To secure, protect, or ensure safety of myself or others.

Self-awareness: To be aware of my own thoughts, feelings, and actions.

Self-care: To look after my health and well-being, and get my needs met.

Self-control: To act in accordance with my own ideals.

Self-development: To keep growing, advancing or improving in knowledge, skills, character, or life experience.

Skillfulness: To continually practice and improve my skills and apply myself fully when using them.

Supportiveness: To be supportive, helpful, encouraging, and available to myself or others.

Trust: To be trustworthy; to be loyal, faithful, sincere and reliable.



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2. Golliver, Ben, Rob Mahoney, and Lee Jenkins. "Class In Session: NBA's next Stars Get Schooled." October 25, 2015. Accessed June 05, 2019.

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