Picture this: a competitor in fierce pursuit of a goal, pulling off incredible physical and mental feats, and letting out a huge roar after a win.
Can you guess who this is?
If you answered, “An athlete,” you’re absolutely correct.
If, for some reason, you said, “A writer”… you are right as well!
Let’s face it: when we visualize writers, we don’t exactly think of impressive physical specimens like Dwayne Johnson or Serena Williams. Though some of us (especially me) could probably use a protein shake or two, we have every right to feel like a Grand Slam Champion.
Why? Because writers, in essence, are athletes.
I have been a sports fan since childhood, with basketball holding a special place in my heart. (I’m from the Philippines, you see.) After devouring so much sports content over the years, I can confidently say that the winning qualities of athletes are the same ones that drive writers to success.
In this article, I’ll assemble my own starting five by discussing the top qualities that writers can pick up from the world of sports. By adopting all these characteristics that define the mindset of an athlete, writers can get past every obstacle, beat the clock, and score a slam dunk. Or a home run. Or a touchdown.
Do we have to do the Griddy every time our work is published? Up to you. While celebratory dance rituals are short-lived, these five qualities will help you last long in the writing industry.
For starters, athletes are among the most disciplined creatures on the planet.
How so? Take a look at this to-do list: train every week, eat right, keep your emotions in check. Sounds easy, right? Surely anyone can pull off this regimen.
Not so fast, pal. We all know that, in reality, these things are easier said than done. How often have we sworn to ourselves that we’d go to the gym regularly, only to abandon this promise after a few tough outings? What about our New Year’s resolutions about committing to a diet or a calm demeanor for the next twelve months? All of these might have been left in the dust faster than a Michael Phelps lap.
It takes an extra level of dedication to strictly adhere to routines. And it is this type of discipline that distinguishes athletes from other human beings. In fact, the most disciplined athletes are the ones that stand on the podium year in and year out. Picture the late, great Kobe Bryant completely ignoring Chris Rock’s attempts at small talk during a timeout at a Lakers game. That’s how focused he was on the game that he refused to lose.
In a similar way, we writers can prove to be a cut above the rest if we remain locked in on our writing goals. Whether it’s a customary deadline or a big-time project, we need to put on our tunnel vision that accentuates nothing but the task at hand.
Along the way, we also have to strap ourselves to the habits that will facilitate our writing process and growth. If we make plans to edit a manuscript in the morning, come up with pitches in the afternoon, and write a journal entry at night, we need to do so every day. (And yes, Monday counts as a day.) Now that’s discipline.
Every sports fan has a fond memory of athletes showing toughness beyond nails.
There’s Joe Montana leading the 49ers to an overtime win after being down by 28. There’s Sifan Hassan stumbling, rising, and winning her 1,500-m heat at the Tokyo Olympics. And there’s Willis Reed limping into Game 7 of the NBA Finals, despite a torn muscle in his right thigh.
These competitors could have stayed down, or stayed home. Surely, no human ever has to endure such physical and psychological torment?
For better or for worse, adversity helps us find out what we’re made of. On the one hand, we can opt to throw in the towel and just mark another L on our record. On the other hand, we can choose to gut it out and focus on the prize instead of the pain. This is what athletes do, whether in the public eye or in the inner bouts of their minds. They know fully well that glory comes hand in hand with perseverance.
Though writers don’t typically have to run laps around an Olympic track, we certainly have our fair share of bumps and bruises. Unforgiving deadlines, tough-love editors, and writer’s block are just a few examples of challenges we have to hurdle. And that’s not even counting our hardships outside our writing careers. It isn’t easy to write coherent paragraphs when illnesses, overdue bills, or family problems rear their ugly head.
Writers should realize that perseverance is, very simply, a decision. It is the firm resolution to not let any kind of agony get in the way of the goal’s fulfillment. Legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi puts this in perspective: “The real glory is being knocked to your knees and coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.”
Enduring pain is one thing, but what about overcoming errors?
Each of us has a horror story to share about mistakes ruining the day in the workplace. These are either slip-ups by colleagues that we can hardly forgive or even lapses that we personally own up to. There’s nothing like a good five minutes of yelling in our workspace to get all the frustration out of our system, followed by a couple of hours of sulking and unproductive browsing of the internet.
Basketball coaches, then, must be saints. (Well, a lot of them, anyway.) These perpetually serene beings have mastered the art of keeping their temper in check. Bad shot taken early in the shot clock? No outburst. Terrible cross-court pass? No outburst. Useless foul? Still nothing there. Though they certainly have their bad days—getting thrown out of the playing court every now and then—they are admirably calm and composed for the most part.
More importantly, if the coach does open their mouth, it’s to call out the next play. What message does this send out? “I see the error you made, but I’m more concerned about what we’ll do next.” This is important because, more often than not, the game isn’t over yet. If there’s time left to play the game right, why stop and sulk?
Writers can emulate this “short-term memory” through a combination of self-control and flexibility. If things don’t go your way—say, your co-writer failed to follow the formatting guide for your group assignment, or you failed to follow the formatting guide—just keep playing. The game isn’t over, so focus on the solution rather than the blame. Heated arguments won’t get that write-up done. Patience and quick adjustments will.
This list about sports certainly wouldn’t be complete without, well, sportsmanship.
If you’ve ever seen the conclusion of a volleyball game, you’ll see that each team lines up single file on either end of the net. As they walk forward, they stick their hands out and shake the hand of each opponent on the other side.
It’s definitely easier to do this if you’re on the victorious team. What if you were on the losing end? It might be more tempting to crush, rather than shake, each hand.
Early in childhood, we were taught by our parents and coaches to display grace even in the face of the most stinging loss. As working adults, we realize that sportsmanship is called for in non-sports contexts as well. After all, writers know exactly what defeat tastes like.
It’s the disappointment of an elaborate pitch being rejected, the envy that arises when a colleague is promoted to an editorial position, and the dearth of page views for an article that took you weeks to complete.
We can afford to lose a competition, but not our personal integrity. At the end of the day, we need to keep our honor intact by wholeheartedly accepting the reality of losing. The ultimate winning attitude, of course, is to follow that up by planning how to bounce back next time. (In addition, sportsmanship works the other way: if you just scored a big victory in your career, don’t flaunt it! Stay humble.)
It must have been hard, though, for the opponents of His Airness to pick themselves up.
If there was ever an athlete who could claim to be the biggest icon of their sport, it would be one Michael Jordan. I will walk into any barbershop in the world and passionately debate anyone who argues that it’s LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, or even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In terms of individual accolades, team accomplishments, and the extent to which he contributed to those accomplishments, Jordan is the greatest of all time. Period.
Why is Jordan the best basketball player ever? Because he never, ever stopped wanting to be the best.
MJ’s competitive nature is well-documented—from intense practice sessions to buzzer-beating heroics. Heck, the guy even pitched quarters with his security personnel before games. That’s how much he loved to win. What did Jordan’s hunger for success lead to? Six NBA titles, six Finals MVPs, and five regular-season MVPs adorning his trophy case (among other distinctions).
Human as we are, we tend to rest on our laurels the moment that we think we’ve hit it big. In a way, we put up our own ceiling that later impedes our upward trajectory. Who cares about a bigger body of output, a wider network of distribution, or a lengthier resume? If what we’re writing and earning is good enough, why go the extra mile?
That mindset would be the equivalent of Jordan hanging up his sneakers after his first championship, or after his initial three-peat. That attitude would be akin to MJ just coasting along in his 1996 comeback season, after not playing a full season for three years.
As writers, we should always strive to be more. There is no limit to the subject matter that we can explore with our imaginative words, so why set a low bar for our writing careers? There will always be fresh goals to pursue: technical aspects to refine, statistical benchmarks to hit, new fields to explore.
Instead of settling for a one-time triumph, we can constantly score huge wins by shunning the air of complacency and stoking the fires of desire. After all, isn’t it nice to be like Mike?
In my own writing career, I know what I’m hungry for: an opportunity to be a sports writer.
As a teenager, I had just two professional ambitions in mind. One, I wanted to become an English teacher. If that wasn’t in the cards for me, I was going to be a journalist covering the local hoops scene.
A decade and a half after I first harbored those dreams, where have I landed? The first dream came true, as I was blessed to teach in the classroom for seven years. As for the second dream, I’d say that I made it halfway. While I did become a professional writer, I haven’t cracked the sports door open. (Yet.)
As I reflect on this unfulfilled aspiration, I realize that I don’t have to be a columnist like Ramona Shelburne or Brian Windhorst in order to manifest my passion for sports. In my own way, I can use the valuable lessons that I have learned from athletes to constantly bring my A-game in my writing.
I need to stay disciplined with my writing routines.
I need to persevere when the going gets tough, and I need to adjust on the fly when slip-ups occur.
I need to be humble in victory and gracious in defeat, because I won’t stay in either state for so long.
Most of all, I need to stay hungry. Only then shall I grow.
This is how I can bring an athlete’s mindset to my craft as a writer. Now, excuse me while I roar.
Simoun Redoblado is a father, husband, teacher, and school administrator. In 2012, he earned his bachelor's degree in secondary education (major in English) from the University of the Philippines. That same year, he took the licensure examination for secondary teachers, and made it to the list of topnotchers. In his spare time, Simoun reads hip hop as poetry (with Tupac as Dante and Eminem as Shakespeare). He is also an avid hoops fan who believes that life is a game of basketball - sometimes, the assists are more awesome than the dunks.