First, life is full of disappointments. There are so many ways that sport brings disappointment to us. There is the disappointment that comes from being beaten. There is the disappointment that comes from not being selected. There is the disappointment that comes from the unfairness of life, whether it is an umpiring error, the bounce of a ball or the unreliability of a team mate. There is no way to play sport and not encounter disappointment. And that is very good for us!
Dealing with disappointment in small things, such as school sport, trains us to deal with the disappointments that will come our way in the bigger things of wider life. Resilience and grit grow in the soil of adversity.
Second, there is a connection between hard work and mastery. Some people are born with sporting aptitude ahead of their peers, whether it has to do with their physiology, body shape, hand-eye coordination or any of the other attributes that contribute to sporting ability. It is folly to pretend that everyone has the same capacity to achieve the elite standard in any sport they wish; sadly, I have let my NBA dreams die ... Nonetheless, everyone can improve. Through coaching and practice, improvement will come. Young people who learn that hard work leads to mastery in sport are well-prepared to transfer that lesson elsewhere in life.
Third, there are great benefits to being in a team. This is not to disparage individual sports and the lessons learned through the solo slog and performance, but it is interesting to note the heightened excitement for individual athletes and swimmers when they compete in relays. We are relational creatures who thrive in our connections with others. In the context of sport, teams spur one another on and lift one another up. At their best, members of teams learn selflessness through committing themselves to the team and its goals. Again, this lesson transfers well from the sporting field to life more generally.
Fourth, challenging yourself is a good thing. There are many reasons why people play sport and those reasons change over time. While the simple sensations of movement are enjoyable for our youngest students, over time it appears that enjoyment of sport shifts more towards the experience of encouragement, excitement and challenge. Experiencing challenge in this small low-stakes way can build a young person's confidence to take on other challenges.
There is much more that could be said and it is certainly not the case that sport is always a benign influence. Like all things, sport is a good servant but a poor master. There is great potential for sport to be a distorted and distorting influence for an individual and for a community, usually because perspective is lost. School sport is just school sport. Nothing more and nothing less than another opportunity to learn.