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I have always thought of sports as a side-hobby or a stress reliever. It was not until I went to college that I truly understood the value of individual/team sports. It has taught me so many valuable life lessons which, in turn, lead to self-transformation. Below are the different sports I was greatly involved in and what transformations/life lessons I have gained from them.

Taekwondo (Middle School – High School)

Taekwondo (TKD) was the first sport that I was ‘officially’ a part of. I, of course, have played a myriad of sports during my elementary and middle school days, but this was my first sport where I had a set schedule and showcases (equivalent to games, races, regattas, etc.). I was involved in taekwondo for three years and reached the junior black belt level.

TKD is a form of martial arts originating from Korea. ‘Tae’ means “to stomp or trample”, ‘kwon’ means “fist” and ‘do’ means “way, discipline”. The etymology describes it fairly well – essentially it is a martial art form that focuses primarily on kicking techniques along with fist movements.

TKD was a great sports catalyst for my reserved demeanor because it forced me to get hands-on with different people and perform moves on them that could potentially harm them. There was a certain new trust that you had to develop quite frequently.

The sport also required me to perform a series of movements and block breaking in front of the headmaster, instructors, and family/friends. I became more confident.

And if there is anything I learned from this sport, it is balance (both figuratively and literally). On the literal side, balance is very important when executing the various kicks (round-house, flying side, axe, hook, etc…) because your whole weight is shifted to one leg in which your foot grips the mat for stability. There also exists a balance between offense and defense. Being too offensive leaves open ‘weak spots’ that can be taken advantage of, whereas being too defensive leaves your opponent unscathed. Figuratively speaking, balance is required to feel whole and complete. TKD made me feel like I had another aspect in my life other than school that I could devote my time and energy into. And each belt promotion made me feel accomplished, a different feeling from, say, acing a test.


Water Polo (High School)

There is a good chance that you have either never heard of or do not know very much about this sport. Well, it was not until I arrived on the east coast for college that I realized how localized water polo is. Water polo was a primarily California-centric sport, but is quickly gaining traction in other states such as Florida, Connecticut, Georgia, and Illinois. But to quickly describe water polo, it combines the playing style of basketball (drives, setting picks, center, working to get inside), soccer (goalies, penalty shots), and hockey (physical aspect, penalty box). A typical water polo game is split into four quarters of 5-8 minutes (depending on level of play) with two-minute rest intervals between quarters and one five-minute rest interval at half-time. These times do not seem long, but trust me, one quarter can feel like an hour of an intensive workout at the gym.

For someone like me, who did not learn how to swim till I was 12, water polo was a very counter intuitive sports choice. As a high school freshman, I yearned for a team sport and something that challenged me other than academics. Water polo was one of the few non-cut sports at my high school and I have only heard good things about it so I thought to myself, why not? There was nothing to lose.

The first few months were absolute hell. I thought I was crazy for diving head in (literally and metaphorically) for a sport that (1) I had no prior experience (2) I was not a great swimmer (3) I did not have close friends in. But once I started to get the hang of things, it was the most rewarding accomplishment for me at that time.

Water polo taught me how to focus on the present. It did not matter what the score board was or how the last play or quarter went. What mattered most was what the current situation was and how I can improve in each 30-second or less play. It did not matter if my team was winning by a mile, losing by a mile, or tied with the other team. The scoreboard will adjust accordingly depending on how you approach each and every play in the present.

Water polo also reminded me the importance of support. Some of the best feelings I experienced was from an assist from me for my fellow teammate to make that awesome shot in the goal during a game. Or even during practice when I helped someone learn a new skill or helped someone improve upon their skills. I was gratified just as much as in helping others as in my own accomplishments.

Lastly this sport made me become more aggressive. I feel that this word has a negative connotation with it, but I mean aggressive in a good way. Water polo forced me to get into physical contact with multiple girls, all for a bright yellow ball. But hey, at least my only physical contact experiences were confined in water polo? Haha. No, but honestly, aggression is needed in life in order to energetically pursue your aspirations, whatever they may be.


Rowing (College)

Ah, rowing. One of the most primitive sports that have successfully carried over to modern day. Out of the three sports (spoiler: this is the last sport!), this sport is definitely the most graceful from an outsider’s view. The seemingly precise movement of each oar as it cuts into the water and to exit simultaneously is breathtaking. Also, there is no other feeling than being in a skinny racing shell and feeling the boat surge forward with the cool, crisp wind blow across your face.

But rowing, out of the three sports, required the most amount of physical energy out of me. Rowing has ingrained in me a sense of endurance. It is not for the faint-hearted. I think of rowing as a piece of painting. The blood, sweat, and tears put into training is like the stages of trying to envision and create art. It can be frustrating at times but the more you move forward, the more confident you feel in your craft. And finally, the regatta is like the finishing touches to a painting. The finishing touches can either help or hurt all of your previous progresses. But if executed properly, a masterpiece can be created, or in the rowing world, you can win gold.

To the outsider, rowing seems graceful and perfect, but just like any painting, it is far from perfect. Up close, there are a multitude of errors occurring with each stroke (propelling oars into the water) from every single person in the rowing shell. Each person is not only pulling their own weight but also is adjusting with inevitable mistakes from others. Rowing is the epitome of teamwork. You have to learn how to work in synergy or else it will not work no matter how much you want it to.

Lastly, rowing emphasized accountability. Every person in a boat shell is crucial for practices and regattas. If one person was late to practice or was sick/injured for a regatta, then the entire team cannot practice or compete. Being a rower also means you are now responsible for yourself for the sake of the team. Of course accountability applies to TKD and water polo as well, but especially for rowing, a lack of accountability cannot be made up for. No one can just “fill in” because of the different technical aspects of each seat and of the different synergies made with certain rowing groups.

If you have made it this far and have actually read everything that I had to say, you deserve a pat on the back and a cookie for listening to my ramblings on a topic that I thought would be much more brief. But all in all, SPORTS ARE IMPORTANT! If you are currently thinking about endeavoring into sports, DO IT. And if you are already involved in a sport(s), I am sure you related to at least one of my anecdotes. And for people who used to be in sports, I hope that you reminisced and reflected on your own experiences.


– J