Some people ask what is so important about sports. Why is it so amazing that someone can hit a white ball with a wooden bat or that someone can kick a soccer ball into a goal? It’s true that it’s very cool to watch, but that’s not why sports are so incredible. Ask anyone that was involved in a sport in high school and they will tell you that they took at least one life lesson out of their experiences. Sports teach people about commitment, discipline, teamwork, sportsmanship, hard work and most of all motivation.

   I didn’t understand all that while I played soccer as a little girl. I was basically running around after the ball like a chicken with her head cut off. I just was having fun running in circles and waving to my mom on the sidelines. A few years went by and the coed team I was on in Waterbury became too intense. The boys became very aggressive. I backed out of soccer and hung up my cleats for nearly five years.
   During those five years I became your average child couch potato. I wouldn’t want to go on hikes any more with my Dad. My dog could be jumping up and down having to go to the bathroom and I wouldn’t careless. I was too lazy and didn’t want to walk the ten feet outside to let him relieve himself. But I did the occasional athletic thing like skiing in the winter, or taking ballet class.

   During the fall of eighth grade my friends talked me into playing soccer again. I’m glad they did because the experience of playing high school soccer has changed my life. During a soccer game my adrenaline rushes and all I want to do is kick the ball and push people over and try to help my team win the game.

   I have learned tricks and moves to make on the field, but there are so many things that I have learned off the field that I will take with me to the grave. For the past two years my soccer team at Wamogo High School has had the worst record in the Berkshire League. We could hang our heads and give up, but we don’t.

   The whole team gives all they can on that field to try and make a good play or help out a teammate. I learned that it’s not all about winning; it’s about how you handle yourself when you lose. Paul O’Neil, a retired New York Yankee player, had a hard time dealing with defeat. He would go up at bat and when he struck out he would take his anger out on the blue plastic water cooler in the dugout. He wouldn’t handle his loss with grace.

   In the last two years our soccer team tied two games and lost 38, but we won the league’s team sportsmanship award two years in a row. We handled our losses with grace. It wasn’t easy because our coach basically gave up on us. Sometimes while we played our hearts out on the field he would literally turn his back and talk on the cell phone because he knew we would come away with a loss. We had to learn to keep ourselves going inside and help each other out along the way. My freshman year our soccer team didn’t win one game. We were the worst team in the league by far. But you could never tell by the way we handled ourselves off the field.

   We tied the last game of the season and you would think that we had won the World Cup Championship. We had worked so hard all season long and it ended on a good note. We didn’t win, but we knew we gave it our best shot on that field and that’s all that mattered.

   My biology teacher told us a story last year about a basketball team that he coached that went 4-56 over a three-year period. He took over the team and thought of a way to boost their moral. He asked his players to pretend that every quarter was a new game. He told them to win one quarter. He told them to wipe the slate clean and start over every 8 minutes. They went into a game against their biggest rivals and they lost, but you could never tell by the look on their faces at the end. They were so excited because they managed to win one quarter.

   This past year I have looked to many places for motivation and sports is where I found it. My infatuation with sports began in the early part of the school year. One night I popped in a movie just to relax a little. The movie happened to be Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky”. Anyone that’s seen that movie can attest that it’s not really a relaxing movie. It pulls you to the edge of your seat and motivates you to run a little faster and jump a little higher.

   The music in that movie makes you get off your seat and run. The story itself is so inspiring that it helped me get through my soccer season in one piece. We would run a few laps around the soccer field every day. My body would start to hurt and I’d want to stop and the music would start playing in my head. The music was always there to keep me going.

   There are many people who don’t want to watch Rocky, or any other sports movie for that matter, because it doesn’t appeal to them. Here’s my opinion: give them a chance. The sports activity in the movie isn’t that important, it’s the lessons you learn from the characters that are important, the lessons that help you push and work harder. You can apply the lessons learned from Rocky into any walk of life, whether it’s taking a hard test or running a marathon.

   Jim Valvano came into my life on a cold April day this past year. Although I never met him I will keep the lessons I learned from him inside my head the rest of my life. He was the head coach of North Carolina State men’s basketball team. We watched a motivational speech he made on video in my biology class and it made quite an impact on me. In our class, the tips he gave were referred to as Valvanoisms. My teacher showed us this tape right before spring break to motivate us to keep chugging along until the end of the school year.

   Valvano’s dream was to cut the nets down. That’s what you get to do when you win a championship. He followed his dream and worked hard to get there and eventually won a championship. He said if you work really hard that one day you too can cut your nets down.

   Understanding what you’ve done, where you are and where you want to be is key to Valvano’s philosophy.

   You look to the past at what you have achieved, and what you’ve made it through. That has gotten you where you are today, and it is what you are doing now that is helping you get to where you want to be. This should make people reassess what they are doing, if it is not productive towards the goals you want to follow, change it. In the beginning of this past school year I was having some trouble motivating myself to do well in school. I just took it easy and thought that everything was going to be a piece of cake. When school started to pick up speed, I was swamped.

   I needed a strong kick in the butt so I could push myself to work harder. I turned to many places and it didn’t work. I kept falling back into the same rhythm. I knew that I needed to pick up my grades if I wanted to get into a college of my choice. This tape of a funny Italian basketball coach ranting and raving about motivation really got to me. It was the kick in the butt I needed, and it helped me sprint to the end of the school year.

   Another sport that has really motivated me during the past year has been baseball. There’s definitely a reason why it’s the American past time. I’ve never participated in baseball, but watching it gives me a motivational push that I need. Baseball is an amazing sport. The players are in impeccable shape, and it’s incredible to watch. Here in Connecticut we are caught in the crossfire between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. It can become quite intense. Sometimes it feels like a Civil War battle.

   My jaw dropped to the floor of my room recently as I watched the Yankees and Red Sox play their hearts out on the field. Every player on both teams participated (except Nomar Garciapara) and threw everything they had into the last game of a series. The game took place in the beginning of July. The Yankees ended up winning the series, but it didn’t even matter, it was incredible. But the part that got to me and most baseball fans of the world was an unselfish play made by star Yankee shortstop, Derek Jeter. He caught the ball and then plowed over the wall and did a nose dive into a plastic chair. He gave up his body for that ball.

   Jeter didn’t care what happened to himself in that split second. He just wanted to catch that ball to make the out and help his team eventually win the game. Fans, players, and people from all over were shocked and amazed that he would do something so selfless. Most people wouldn’t accept any different from him. He’s been making plays like that for the past 8 years. That’s just what kind of player he is. But that play isn’t what was inspirational. The next day after smashing his matinee idol face up, Jeter was wearing pinstripes and in the starting line up of the game against the Mets. That is true leadership. In the last few weeks when something isn’t going my way, I will think of his play and I’ll keep trucking forward.

   Since I started to become really interested in baseball last fall it has taught me many lessons. I have learned how to work through bad situations. Baseball player’s get into a hitting slump at least once in their careers. They can’t hang their head and pout. Some of them do, but most don’t. They work hard to improve their skill and eventually break out of the slump. I’ve also learned a lot about teamwork. It’s not just a one man show. Each man on the team adds an ingredient to the stew, and helps produce wins for their team. I’ve also learned some lessons about how I wouldn’t want to act from baseball. For example how Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens get in heated battles on the mound and sometimes lose their poise.

   Teens can use sports as an inspiration and motivational tool. But they can also use sports as an escape from problems at home or in school. If a person is having social problems, or is having problems with drugs and alcohol, sports are a good way to vent. You learn discipline and have to follow a rigorous schedule. People learn to work as a team. Each person is an intricate piece of the team.

   Sports can be a tool to help people steer their life in a positive direction. There are thousands of lessons that can be learned from any type of sport whether it’s baseball or squash. People learn lessons in teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, decision making, discipline, friendship and much more. I have learned to have a drive from inside of me, from sports, to push myself to achieve my goals. The most important thing I’ve learned from sports is to set your goals high and take baby steps to get there. But always keep your dream dangling in front of you like a steak in front of a dog. Sooner or later if you push yourself hard enough, you will capture your dreams.

(Chelsea Murray is 16 years old and will be entering her junior year at Wamogo High School in September)