From A Triathlete Mom | The Top 10 Life Lessons You Should Pass Down To Your Children

Updated: Oct 23, 2021

By Mary Kay Jessen

In the eight years I've been a mom, I've worked hard to be a good role model for my girls. There is a lot of failing forward involved, and I definitely have moments where I wish I could have a do-over, but I use my training and racing as a way to teach many life lessons. I believe that being involved in sports and athletics helps develop skills and character traits that translate into the rest of life. I talk with my daughters about my successes and how I got there, but we also discuss my failures and what I learned from them for the future. Here are my top ten life lessons I'm sharing with them:

  1. We all have bad days. None of us are immune to "off days" where we don't feel good. Mentally or physically, we don't have it in us to give it our all. Bad days don't define us, but how we handle them, how we react, and what we do AFTER is what matters. Will you let a bad day or a bad race or outcome break you and bring you down, or take those moments to make you a stronger person?

  2. Good Sportsmanship matters. Being a good sport and a good teammate comes in many different forms. It's about cheering on everyone on your team, and celebrating their successes, and being there for others when things don't go well for them. We are only as strong as our weakest link, so it's a great way to learn cooperation, leadership, and the importance of working together to help make each other stronger.

  3. Winning isn't everything. Winning is awesome, and we can all admit that it feels great, but often, even if you do your best, you may not come in first. How we handle that and what we take away from experience is more important than a first-place ribbon. Perhaps you nailed the nutrition, had a PR, or didn't fade at the end of a race as you have in the past. Those less tangible victories are still huge wins, even if they don't show up in the official record book.

  4. Being nervous means you care. Nerves can be a great tool to keep us sharp and focused. It takes practice to work on using your nerves to improve your performance, rather than let it paralyze you, but over time, you can learn to channel your nerves into energy to use, especially in a race.

  5. The power of "just 10 minutes". Most of us know the feeling of dreading a hard workout or starting a training session, not in the right frame of mind or physical state. As my coach tells me, and I say to my girls (and athletes), give it 10 minutes. If you still feel bad, then stop, or shorten the workout. Often, once we've warm-up and start, we feel better, and it's not as bad as we made it out to be.

  6. Control what you can, let go of what you can't. You can't control the weather, your competition, the racecourse, and many other variables. However, you can control your response, both to the situation and the outcome.

  7. Get out of your comfort zone. We often get stuck, even from an early age, in our social circles and activities. Most of us tend to gravitate towards what we know and what is comfortable. Whether it's school, work, community involvement, or sports, it can be hard to break out and make new friends (though this is admittedly much easier for kids than adults!). New sports, new athletic groups, and even just changing up where you train or race can lead to new friends and relationships!

  8. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. This is pretty broad, but for me, I use this as a springboard to talk about the importance of dedication to your commitments and time management. It's much easier to sleep in, skip swim practice, or put off a workout. In the short term, going easy or not pushing yourself may feel better, but in the long run, it's those early wakeups, challenging workouts, and showing up every day that will help you reach your goals.

  9. It's OK to be scared. Like being nervous, being scared can be a good thing. However, what I teach my girls is not to let fear stop them. Some level of fear or anxiety is good for keeping you safe, but you have to balance that with being brave enough to keep going. Whether you are a 7-year-old being scared to dive off the blocks at swim practice or an adult scared to put yourself out there and try a new sport or distance, you will never know what you can achieve until you try!

  10. Practice, practice, practice. I'm not a fan of the adage that "practice makes perfect" because the quest for perfection hasn't ever ended well for me. So instead, I teach my girls that while we don't need to aim for perfection, we need to work hard and keep trying what we aren't good at to improve constantly.