Villeage Voices: Why We Love Sports

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Villeage Voices: Why We Love Sports

By Tripp Welborne

Welcome to Villeage Voices, where community members are invited to share their thoughts each month on a variety of topics relevant to life at Lawrenceville and beyond. In this month’s edition, Lawrenceville’s Dean of Athletics and Co-Curricular Education Tripp Welborne asks and answers why we love sports. A member of the University of Michigan Athletics Hall of Honor, Welborne was selected by Sports Illustrated as one of the greatest players ever to take the field in the 133-year history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program.

Why do I love sports?

From a player’s perspective:

There are as many answers to that question as there are games to play, but for me the most important thing is the thrill and excitement of competition. Not necessarily winning or losing, but the opportunity to measure yourself against others seeking the same outcome. Let’s face it, some people are ignited and driven by wanting to know where they stand and what adjustments need to be made to reach their ultimate goal…game on!

My first “official” team sport was playing PAL baseball as a seven year old in Greensboro, North Carolina (I identify this as “official” team sport #1 since it was my first time wearing a team uniform). The team included my brother, cousins, and several neighbors. From that moment, I fell in love with team sports. Not that I don’t enjoy individual sports; growing up I ran track, bowled, played tennis, and was on a swim team - but I have always loved the idea of playing with somebody, being part of a team, and feeding off of our collective energy to reach a common goal. My favorite team sports to play growing up were basketball, football, baseball, and soccer…and pursuing the gratifying feeling of team I experienced as a child, stayed with me throughout my career as a student-athlete at the University of Michigan and as a professional with the Minnesota Vikings.

Every athlete knows that you can’t play forever and their career is going to end at some point, but a knee injury derailed my career sooner than I had expected. My transition out of professional sports was not as easy as one would think. Not because I didn’t feel good about my preparation and options for the next stage of life, but it was more a function of just not being ready to decide on what I wanted to do in that next stage. I spent time exploring and reflecting on past experiences. I was constantly inspired, encouraged, and driven by the lessons learned from playing sports; and I could hear loud and clear a former coach’s voice in the background always telling me that I must have “intestinal fortitude”  to be a reliable teammate and successful in life - and this could not have been more profound!

Because I am a “numbers guy,” I gravitated to corporate business and spent 14 years in banking, brokerage, and retail operations. I quickly realized that many of the habits and lessons learned through athletics were advantageous for me in the corporate arena. Like sports, business is all about preparation, execution, creativity, and building relationships. You have to be strategic, analytical, logical, competitive, confident, and a team player to succeed.

After my playing days on the field, I was never too far from athletics. I coached youth sports throughout my business career and realized that I was most passionate about helping others develop and succeed. I completely changed careers and transitioned into education. And many things I learned through sports continue to serve as guideposts directing my path and remain vital to my success today. As a coach I love to see player development. I love to teach kids to do something, and then see them run with it and make it their own. It’s magic. When a yoga student reaches just a little farther to make the pose. When a tennis player aces the serve they’ve been practicing. When a runner shaves a second off their personal best. As a coach,  I do what I can to help every student achieve their goals, stay healthy, and have fun.

Three life lessons l earned through sports:

First life lesson, my mom always told me,” No matter what, do your best.” A particular game or a project might not matter much to you, but it could be the most important thing in the world to the person next to you. Play for them just as much as you play for yourself. Having support is a wonderful thing. You can get “there” from anywhere, but you can’t get “there” alone. In every step of your life there are people around helping you along the way. Even if you are the leader and think you are going at it alone, there is someone helping you; so you should always strive to do your best for others as well as yourself. In every moment there is an opportunity to give and receive support. It could be the coach who applauds you for hustling to first on a routine ground ball or the friend who gives you the laugh you didn’t realize you needed at House disc. It all matters and makes a difference.

Second life lesson, remember that whatever you do, you can only control what you can control; such as your effort, attitude, preparation, and commitment to goals. This definitely resonated for me when my football career ended. With any major life change you can go from being very independent and thinking you control everything in your life to being suddenly very dependent and needing guidance and support. Seeking support from others is a sign of strength not weakness.  To climb the highest mountain you must trust and believe in your teammates, coaches and mentors, because no one is successful and can reach great heights on their own; and what joy is there in having success if you can’t experience the view from the mountaintop with others?!

Third life lesson (and this may sound counterintuitive coming from someone as competitive as me but … ) the sustaining value and currency of competition is not solely tied to winning. To be clear, it feels good when you do - that’s why we keep score. But when it’s all said and done, you shake hands, congratulate your opponent, and move on. Should you lose sleep? Absolutely not. Learn from the experience. You will always learn something about yourself and others, the formula for what to do or not to do. You will be a better teammate, player, leader, and friend. Keep that knowledge and experience in your toolkit for the next time you face a similar situation of challenge or triumph. Personal growth is manifested within the journey!

From a spectator’s perspective, I am a fan:

You don’t have to be in uniform to learn from sports and be united by something bigger. When I played at Michigan, I’d hear the roar of the crowd and realize there were over one hundred thousand of my closest friends (that I’d never met) in the stands. The fans were right there as part of the team. They all cheered together, had tears of disappointment in defeat, and sometimes even more tears of joy in victory. It is an amazing feeling to know that you can have an impact on the experience of others, by playing a game you love with passion and uniting everyone behind the outcome and fate of their beloved team!

I’m a fan because I believe in people and the ideals of competing for something where the outcome isn’t already predetermined. In reality, it’s not rooted or isolated to a specific activity. It’s the same whether you participate in something that is viewed by millions at home on TV, thousands in the stands at “The Big House” at Michigan, or by 12 students around a Harkness table. It requires self-confidence to be committed and put yourself out there to face the scrutiny and critical eye of others - and I am a huge fan of anyone who does this with integrity and is willing to give it their all.

Being a fan is an emotional attachment - in many cases it can take a lot longer for a fan to get over a tough loss than the players! Whether it’s a soccer team uniting a nation, or a volleyball team bringing together an entire school, sports allow people to find commonality and coalesce behind something bigger than themselves. This experience can be life changing and in fact, the most important reason Why I Love Sports!

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at