I'm a Dad and an ESPN Host: Here Are the Life Lessons I'm Teaching My Kids Through Sports

Through my job, I've learned just how much sports can teach us. These are the important lessons I am hoping my two sons will learn.

Dad and ESPN host
Photo: Yeji Kim

"Follow the ball. Take your time. Don't rush the throw."

Those three lines have been repeated so much in my home this spring, it's turned into a sing-song. It's what my 9- and 7-year-old boys have been hearing ever since we exchanged basketballs for baseballs. Oh, if you want to hear that mantra as it relates to basketball and the free throw line, it goes like this: "Deep breath. Take your time. Hold your form."

The second line never changes—it's a daily reminder for them and me. Instant highlights. Instant information. Instant opinions. Instant gratification while eating your instant breakfast.

Through my job as an ESPN anchor, I have met many athletes and heard their stories. I tell my sons these athletes weren't born this way; they made their success through curiosity, repetition, and failure. Here are some more life lessons I'm teaching my kids all thanks to sports.

Master the Basics

Back in the fall, right before the start of basketball, our oldest son begged me to show him how to dribble between his legs and I jokingly said, "Learn how to control your dribble first, then we can talk about adding a move." He worked on his dribble for months. Sometimes it was dribbling with his non-dominant hand for an entire game against me. Sometimes it was me stealing the ball each time he went high on the dribble.

My point to him was it wasn't going to come easy. His hard work and commitment would determine when he was going to be able to pull off the move. That is what I've always taken away from sports: fundamental teachings. Master the basics and the hard stuff will be easier to figure out.

Teamwork Matters

Team sports allow our sons to understand that it's not always about what they want; it's about what is needed for everyone to succeed. One of my great joys is watching football together on Sundays and explaining the nuance of how this play worked because everyone did their job—from the coach's play call to the lineman executing a block to the wide receiver running the right route to the quarterback delivering the pass. If someone falls short on their job, the completion doesn't happen. And if it doesn't happen, you don't get down on your teammate.

One time, during a playoff game, our team was about to score a touchdown in the closing minutes, but it went off the hands of the receiver and was intercepted. Our oldest son was pretty upset, and it gave my wife, Monica, and I the chance to show him that professionals make mistakes. It happens. The wide receiver didn't follow the fundamentals, turned his head, and was running without securing the ball. It helped us emphasize multiple things. First, great players are not perfect so we should understand everyone makes mistakes. Second, if you look ahead instead of staying in the moment of catching the ball—you could pay for it.

Mistakes Don't Define You

After the wide receiver's mistakes, we were also quick to remind our son of the great accomplishments that player had achieved in the past, and one moment, one play, doesn't define who someone is as a person. Sounds heavy on a deflection? Not to a young impressionable boy who is giving you an instant reaction to how he is processing what he's seeing.

You Have to Learn from Mistakes

My wife and I talk about not making a mistake to cover a mistake. And it goes back to watching Little League Baseball. Often, a mishap on a ground ball can lead to something worse when the young kid tries to make up for the mistake and then the throw to first goes wide. You're now watching a roller coaster ride on the field, featuring peaks and valleys of emotions from the dugout and the bleachers while a white ball is being tossed all over the infield. Then the runner finally scores after a routine ground ball.

When that error fest happens in Major League Baseball, it's called an inside-the park Little League home run. It's fun to call during a highlight on my day job at SportsCenter but it's painful to watch as a parent. And it goes back to life off the field—learn from your first mistake to avoid making another.

Always Take Your Time

Our preference on the field and in life when you deal with a little adversity: take your time. Enjoy the process and slow things down because that will actually help you get better. And eventually, with hard work, results will come. My eldest son is realizing this. Right before he picked up his baseball glove the other day, he screamed down the street for us to see something—he dribbled a basketball between his legs. Bottom line: Don't rush the moments.

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