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Lessons From Playing Field Can Be Building Blocks for a Successful Life

What do Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Senator John McCain and comedian Robin Williams have in common? They've all reached the top of their respective professions. And… they all credit sports for teaching them the lessons that were fundamental to their success.

"I totally go against the theory that you got to win to be successful. It's how you handle your situation," TV host Brian Kilmeade says. Mr. Kilmeade has spent years interviewing and profiling celebrities, politicians and executives. According to such successful people, he says, playing sports as children taught them the skills necessary to excel as adults. For example, Condoleeza Rice learned persistence from ice skating. "She was tall, (with) big feet, yet she was a skater," he says. "[She didn't have] the body of a skater, yet it was the sport that helped her the most. She wanted to see how she could focus on a sport that didn't come natural to her, where tennis came absolutely natural to her, and golf came absolutely natural to her. In skating, she had to struggle so much to be good."

It was soccer that taught comedian Jon Stewart that trying hard pays off. "Jon Stewart says that he was a little kid with a big head," Mr. Kilmeade says. "He had very little athletic ability. He went out to the soccer field and it was awful. He said, 'I spent a lot of time by myself down the block playing soccer with my friend Mike. We'd go to the wall and just practice for hours.' He took great pride in the fact that he was able to go to a great university like William and Mary and end up getting scholarship money and becoming the captain of the team. He took the same work ethic to stand-up comedy."

Jon Stewart and Condolee za Rice are just two of more than five dozen success stories Mr. Kilmeade includes in his book, . Among the important lessons to be learned on the playing field is being flexible. Mr. Kilmeade points to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was on his school wrestling team.

"Speaker Dennis Hastert was a heavyweight, 190 pounds (86 kg), (but) he was wrestling guys who were 250 pounds (113 kg)," Mr. Kilmeade says. "He had to be smarter than them. He had to be able to adapt and outthink just about everybody. He learned to come up big, struggling early and succeeding later."

The importance of continually seeking out - and meeting - new challenges, he says, is a lesson Wall Street businessman David Pottruck learned from playing football. He told Brian Kilmeade, '" was the best in my neighborhood. Then, I'd join the club team, and I was the worst of the team. Then I'd become the best in the club team. Then, I'd make the regional team and I'd be the worst. Then, I'd work my way up there. Then I went to high school and I was the worst of the team. Then, I ended up being the captain of the Varsity team."

"Even though David Pottruck has gone to this unbelievable career where he is a billionaire," Mr. Kilmeade says, "there is always a new hurdle. He never sits there saying, 'I'm the best.' He never lost that mindset."

Whether it's a team effort like football, or an individual event like skating, Brian Kilmeade says sports should be a part of growing up. Former NFL football star Joe Ehrmann agrees. He says schools should be encouraging kids to play sports. "My belief is that sports in school is not an extracurricular activity," he says. "What you want to do is teach athletic teams on sporting fields the exact same way that you teach in the classroom. In the classroom, not all the students have equal ability, but all have equal opportunity to be the best they are capable of being."

The retired defensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts now works as a volunteer coach for a Baltimore high school football team. He says coaches have the responsibility of teaching kids not only the rules of the game, but also the related values, such as integrity and cooperation. Joe Ehrmann says that means teaching kids what competition is all about. "Competition shouldn't mean I win and somebody else loses," he says. "Competition is really about a standard for excellence. It's how you become the best you're capable of being. You really compete with yourself. There's a tremendous opportunity here. We can't let it be entirely about winning and losing. It has to be more about values."

For most of the celebrities in The Games Do Count, losing gracefully and trying again were the most important values they gained from sports. Brian Kilmeade says their experiences convinced him that whether they make it to the all star team or not, all kids should be out there playing sports, having fun and learning lessons that will stay with them forever.