Life lessons. The other day I had a long talk with a couple of high school buddies. During the conversation, we began discussing the importance of the some of the classes we took in high school and how they apply to our current professions.

After about 20 minutes, we figured out many of the things we did learn, we don’t use anymore. The notion got to me thinking about life lessons and things I’ve learned or gleaned over the past couple of decades from sports.

Be sure to have fun.

During the pro-am portion of the Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout many, many years ago, I got to spend a good bit of time walking the course and talking with professional golfer Fred Couples.

For those who don’t know, Couples is a big college football fan. He spotted my Auburn hat, got a big grin on his face and then asked me to compare my Tigers to Penn State.

Before I spoke, Couples warned me his caddy at the time was a big Penn State fan. I said both teams were good but said my Tigers were better. Couples’ thought my analysis was dead on and also funny. His caddy not so much.

Over the next 12 holes, between him making shot after shot and interacting with the crowd, we kept talking college football and college sports. At one point, I asked him what the key to being a professional athlete was.

He paused for several moments, drew in a deep breath and stretched out both of his arms as if trying to take in the golf course.

“Have fun. I’m lucky enough to make a living playing a game and doing something I love,” he said before walking to the ball, striking it and landing it within inches of the hole.

We may not all get to be pro golfers or pro athletes, but we can find ways to make our jobs and life fun.

Heart and fight go a long way

Joe Hampton remains one of my favorite high school football coaches. He happened to be the man at the helm when the Estero High School Wildcats made an improbable run to the Florida Class 5A State Title game in 1998.

More than likely, I’ve mentioned the team in my V3 columns before. The team consisted of 23 players when at the time most Class 2A teams in Florida boasted somewhere around 60 to 70 kids. The opposing team in the finals, Kissimmee-Osceola, had six times as many players on the sidelines as the Wildcats.

That season, Estero lost only once, a one-touchdown defeat to arch rival Fort Myers before embarking on the improbable run to the state finals. Along the way, the Wildcats topped several state ranked and even a nationally ranked team to reach Gainesville.

Each team they played had far more players. Each time it didn’t matter.

Estero’s players dug deep, fought hard and managed to outlast each opponent. Those kids might have been overmatched, but no one on the sidelines or in the stands could tell it.  Each one played as hard as possible, and each one had several moments during the season when they stepped up and helped win a game.

Estero didn’t win the state title, dropping a close contest on a December night in Gainesville, but they proved time and again how much hard work, heart and desire can overcome long odds.

We may not always be on the team stacked with superstars and a deep bench, but if we do the work and believe, we can achieve some crazy things.

Find ways to work harder than everyone else

Finding examples of this in sports isn’t hard, but a story from several years ago sticks in my head. On one particular New Year’s Eve afternoon, Lance Armstrong, in the middle of his seven straight Tour de France titles, spent about five hours on his bike in a Texas rainstorm with the temperature having in the low 50s.

I know Armstrong cheated often and turned out not to be a nice guy, but he didn’t win just because he cheated. He also worked his tail off.

Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly was along for the ride and documented it. During the middle of it, one of Armstrong’s contemporaries, who would have a few top 10 Tour de France finishes, phoned him.

The story goes that Armstrong answered the phone to hear his inebriated friend ask him what he was doing. Armstrong replied talking about the ride and the weather. His friend’s response went something along the lines of, “Bloody hell man. Do you ever take a day off?”

The answer in short was no. Armstrong didn’t.

Yes he cheated, but he also worked super hard each and every day to be the absolute best at what he did. He could have taken the day off and rang in the New Year like his friend. Instead he took to the bike, battled the elements and put the time and energy into not only maintaining himself but getting better as well.

I don’t advocate cheating or performance enchaining drugs, but a lot can be learned and gleaned from the way Armstrong prepared even when he was at the top of his game.

Follow your shoot

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said this to myself while watching or covering a basketball game or soccer match. For those unfamiliar with the saying, old-school basketball coaches told players time and again that after taking a shot they needed to follow it to the basket.

Odds were if they did this and the shot missed, they then had great chance of getting the rebound and a chance to score. While it’s not the exact same thing in soccer, it’s close.

Often times if a player takes a shot and keeps tracking toward the goal, they find themselves in a great position if the ball rebounds off the keeper, another player or one of the posts. Simply following said shoot most times gives them an even better chance to get an easy tap-in goal.

However, if you watch basketball or soccer at any level, you won’t see players doing this often. Instead, you’ll see the basketball player watching their shot to see if it makes it sometimes with their hands in the air hoping to celebrate a good shot.

The soccer player too often stands flat footed, rooted in the spot where they took the shot watching to see if they score. If they do, great. But if they don’t, the chance of them getting the ball back and having another shot to score is slim at best.

Applying this one to real life might be a stretch. When you do manage to score a big client or have a great presentation or just overall crush it on the job remember to follow your shot. Don’t just stand there basking in the glory, instead look for the next opportunity to do it again.

An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.