Regardless of the sport (or martial art), people who are heavily involved with it swear that it "builds character". You learn discipline, they say, teamwork, to overcome obstacles, face down your fears. I used to believe all of that, but now I am no longer so sure.
Interestingly, I hear people make the exact same claims about all sorts of other endeavors in life. Military service is said to build character, teach discipline, foster teamwork, teach recruits to face down their fears and develop the self-esteem that comes from achieving a difficult task.
If you ask people why they have their child spending twelve hours a week practicing violin, they will tell you it builds character, teaches discipline .... well, I'm sure you see the pattern by now.
I certainly gained a great deal from competing in judo, and in track, too. Yes, I really DID learn discipline, gain self-esteem, not so much teamwork, with judo being an individual sport, but I did develop some camaraderie. I learned to face down my fears.
When I look around me, though, whether it is sports or military personnel or people with Ph.D.'s, I see the same thing ...
Some really, really good people
Some unmitigated bastards
And a whole lot of people in between
Someone on twitter said this quote came from John Wooden,
"Sports don't build character so much as reveal it."
I do not know if that is true or not. I do know that there are certain constants in sports. For example, achieving success at an international level means that many, many people have to sacrifice for that athlete - their parents, siblings, teammates, supporters. As a result, some people become grateful for the great advantages and support they have been given and try to give back to their sport or give back to the world in other ways. Other people become self-centered and see nothing wrong with using the people around them. They often get away with it, too, at least as long as they keep winning.
I really don't know why one person turns out one way and another person turns out the opposite, any more than I know why one person jumps on a grenade to save his buddies in a foxhole while another turns and runs the other way.
I do believe this quote, though,
"Your talent comes from God. What you decide to do with it, that comes from you."
I know who said that one, my grandmother, Emilia Maria. Was she an athlete? Here's another quote from her,
"You're running but you're not running TO anywhere? You're just running around in a circle? That has got to be the stupidest thing I ever heard!"