It’s no secret that sports teach valuable life lessons and that the earlier a young athlete begins playing sports, the more lessons they can learn and the more opportunities they have to learn them.
When you ask athletes what those life lessons are, the most common answers include discipline, teamwork, leadership, and overcoming adversity. But one lesson that many athletes don’t even realize they’re learning is the importance of individuality and self-expression.
In the age of social media, where everyone tries to fit in and conform to a perceived standard, having the confidence to stand out is rarer than ever. Sports teach us to believe in ourselves, and with that self-confidence comes the realization that being ourselves is pretty cool.
When you meet Isaiah Miller, a multi-sport athlete from Southeast Middle School, you first notice his hair. It’s big. It’s curly. It’s long. It’s unique. And it’s awesome. You get the sense that he’s not trying to blend in, but he’s also not trying to stand out.
That quiet self-confidence mixed with a no-so-quiet physical characteristic reminds you of some of the greats. Troy Polamalu, for obvious reasons. James Harden and Ryan Fitzpatrick also come to mind. So does Russell Westbrook and his fashion sense.
Like these professional athletes, Isaiah Miller is just playing basketball, running track and cross country, and being himself. Whether he realizes it or not, that’s a lesson many people never even learn.
In this OKCPS student-athlete interview, Isaiah talks about the role of sports in his life and how they’ve helped shape him into the person he is today.
What is your name, and what school do you go to?
My name is Isaiah Miller, and I am a student at Southeast Middle School.
What sports do you play?
I play basketball and run cross country and track.
How long have you played sports?
I have played sports for nine years.
Why are sports important to you?
They are important to me because I love competition, and they have taught me discipline.
What was your biggest sports goal or dream when you were younger?
My biggest sports dream when I was younger was to be a professional soccer player.
Is that goal different now? If so, how?
My goal has changed from being a professional soccer player to a professional basketball player.
Tell us about your earliest sports memory.
Some of my earliest sports memories are going to the nearby school to practice soccer with my mom, dad, friends, and just by myself.
Tell us about your favorite sports memory.
My favorite sports memory is when my basketball team got to go to a camp at OSU where there were a lot of other kids that we got to play with.
What impact has playing sports had on your life?
Sports have taught me the importance of teamwork, hard work, good sportsmanship, and determination.
How has it impacted the people around you?
Watching me play sports has helped my friends try different things and keep their grades up.
How have sports kept you more focused in the classroom or made you a better student?
I can’t play sports if my grades are too low for my family or school, so they have really kept me focused. Sports have also made it a lot easier for me to work with classmates.
Do you think your focus on sports has helped you avoid trouble or bad choices? How?
I think so because playing sports keeps me too busy to get into trouble and make bad decisions.
Tell us about a lesson you learned from playing sports that you can apply elsewhere in life.
I have learned that I can reach my goals if I work hard enough.
Finish this sentence: A team is…
A team is a group of people that work together and don’t fight against one another.
Give an example of how a team or teammate has positively influenced your life.
Some of my teammates are more skilled than I am, so they have made me want to work harder to be at the same level or even better than they are.
Give an example of how you have helped your team or a teammate.
I have helped some of my teammates get some of their schoolwork done so that they would be able to play their sport.
Can you provide an example or story about how a coach has positively influenced your life?
All of my coaches have been very supportive and helped me reach my goals.
How important is it for young athletes to have access to quality athletic fields and facilities?
I think having good facilities to play and practice on is important because it helps athletes become the very best they can be.
How does it feel knowing there are people all over Oklahoma City you’ve never met who are rooting for you and investing in your school and community?
It makes me feel very good. Knowing people are interested makes me feel like a famous athlete.
Where would you be today if you didn’t play sports?
I would be bored all the time. I’d probably also have fewer friends and might make bad decisions.
What is your biggest life/career goal or dream? (This does not have to be sports-related.)
My biggest goal in life is not to have to struggle when I am over 50 years old.
Imagine it’s 10 or 20 years in the future; what words of advice or encouragement would you give a young student-athlete standing in the same shoes you are today?
I would tell them to keep pushing and make sure their grades are good so they can get a college degree if sports don’t work out.
Oklahoma City Public Schools is Oklahoma’s largest school district, serving approximately 34,000 multicultural students across 135.5 square-miles area in the Oklahoma City metro area. More than 91% of OKCPS students are economically disadvantaged. Fields & Futures was created in 2012 to support OKCPS in its effort to put students on a better path to graduation by growing student participation in sports.