Life lessons from the courts

Charmie Kapoor
5 min readFeb 23, 2024

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While I like to believe I stumbled into loving sports serendipitously, my upbringing had a significant role to play in it. My mother, a former college athlete, ensured I was a part of every sporting event. Be it a sack race in school or a cricket match in our colony, I was there. Growing up with cousins (3 brothers), my childhood was a mix of playing outdoors, watching cricket, and collecting WWE cards.

My father taught me how to swim at 7. I was playing badminton at the age of 8 and roller-skating by the time I turned 10. Those early days set the stage for a lifelong love affair with sports — swimming, badminton, tennis, volleyball, basketball — you name it.

The courts weren’t just where I played; they were my home turf. Grounds where friendships solidified, victories felt legendary, and losses turned into invaluable life lessons.

For two decades, my connection with sports has profoundly influenced my approach to life — how I navigate work, relationships, and life in general.

Shifting gears to my perspective on work and life, sports has been a transformative force. Here’s how:

The resilience

Sports, in its purest form, is meritocratic — you put in the effort, you see results. I dedicated four years to playing basketball for my college team, a commitment that reached its peak during the rigorous preparations for InterIIT (the annual sports meet among IITs). For six months each year, we immersed ourselves in five-hour practice sessions, daily, on top of our regular classes. Picture hitting the court from 5 to 7 AM and then returning for another round from 5 to 8 PM — a routine that initially felt daunting but evolved into a grind worth every drop of sweat. This regimen not only shaped skills but instilled discipline, emphasizing that, unfortunately, there are no shortcuts.

When I ventured into the professional world, I wholeheartedly embraced the idea of putting in extra hours. Post-work became a time for me to delve into new skills, seeking to upskill and accelerate my learning. I’ve dedicated countless hours to learning new things, not out of obligation, but driven by my ambitions. To this day, I still find joy in the process. Late nights never felt like a drag, they were just my practice sessions.

The humility

There’s nothing that grounds you more than facing defeat. In sports, the ebb and flow teach you that losses are inevitable. Enduring defeat toughens you up and builds character — how you handle the loss, learn from misses, and maintain respect for opponents.

Reflecting on my first InterIIT tournament, my freshman year ended with a loss in our first match despite solid preparation and a team in peak condition. The disappointment hit hard, breaking down the 18-year-old version of myself who had invested everything. Now, it’s easy to say it was a character-building experience, but in that moment, it felt unfair, disheartening, and even sparked anger. The impact of the second defeat was less severe. Since then, I’ve tasted both victory and defeat, but that initial loss lingers.

Gradually, you extract valuable insights from such experiences, echoing setbacks in life — like not getting the promotion or appraisal you’ve been eyeing. When hard work and dedication don’t materialize as expected, it’s tough to swallow. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, and as long as you’re putting in the work, don’t blame yourself for the outcomes.

The rhythm

As someone who craves novelty, preferring new dishes over the tried and tested, seeking unexplored locations rather than the familiar, and striving for freshness in various aspects of life, adhering to the same routine seemed extremely mundane to me. When you play a sport competitively, you engage in a similar regimen for at least 200 days a year. It’s undeniably repetitive. What I found helpful was developing hacks to set mini goals for myself that kept it interesting. Can I beat my previous 5k speed? Can I make 10 of the 20 basket shots? Can I lift more than I did last month?

Work and relationships also weather dull phases, revealing highs after lows. Not every project brings thrills, nor is every month a whirlwind of excitement. Yet, the commitment remains for the overarching goal — a net-positive experience.

A wise person said “The secret of success can be found in the daily routine” and I’m increasingly resonating with this wisdom.

It appears that within the consistent beats of daily life, there lies a rhythm that leads to success — a rhythm to show up, a rhythm to put in the work, a rhythm to persist.

The composure

Maintaining emotional composure is crucial — a skill cultivated through experiences rather than instruction. We all have our moments of fumbling the ball, literally and metaphorically. But on the court, it’s all about maintaining your cool when the pressure’s on, giving crystal-clear directions, rolling with feedback, making split-second decisions, and keeping emotions in check. Captaining a team is a dynamic role; they seek your support and solutions, especially when you’re on a clock. They observe your presence and absence alike.

Transition to leading a team in the office, and the scene isn’t all that different. Your leadership style isn’t just your thing; it sets the entire tone and becomes the culture of the group. How much effort you put in, your core values, and your approach to navigating chaos — collectively guide the team’s energy.

The balance

It teaches you when to push, and when to pause. Initially, breaks felt like a compromise, a sign of weakness. But over time, I’ve realized they’re not a step back; they’re a strategic leap forward.

I’m not afraid to step back from work when needed, recognizing its necessity just like in training. The constant grind wears down productivity. Yes, I’m known for pushing at work, but it’s balanced by longer breaks spaced out. It’s not about how long the breaks are; it’s about giving both the body and mind a chance to recharge. Frequently.

My basketball coach had this ingenious trick where she’d make us switch sports to volleyball for a few days when training reached its peak. A very different type of break that led to a deliberate shift in working different muscles and engaging distinct parts of the brain. A similar concept applies to our daily work. Finding a hobby or a side pursuit that helps you take a break does wonders. The amusing part is that now playing basketball is that much-needed “break” for me :)

In a nutshell, those sack races from my childhood turned out to be life-changing. Working alongside fellow sports enthusiasts (or those who share this mentality) is an absolute joy; they embrace a mindset of less complaining, more solution-oriented thinking, a long-term perspective, adept team rallying, and, above all, a genuine enjoyment of every “match” in life.

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Charmie Kapoor

Associate Director of Design, Unacademy • Alum: Harvard, IIT-G • Ex-Microsoft, Dunzo