As a mom of two boys and a girl—all of whom play sports—I can attest that athletic participation has a lot to offer any kid. But for girls, the stats are especially clear: Sports participation, especially throughout adolescence, sets them up for future success. A few examples:

  • Girls who are active throughout adolescence reduce their later breast cancer risk by 20 percent. They also diminish their risk of osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
  • Female high school athletes are 92 percent less likely to get involved with drugs, 80 percent less likely to get pregnant and three times more likely to graduate than nonathletes.
  • Girls’ sports participation is linked to lower depression and suicide rates, a more positive body image, and better satisfaction with family life than for those who don’t play sports.
  • An Ernst & Young study found that 94 percent of high-level female executives played sports in high school or college.

It’s hard to argue with the numbers—or with the vast body of anecdotal evidence women share regarding the life lessons they garnered from athletics. As someone who’s played sports since I was just a little thing, I have plenty of my own wisdom to add to the mix. I learned the expected lessons, of course: teamwork, how to win, how to lose, how to push myself beyond what I thought possible. But here are six other ways sports participation then makes my life richer now.

Sports taught me:

  1. How good it feels to be fit. Being in shape bolsters your confidence, keeps you healthier, helps you look better and just feels all-around good. Sports introduced me to this feeling early on and inspired me to make sure I never lose it.
  2. Nutrition and sleep are game changers. When you’re pushing your body to new limits, you learn the value of good fuel and rest—and how quickly the lack of either can drag you down.
  3. Relationships matter more than wins and losses. In my sports career, scores and rankings were hardly remembered beyond the sport-season, but some of the friendships I made endure to this day. In my current life, it’s a reminder that relationships matter more than performance, deadlines or what other people think.
  4. Comparison is a waste of time. In sports, you quickly perceive that there’s always someone better than you—and someone worse. You can get down on yourself about the former or feel prideful about the latter, but the secret of contentment is to simply focus on being the best version of yourself.
  5. A great coach or mentor is invaluable. Speaking of being the best version of yourself, few things spur you on like an experienced person who invests in you, believes in you, challenges you and encourages you. I still seek out these people in my life.
  6. But a bad coach/mentor/boss is no excuse to be lousy. You can’t control the person in charge, but you can control you. Complaining, arguing, whining and ceasing to try are all downward spirals that rob you of growth. Resolve to do and be your best, regardless of the leadership.

Did you miss the window of being a teen athlete? All is not lost. Resolve to get active today, and you can still boost your health and self-confidence—and inspire young girls to do the same.

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).