Student athletes have the power and skill to impact the game of life

The power of hope, the power of one person – that’s all it takes to make a difference.

One person can change the world of someone’s life or a community just by giving hope.

That’s exactly what happened last fall when 1,000s of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student athletes felt fear during an ill-timed strike by the Chicago Teacher’s Union.

One by one student athletes throughout Chicago rose up, engaged their friends, parents and strangers to help paddle the making a difference boat that eventually led to a number of student athletes and teams getting back on the field.

Here we are again a few months later, as 1,000s of student athletes throughout Illinois and the U.S. are sidelined by the latest world pandemic. This time, however, student athletes can’t win this battle through the court system, but they can rally together to win another battle – fear.

While some may be scared of fear, I am here to remind you that fear is good – it’s just how you approach it. Just like on the field, players and teams are fearful of countless things.

Nine times out of 10, though, it’s all a mental game.

In times like this, I ask you: What are you doing to be a champion off the field to make a difference in the lives of others?

It’s something I’ve consistently preached to high school administrators, teachers and coaches through the PepsiCo Showdown – the largest high school sports series in the U.S. In partnership with Buddy’s HELPERS, the goal of the Making A Difference On AND Off The Field campaign is to engage and educate student athletes about the leadership and power they have to make a difference on AND off the field.

As Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

“Making A Difference” doesn’t mean “charity.” It also doesn’t mean just helping those less fortunate. It’s all about enhancing the lives of others each and every day in a positive way.

This fascinating period in time is an amazing opportunity for student athletes to rally together and rise to the occasion in the game of life. One percent of student athletes will go on and play professionally, but all 100 percent of student athletes can be change agents in their communities.

The world needs youthful energy now more than ever, and it especially needs leadership from the rising generation. Just like on the field, student athletes need to play their role off the field.

Whether it’s time, talent or prayers, student athletes can make a difference. Be creative.

What are you doing each and every day to make a difference? It’s not about what you have, but what you do with what you have. Some of you have money, patience, kindness or love.

Whatever your gift is – use it. Don’t just sit on it.

Sometimes moments like this create the road for your future success. Life will never be a straight path, and that’s what you’re experiencing and seeing now during this historic moment.

Despite what you may see on the news or on social media, I’m encouraged. Each day, I see superstars on the field becoming superheroes off the field. Always be open to helping people – especially those you have never met.

The chances you take, the people you meet, the love you give and the faith you have – that’s what is going to define your true impact in moments like this. Never be discouraged, never hold back – give everything you have each day to contribute something and make a difference.

It might be as simple as a phone call to a loved one instead of a text. Let the emotion of true human voices work by going the extra step to call. Maybe you drop off groceries to someone or smile at a stranger and say hi, instead of looking down or walking by.

Nothing makes me prouder than watching PepsiCo Showdown student athletes – both current and alumni – make a difference consistently year-round. They show that it’s more than just a sports game by becoming true difference makers in the game of life.

I enjoy connecting people and ideas. My mission statement for myself since Jan. 2016 has been: Improve lives. And in this unique stretch, we all can and should be doing something each day.

(S)he who says (s)he can and (s)he who says (s)he can’t are both usually right.

Each morning when I get out of bed, I realize I have a cool opportunity to improve someone’s day. I want my life, work and family to mean something when my time here is done. If you aren’t making someone else’s life better then you are wasting your time. Your life will become better by making others better.

Think about that for a second.

Greatness truly exists in all of us. While many people will sit at home and not do anything in the days ahead, student athletes have to believe something good can happen each and every second of the day. It’s no different than what the mindset should be on the field. It also applies to the game of life.

No matter where you come from, no matter your ethnic background, what school you go to or how big your house is, nothing else matters right now but the will to succeed and that’s measured by the size of your heart.

And always know, your effort to make a difference will never just impact one person – it will always be two. If you get another person and another person, that two turns into four, eight, 16, etc.

Today is the beginning of the rest of your life. It can be a mean world at times, but you only live once. You are in control of your role and impact in the game of life.

So as you wait to get back on the field, I remind you: Don’t just aspire to make a living, aspire to make a difference.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer: STAR Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.