“Sports do not build character. They reveal it.” – John Wooden
Sports teach life lessons. This is the message I received through my playing days. This is the reason that parents will sign up (sometimes force) their children to become involved in and take an interest in sports. They will make them tougher. They will teach them discipline. They will make them stronger. Sports will help prepare them for the real world.
Are sports really what teach us these things?
As former athlete, I can recall countless times where I mentioned to people how baseball taught me how to handle failure. Baseball is after all a game where professionals can make an out seven of ten at-bats and still be considered a success. You swing and miss; you pop up; you ground out; you make errors; you give up hits; you walk people; you serve up home runs; you miss cut off men; you get picked off. Baseball is a game that can become extremely frustrating even for the best players.
But, did baseball teach me how to handle all of this failure?
Of course not! They people along the way did. My parents, my coaches, my teammates, my mentors. Sports simply served as an exceptional platform from which I could learn from those people.
By contrast, think about these situations:
How many times have you seen a post-game handshake go awry? How many times have you seen coaches get into verbal and physical altercations about the happenings of a game? How many times have you seen a coach or player skirt the rules so long as no one notices? How many times have you heard an individual player blamed for a loss or told he “sucks”? How many times have you heard that winning is all that matters (at all costs!)? How many times have you seen someone yanked from a game then get yelled at by the coach for letting the team down? How many times have you seen a coach throw (insert object here) when a player or referee made a mistake? How many times have you witnessed a coach define his team’s success or failure by wins and losses?
What are we teaching our kids here? Is this transformational coaching or leadership? Are these the characteristics we wanted our children to take away when we signed them up?
I recently witnessed a youth football practice where a coach came unglued when a player did not defend a play particularly well. He spent what seemed like an eternity (realistically about 30 seconds) berating this young player for being out of position and not performing whatever technique was needed in that moment the correct way. He let the player know just how terrible he thought his performance in this practice drill was. After the thirty second rampage, the coach yelled at the player to get to the back of line and do it right next time. No explanation of what he did wrong, no instruction on what he was looking for, no teaching or coaching of any kind. Sure enough, the player came back through the line and did it wrong again. “WHAT DID I JUST TELL YOU?” And off the coach went again. (In fact, during the entire 10-15 minutes, I was in the area watching, I did not hear one positive compliment or word of encouragement from the coaches toward the players during those drills.) Sounds like a transformational experience in all the wrong ways.
Coaches, we must do better. We must use our platform to teach, to inspire, to influence our players in positive ways. We must teach them that their value is linked to the person they are, not the statistics in the box score. We have an unbelievable gift on an incredible platform to be able to leave a lasting and positive mark on these kids.
When a player falls to the ground, encourage your team to help them up. When your team makes a mistake, teach them and show them where to improve. When a referee makes a questionable call, diplomatically and civilly ask him what he saw. When the other team beats you, congratulate them on a well-played game. Lift your players up, do not constantly beat them down. Play the game as hard as you can within the rules. Challenge them to be their best day in and day out. Expect nothing less of them. Be tough on them even, but please, please, please do not forget to love them.
Sports reveal character–both good and bad. But, the people are the ones who will determine which of those characters is revealed. These players look up to us and respect us in ways that we may not even realize. When the dust settles and the game is over, how do you want your team to be remembered?
My hope is that people will say: They played hard and to the best of their ability. They competed and brought out the best in themselves and the other team. They played with maximum effort and with ultimate character in true sportsmanship. They left it all out there today, and they were successful.
Not because the final score said so, but because they achieved competitive greatness through true mental toughness.
Sports reveal character. Coaches, it is your job to define it.
Bring your best today!