Sports Do Not Build Character. 3 Ways to Intentionally Build Character Using Your Sports Platform

Part 3 of 3 Part Series Three Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Coaching Ten Years Ago

“Sports don’t build character, they reveal it.” -John Wooden

One of the biggest misconceptions in sports today is that they build character.

If they inherently built character, professional and collegiate athletes in America would be some our most model citizens. Instead we get a pretty bleak picture of athletics in this country when we turn on ESPN.

The fact of the matter is many parents turn to sports to teach their children many of the same life lessons they received growing up. Coaches sacrifice their time and money, because they believe in the transformational power of sports. And schools spend an astronomical amount of money and resources dedicated to their athletic programs under the belief they are critical to a holistic education.

We believe in the good of sports!

Yet, sports provide a platform, an incredibly powerful platform, but ONLY a platform to develop virtue or VICE. Leaders (administrators, coaches, and parents) can use this platform for good or bad, but if we are not intentional it will most likely end up with unintended results. So often we expect sports to nurture and teach the values we hold dear, but we are not intentional in using our platform to nurture and teach.

For years I talked to my teams about the importance of rebounding. We did not choose to spend a lot of time practicing rebounding and thus we were not very good at rebounding.

For years I talked about ignoring the referees and focusing on what you could control. I chose to not ignore the referees and focus on what I could control and thus we were not very good at ignoring the referees.

For years I talked about being men or women of character. We did not choose to spend anytime training virtue or building character and thus our growth was severely limited.

Eventually, in our most challenging moments, we will fall or rise to the level of our training. We cannot escape this fact when it comes to skills, conditioning, and most especially character.

Through my coaching experience I have learned to use my platform to build character in 3 ways:

1. Be a good role model!

If you want to lose weight I do not imagine you would be quick to trust an obese fitness trainer! So why do we expect our athletes to trust us as leaders if we fail to model the behaviors we expect from them?

2. Hold your team to the highest standards.

The greatest coaches and leaders uphold high standards and do so with love and encouragement.

3. Spend time training virtues and character.

How do you train virtue? Virtues like kindness, work ethic, self control, enthusiasm, poise, etc… must be trained just like any muscle within the body. Repetition and challenge. If you truly value character development this will be an everyday thing!

My ten years of coaching have been in Ireland, Lithuania, and America.I have witnessed first hand how sports play a foundational role in each country's society and culture.

Thus, as leaders we have a responsibility to use sports to help build character and instill the values we hold dear. If we continue to shirk this responsibility and fail to be intentional in our training, we will only continue to see a decline not just in the sporting world, but in society as a whole.

Please share your thoughts with me by email or my twitter @jpnerbun

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