“To allow vice to dominate sport at all levels while thinking that it will not have an adverse impact on society and our culture, or that it’s not going to negatively influence you, your children, or your grand children, is to live in denial; we criticize it, but we’re actually enabling it to happen if we continue to support it and allow it to just keep rolling along in its present state.” -Dr. Bill Thierfelder
Just the other night I watched my assistant coach Francisco Soutuyo coach his daughters’ team to a middle school championship. Up 23-16 they blew their lead within a matter of seconds due to the opponents full court pressure defense. Fran called a timeout and during the timeout I admired the focus the team showed. Time was not wasted on being angry or frustrated, but on what they needed to do to beat the press.
After the game multiple parents mentioned to me that they believed the turning point in their season was when the players started reading as a team after practices and before games. We had just finished the book “Chop Wood Carry Water” with our varsity boys team and I gave Fran a few copies to share with his team. Within a few weeks the girls were hooked on the reading and discussing the life lessons and virtues laid out in the book.
The girls started to learn and apply the lessons to their practices and games. Surrendering the outcome and focusing on the process became a theme before games. So when they blew their lead in the championship game it was less about Xs and Os and more about blocking out negative emotions and focusing on the controllables of their situation. These young girls made the adjustment needed and went on to win 31-25 without turning the ball over against the press the rest of the game.
The lesson learned?
If we want our players to be mentally tough we must be intentional about mental training.
If we want our players to grow as young men and women we must be intentional about training virtue and character.
Our varsity boys high school team just overcame being 4-17 and ranked 87th in the state to convincingly win our district championship. Many on the outside may feel there was some change made in the last few weeks of our season, but if you ask our players and coaches-- it was our intentional mental training and character development for the last 3 months that made a turnaround like that possible.
From a regular season district record of 3-7 to District 7AA Champions
As a sporting culture I think we expect our sport to teach young people life lessons and develop character. Sports do not build character. Administrators, coaches, and parents MUST be intentional and purposeful in using sports to develop character. If we are not intentional in using sports as a platform to develop character and virtue then it will use us. And as it currently stands sports are developing more vice than virtue.
"While sport can be a great way to grow in virtue, the culture surrounding sport can often make cultivating some of the virtues- like temperance, modesty, and humility- extremely difficult.” -Dr. Bill Thierfelder
In my ten years of coaching I have spent the majority of my time developing a player's skills and team play. The problem with that approach is you eventually hit a wall, because without character the athlete will only go so far.
If you can teach kids to shoot a jump shot...you can teach them to work hard.
If you can teach kids to throw a football… you can teach them to treat others with respect.
If you can teach kids to kick a ball… you can teach them to appreciate the opportunities they have in life.
If you can teach kids to swing a golf club… you can teach them to think of others before themselves.
Coaches and fans want their players to be able to perform at their very best under the toughest circumstances. It is why we hold Tom Brady in such high regard after his most recent Super Bowl comeback win. So we should want our young men and women to act with high character when under the toughest circumstances.
The personal training and skills coach is a growing industry. I see parents spend thousands of dollars every year so their child can receive the best training in their sport. Do we not care more about our young men and women's character than their athletic ability?
If so, then it is time for our sports culture to start investing and being intentional in using sports to develop character.
“We are intentional about what we value.” -Jamie Gilbert
Coaches can start committing practice time to developing character not just athletic ability and skills.
Parents can start helping their children see every sporting experience, easy or hard, as an opportunity to learn and grow.
When we start using sports to help others develop character the amazing thing is that it will help ourselves grow in virtue and it will be more fulfilling than a life of chasing championships, fame, and fortune.
Please email me your ideas or questions on ways to build character through sports!
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