Sports builds character

Appeals for character education are soaring higher and higher these days. And right in front of our noses, every day, is one of the solutions: school and youth sports.

It’s not that coaches and teachers fail to teach character, it’s that character building isn’t an automatic “A.” If you don’t have it, it’s not easy to learn. A lousy attitude, heaven forbid, may make learning inconvenient for those who need a character change the most.

So, you ask, what is a character education curriculum? It doesn’t take a committee study, political intervention grant or the reform of education sports. To find out, ask. Just ask the athletic administrator and/or coach. Reading the athletic code is also a good source.

You will discover a curriculum in the team code. Character lessons are usually listed in self-achievable objectives (sometimes rules) that are easily measured.

  • Never, ever quit.

  • Respond positively to the pressures and problems of success – and those of failure.

  • Risk by trying, then ignore criticism; be your own critic but don’t criticize others.

  • Accept the responsibility and power to succeed (or fail) as your own.

  • Commit to excellence; develop your ability.

  • Establish solid standards by which to live and play.

  • Use the courage to make your own decisions.

    Real winners look adversity in the eye and use their ability and courage to succeed. That takes character. Turnovers, bad serves, third-and-22, muddy tracks, second- or last-place finishes all test the level of character to work harder and accomplish even more.

    Adversity in sports is an opportunity to build a whole lot more than “sports” character.

    And we all admire the character it takes for a big comeback.

    Excluding about 50 extraneous daily pressures faced while “maturing,” a young athlete has at least five tests that can immediately destroy or build character:

    (1) Let “good enough be good enough” … or practice to correct and prevent mistakes, every day.

    (2) Avoid, quit, walk away … or treat adversity as the test it is.

    (3) Put “it” off and hope it goes away … or face it immediately.

    (4) Be afraid to fail … or accept failure as a natural consequence of trying.

    (5) Feel sorry for yourself, blame others … or decide that “failing is when failure is accepted”.

    Yes, there are more than 50 growing-up character-builders. Some are huge challenges and some are easy fixes. Character is built now, and help is needed now. All athletes eventually determine when and how they accept success or failure.

    Steve Largent has an acronym wall-hanger for young athletes (embellished by a few Gilliesisms borrowed from coaches I admire):

    F: Forget your failures. Don’t dwell on past mistakes.

    A: Anticipate setbacks. Realize we all make mistakes.

    I: Intensity in everything you do. Never be a failure for lack of effort.

    L: Learn from mistakes. Don’t repeat previous errors.

    U: Understand why you failed. Practice and plan success.

    R: Respond with positive action. Seize the opportunity to be better.

    E: Elevate your self-concept. Treat yourself to become better.

    At the risk of criticism, here’s my view of the causes of concerns regarding character education:

  • Student athletes. No, not really. Coaches know attitude development is 92 percent of performance; the other 8 percent relates to skill development. Character can be taught daily and is not an exclusive responsibility of coaching, teaching or schools. Athletics is an excellent classroom to discover and display attitude.

  • Coaches and schools. Only if they do not stress the importance of character beyond the playing field or court. The curriculum of sport requires elements of character, such as responsibility, self-image, attitude, leadership – and the sports laboratory delivers lessons and tests during each season to beginning students and veterans. Coaches expect character to be absorbed from the leadership of experienced players.

  • Parents. Certainly the curriculum starts with parents. And when involved they do a very good job of teaching. When character is not stressed in the family curriculum, it becomes important only when supervised by someone else. Improved character can be expected only when attitudinal skills are developed at home, reinforced at school and practiced with other people.

  • Peers and teammates. At times, yes. Either bad or good, by default or being held accountable, peers and teammates set the standard. Improper behavior is usually caused by ignorance. Good leadership is showing how to do something right; poor leadership is leading ignorance. Character leadership needs more than a popularity vote.

  • Authority and responsibility. Yes, support of imposed expectations will improve character. Regardless of who is responsible, the responsibility to teach, lead and require positive character is an integral part of education sports. Without authority to impose the consequences of bad behavior, “character” will continue to be a goal for someone else to accomplish.

  • What should be criticized, not who. All coaches, other than those very few who need to complete the curriculum themselves, will do well when given the authority and support to require character education tests be passed by every athlete.

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