Far too often, when examining the success of our teams, the only thing that we look at are the results. Whether they are a nightmare to deal with or not, as long as they are winning, we tend to 'deal with it.' They may break team rules, school rules, and break the law – but as long as your team is doing well in the standings, you put up with it.
If you are a High School or College Coach, you will get to work with an athlete for anywhere between 4-6 years, if they even stick around the whole time. If your athlete goes on to live to be 80, then after he or she leaves your tutelage, they will then have nearly 60 years of NOT being on your team. If that is the case, then why are you only focused on making he or she a better athlete? Shouldn’t the things that we teach them be skills that they need to have for the rest of their lives? I know that you may be thinking, ‘Well, my particular sport teaches them lessons about life, so why do I need to do anything character specific?’
Well, it has everything to do with it. YOU need to be the teacher. YOU need to implement the skills that will not just make them better athletes, but people of character. That should be the center of your program. If you are building better people first and foremost, I guarantee you that your team is going to be better off.
Here are 5 reasons why focusing on character is important:
Reducing of Anxiety for Both the Coach & Athlete
When you have an athlete, or sometimes a group of athletes that are not doing what they are supposed to be doing either on or off the field, it is natural that your anxiety as a coach will increase. For the athlete – I would bet that 9 times out of 10, they know what they are doing is wrong. And if that is the case, then each time they come out to practice or a game, the focus is not where it should be. It is on the thought of, ‘Oh I hope coach doesn’t talk to me about what happened last night.’
If you are focused on the character of your team first, then you as a coach will be able to focus on making them a better player because their mind and emotions will be in the right place. And as the athlete, there will be no reason to avoid conversation and contact with coach at practices and at games. Making better decisions is going to make you a better player, and most importantly a better person.
More than Sport Specific Coaching, Character Building will be with them for the rest of their lives
As we said earlier in this piece, if an athlete lives to be 80 years old, then they have another 50-60 years to live AFTER they are done being coached by you. The skills that you teach them from a technical point of view are important – because in the long run, that is vital in order to win games. These skills will be able to passed on to their children, other players that they may coach, and depending on the sport, used to help them stay in shape and disciplined for the rest of their lives.
However, they are not skills that they are going to use every day. Not every day are they going to teach people to run, jump, or throw. They are however going to take the things that you teach them that will build their character every day of their lives. Character is not something that you take a day off of. It is the daily grind of making the right decisions, even when they may not be popular. It is about being a better person for your children and people around you. Lessons about character are forever. So why not teach them about the next 50 years rather than just 4?
Athletes will invest more in you, the coach
I am a firm believer that an athlete will try more if they see that you care about their growth as a person. Athletes are not ‘stupid.’ They know when you are lying to them and when you are trying to be up-front with them. Also, athletes [especially in high school and in college] are always looking for their coach as someone to lean on, talk to, and act as an example of someone they can become. If you are teaching your players the right life skills, they will be more invested in you and in turn, play harder for you.
Let’s take that idea one more step further…if you have a team of athletes that all are trying to work on their character, they will want to play harder not just for you, but for each other. When you are a young person trying to become a person of character or even a person who is trying to find their way in the world, the more you are around people that are just like you, the greater you will try to improve yourself. Just like the soccer team that is working on technical skills during practice, a team trying to build their character will push each other to be better and make better decisions. This unification process will increase the investment in your team, in you, and in each other. And when you play for something or someone bigger than yourself, you have a team that is going to be hard to beat.
Creates a better team environment
Ask yourself this question: Isn’t the team environment in practice or games better when you have a bunch of athletes that are making the right decisions instead of a bunch of people that are acting as selfish individuals making the wrong decisions? I think we both know the answer to the question. If you make the center of your program character first, and then worry about their performance, then you are going to have a better team environment.
While you are building character, you are also focusing on making people better listeners, better communicators, and building a culture of accountability, perseverance, and comradery. When you focus on performance, you are more likely to have a group of individuals so focused on their own performance that the opportunity to build cohesion lessens. And as that opportunity shrinks, so does the opportunity to have a team environment that you desire.
It gets at the heart of sport, which is building better people
At the heart of all of this, is the at one of the intentions of sport is to create better people. People who can work well with others, who can communicate effectively, and how leave your team not just with better skills from a technical perspective, but with positive character traits that they can take with them for the rest of their lives. It is not just about winning, or how can outperform another, but what can you do as a coach to build the best all-around person that you can during your time with them. If you do that, then you are on the right track to being successful.
I hope that after reading this that you will take a look at your program and determine what is at its core. Maybe it is not any of the characteristics that we discussed today. But whatever it is, it is our suggestion that the center of your program has people leaving with a better understanding of how to live a life that is rooted in building the best person you can. Once you do that, I think that you and your team is going to be better for it.