I don't have any funny stories or anecdotes to begin this blog. To tell you the truth, these anecdotes are all too easy to find. Social media, TV, movies, you name it, are littered with stories about the talented "bad boy" or "provocative bad girl" more and more we are seeing highlights (or should I say lowlights) of sideline rants and altercations between athletes and coaches, referees, teammates, the media-- not even fans are immune from the wrath of the undisciplined, self-absorbed athlete.
Now this blog is NOT a really to the "good old days" when athletes were quiet and just did what they were told. The so called “good old days” had its share of knuckleheads too. This is really about a dramatic shift in the cultural or team philosophy that values talent over character.
Formidable UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say, "Winning takes talent, to repeat it takes character." I believe this quote to be true a hundred percent of the time. But let's take this quote one step further...
Better people, make better athletes...
I am not saying that we should lay the blame solely at the feet of the athlete. The blue print for many of the problems we see in our athletes can be traced back to the expectations, or lack thereof imposed on them when they were children. The speed of a young receiver, the arm of a pitcher or young quarterback; the easy fluid swing of a racket or a golf club-- even the crustiest coach can turn into mush when they see a young athlete oozing with potential.
It starts with the the little things, being a few minutes late to practice and the coach says nothing, half hearted warm ups and the coach turns a blind eye. The small fundamental threads that hold the person’s character together slowly begins to erode. The coaches think it's fine, no one notices. The athletes notice. The lack of discipline begins to show during games, a bad route here, a poor shot selection there.
Some coaches will call the athlete on their behavior, most will not. Not wanting to upset the delicate balance of power between coach and a "star athlete," the athlete begins to believes that this behavior is acceptable, and appropriate. If they happen to become pro athletes, the financial windfall they receive that basically cements that attitude. At this point the athlete is beyond reproach and the collective fate of the organization or team is sealed.
Character development or character driven programs, teams and organizations must become the new standard that ALL athletes are swathed in. Our job is to create the proper environment in which they can develop. Praise their success as human beings first. Allow them to develop their self worth and they will not attach who they are to how well they do on the court or the field.
I recently reached out to my old track coach who trained me when I was 13 years old. We talked about technique and program design but at the end of the conversation he told me how proud he was of me, that I'm a good father and more importantly that I grew into fine human being. No mention was ever made of how fast I was, or any of my accomplishments on the field or track. At the end of the day, the thing that I am proudest of is that he played a huge part in helping me become the man, the father and the person that I am today.