“One of the great myths in America is that sports build character. They can and they should. Indeed, sports may be the perfect venue in which to build character. But sports don’t build character unless a coach possesses character and intentionally teaches it.” This excerpt is found in the book Insideout Coaching, by Joe Ehrmann.
Insideout Coaching has been a focal point for our athletic department for quite some time now. Ehrmann addresses a number of topics related to youth sport and education-based athletics. Perhaps the most important is the idea of how adults in leadership positions in athletics have the tremendous ability to cultivate valuable character traits in our young people – if they’re intentional about it.
While the above quote relates directly to coaches, the word coach can be substituted for many other roles as well – parent, mentor, administrator, sibling, etc. When discussing the cultivation of character traits through sport, it’s important to define, and then understand, the word character. First of all, Webster’s Dictionary definition of character is “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.” While that definition is relatively straight forward, there are two distinct types of character that emerge in the world of sports: 1) performance character, and 2) moral character.
Performance character relates to the skills that an individual possess which help them to be successful in school, the workplace, or extra-curricular activities. These types of skills and traits would be things such as self discipline, organization, attention to detail, and perseverance. While important, this type of skill only tells part of the story. Coupling performance related traits with positive moral character traits is vital to the development of the whole child.
Moral Character skills are defined as “the dispositions needed for ethical functioning” by Dr. Matt Davidson. Moral character skills are things such as empathy, respect, honesty, and compassion. How can anyone expect to function within the framework of a team of any kind, whether it be in sports, at work or in society in general without having skills such as empathy, respect, honesty and the many host of other skills that make up our moral character skills?
The development of these moral character skills is often taken for granted. If we’re only hoping that that our kids “pick up” these skills along the way, then it’ll result in failure. We need our coaches, parents, administrators, and community – as a whole – to approach the development of both performance and moral character skills in an intentional manner.
In our athletic programs, this starts with administration and parents supporting the intentional teaching of those skills by our coaches and teachers. The results are that our kids will understand its importance because we intentionally teach it; in turn, they model those behaviors to their fellow classmates.
Our coaches know that they have our support. No coach should feel the pressure to – only – teach our students how to dribble, shoot, pitch or sprint. If that pressure is felt, then there is an over-emphasis on results. Contest results are a great barometer of where we are in our performance character skills. However, the problem comes from when the results in a contest continuously outweigh the moral character skills our students are also learning by being involved in our athletic programs.
It is our goal as an athletic department for our coaches to have a high degree of comfort with knowing that not every single minute of practice needs to be spent on X’s and O’s. It is OK!! if team time is not always spent running through drills, or in the film room, or lifting weights. Research shows that the relationship between educator and student can either fuel a fire of learning or turn a young person away. When time is devoted to intentionally work on team culture, building relationships among team members, or working to develop trust among members of the team, then we know that moral character of our students to supplement the performance character traits are also being developed.
We are blessed to have a community that knows the importance of both performance and moral character. We want to thank our students, our parents, our coaches and our entire Woodridge staff for their continued emphasis on all aspects of education-based athletics this school year. Your commitment to education based athletics is inspiring. Thank you.