Character – Foundation for Sport & Business Success
Maintaining peak performance at all levels and avoiding failure at all cost can be daunting. There’s pressure from coaches, the team, management, sponsors, and media. In many cases, the strongest pressure comes from self. For student athletes, add in pressure from parents, peers, and academics and you’ve got a pressure cooker.
It often comes down to character, that all important ingrained essence of an individual. Reference books vary on the precise definition of “character.” For the purposes of this article, I think a combination of several definitions works best.
What is Character?
Character is said to be “the stable and distinctive qualities built into an individual’s life which determine his or her response regardless of circumstances." Success or failure in any situation or endeavor depends, more than anything else, on how we respond. Of course, not all “good” people will experience more “success” and not all “bad” people will fail. Coaches and researchers know that some character traits, like honesty, humility, commitment, selflessness lead to “success” while others like procrastination, dishonesty, and arrogance can point to “failure.”
College Sports Focusing Lights on Character Building
The importance of building character along with skill training is now part of many collegiate and major league sports programs. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), with over 250 school members, is a governing body of small athletics programs dedicated to character-driven intercollegiate athletics. Only NAIA member rated high enough on five key areas: character training, academic focus, character recognition, character promotion, and conduct in competition can be named a Champions of Character Five-Star Institution.
This is just one example of the importance given to character building for student athletes. Today, in three out of four American families with school-aged children, at least one child plays an organized sport. That’s approximately 45 million children. Yet only 3% of high school athletes will play in college and less than 1% of them will ever play professionally.
We can’t define success solely by the scoreboard. Watching our kids play in leagues that start out with everyone winning and quickly move to win at all costs, it will take some strong character building to keep our young athletes from getting the wrong message. While your student athlete may never make it to the big league, they can still enjoy life success in other ways and include sports.
NFL Foundation Pilots InsideOut Initiatives within Communities
In 2015, the NFL Foundation piloted InSideOut Initiatives in Colorado and Texas to bring educational leaders, state athletic associations, and local NFL teams together to positively change the current sports culture and to re-define the role of interscholastic sports in the lives of students and communities. Early data shows successful development of character growth opportunities for students through their sports experience. Currently, there are InsideOut Initiatives between the NFL Foundation, the Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Indians, Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and New Orleans Saints, and associated communities.
We’ve got great examples of positive role models are all around us in Houston with J.J. Watt, and our World Series winning Astros. These professional athletes are paid well, highly recognized, fan favorites, and yet they play selflessly on the field and give back to their fans at every opportunity. There are many more examples where character wins, and of course there are a few where it loses. The point is that it’s not too early to give your student athlete the tools to develop a strong, positive character.
Let them know that it’s okay to fail, as long as they gave it their all and grew in the experience
Be a positive role model in the way you interact with coaches and on the field
Discourage bad attitudes toward themselves or their teammates
Character isn’t something our kids learn by suiting up and playing a sport, it’s something they learn from positive role models, positive coaching, and good leadership examples. Add to character the ability to build strong relationship and we have the foundation for becoming great teammate and contributor to society.