Importance of Character Development in Athletics
There are many opportunities to teach life lessons to student-athletes through athletics. When approached in the appropriate fashion, the peaks and valleys of athletics can help prepare student-athletes for real life. Opportunities may arise throughout the course of an athletic season or career such as: the ability to deal with adversity, to work with others towards a common goal, to overcome obstacles, to fail, to be defeated, and to win. All of these athletic situations help student-athletes deal with future real-life situations that require strength, courage, hard work, mental toughness, and/or humility. These educational opportunities can either be harnessed and cultivated or ignored and wasted. It is my contention that these learning opportunities must be seized, especially within the context of character development. There is not a better way to bring about social change than through sports. It is in this context that I believe sports should be utilized at the grassroots level to build character in its participants. As a society, we place such a high premium on winning that the coaches, players, and parents sometimes forget the true reason for sport. Athletics are meant to help develop the whole person – the body in conjunction with the mind. If we neglect the latter, we are doing every individual who participates in athletics and society in general, a great disservice.
According to studies in the field of character development and athletics – the longer a player plays in the higher levels and the higher levels they reach the more morally callus they become. The myth in America is that sports builds character. That’s not true at all in a win-at-all-costs culture. Sports don’t build character unless a coach intentionally teaches it. High school athletes cut more moral and ethical corners than non high school athletes. College athletes cut more corners than non college athletes and it goes all the way up through the professional ranks. There is a tremendous need for character development because we are modeling and teaching and allowing the opposite of that to take place.
The issue of character development is so important, in fact, that the White House this year had its first ever “National Character Counts Week”. In addition, the NCAA recognizes the importance of character development in its CHAMPS/Life Skills Initiative. It is increasingly clear that the issue of character development is worthy of significant consideration in athletics and in society.
It is clear that there is no perfect formula for delivering a character development program, and there are many possible ways to spread the message. The key is to find the platform that most appropriately suits your style.
Many coaches want to mentor their players and help make them become better human beings, but they lack the training, thought process, and ability to fully maximize their full potential as the coach and mentor.
Aside from understanding the methodology behind character development, another essential element is that coaches must be 100% committed to character development within his/her program. Character development it can not be a one-off, it has to be fully integrated with your program. In essence, character development must be at the core of your program and must be equally as important as every other aspect of the program including winning. It cannot be casually or randomly inserted at convenient times.
Sharon Stoll is a leading expert in character development and a professor at the Center for Ethics at the University of Idaho’s College of Education. Stoll has spent much of her career studying the values and morals of athletes. The results of the study indicate that many athletes are deficient in moral reasoning, and that sports have moved away from honorable behavior with more emphasis on winning at all costs and material rewards.