Character Coaching

It’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve tossed it around like a beachball, sometimes drifting away from me by a sudden gust of wind and other times right there to grab on to. It’s about character, building character, recognizing character and the absence thereof.

Last year, coaching four different middle school sports gave me an up close view of the need, the void. Values such as respect, fairness, trustworthiness, empathy, and responsibility were as absent as the supermarket shelves a day after a run on toilet paper (Remember that?). There were exceptions to the void, but, as a coach, I hope there will instead be exceptions to the majority who display character.

The cause of the shortage can be attributed to a number of factors. I struggle, however, with whether identifying the reasons kids have not learned how to respect others is much help at all in solving the dilemma and taking care of the need.

I saw a short interview with Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, the Michigan State University women’s golf coach. She made the comment that when they look at who they will recruit the order of criteria begins with “character”, then looks at academics, and finally at talent.

So often parents sell their kids on the idea that those three should be reversed; talent first and, if there’s even any conversation at all about it, character last. Quite honestly, if middle school kids don’t grasp the important of character in those early teen years, before they hit high school, it might be too late. There are too many sad stories of kids who stalk off the court in high school because the coach doesn’t see that they are future professional athletes and, more tragically, are like a virus to the health of a team.

So this year I plan to intentionally focus on character-building. It won’t be a certain time slot in practice, but rather flow through each practice without the team even knowing it. Middle school seasons in our area are short, no more than 7 weeks long from start to finish. I’m able to teach fundamental skills, insert simple basketball offenses and defenses, and talk about game situations. There is rarely a game where I don’t use all of my timeouts because I need to teach players about changes that we need to make.

How I react in difficult moments of the game, how I talk to the officials, and how I communicate to the other coach and players at the end of each game, win-or-lose, says volumes. By no means am I perfect, but they need to see that as well.

Finally, as I tell people with outstretched hands with dismay written all over my face, “It’s a middle school game, for crying out loud!”

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