The question came up the other day, can you coach character? In response, I posted a video where two college coaches were asked that very question and answered “absolutely.” I, of course agree. After all, the qualities that make up character are some of what I call my “separation qualities,” which are qualities athletes can use to separate themselves from their competition during the athletic recruiting process. Character is certainly a key concept to help athletes develop qualities that college coaches are looking for in a recruitable athlete. But as I thought about my post, I thought that I should probably clarify and expand on this very important topic.
First, I can share with you that I have heard from many college coaches, over the last ten years or so, that athletic skill aside, character is one of the key qualities they look for in a recruit. Now, can they coach character once the recruit arrives? Absolutely, and they will. However, a foundation of character must be present in order to even get that far. By the time they reach the college level, athlete or not, a student either possesses this foundation of good character or not. Some would argue that if an athlete has the grades, the talent and navigated years of club and high school sports, and the recruiting process, a base level of character must be present. I don’t necessarily disagree.
Basic character traits are constructed during childhood by those who knowingly or unknowingly pass on good character to young athletes through teaching, coaching and conversing on the subject, those who I call character coaches, or by simply modeling the behaviors associated with good character that the athlete sees and emulates, those who I call character influencers. A character coach can be anyone from a teacher or administrator at a school, to an athletic coach or family friend. However, the character coach, having the most significant impact in terms of character development is, without a doubt, parents and close family members. Parents and close family members are the key to building and instilling a solid foundation of good character in a young person.
So what is character and how can we build and improve it? If it is so important to college coaches, how can we show them that we have character? The dictionary defines character as a complex of moral, ethical and mental qualities distinct to an individual. In essence, character is really the sum of a number of individual qualities that make you a good or bad person in the eyes of others. These qualities, and others, are a window into your character for those who observe and get to know you. Those who are sizing you up, like employers or college coaches, are looking at these qualities to assess whether you would be a good candidate or not.
There are many qualities at play here, as we talk about the character of an athlete, but for purpose of defining character and discussing ways to improve or affect it in order to gain the attention of college coaches, I feel I should address these qualities separately. So, I have decided to dive into this topic through a monthly blog post. Each month I will explore a couple of these “separation qualities” that lead to good character, in-depth.
Let’s start with Integrity. The late Steven Covey, educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker said “Integrity is conforming reality to our words - In other words, keeping our promises, fulfilling expectations and honoring those who are not present.” In his best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey describes “emotional bank accounts” that each of us hold. People in our lives make deposits and withdrawals in these accounts. Some of them continue to make deposits, while others are overdrawn, having withdrawn more than they had in the account. Keeping a commitment or a promise is a major “deposit”. Not showing up when you committed to, or failing to keep a promised confidence, is a major “withdrawals.”
You can spend a lifetime building your integrity, but it can be all lost in a second with a poor decision leading to an excessive withdrawal on emotional bank account of another. Integrity is your word, and your word is you. You may be broke, living on the street and eating scraps, but you can still have integrity.
Some people place a very high value on integrity, and coaches tend to be in that category. So how can you show a coach that you have integrity? Easy, do exactly what you said you would do. Call when you say you would call and if you are asked to provide something, do it right away and consider doing even more than you are asked to do.
Have the reputation of never being late and never leaving early. Have you ever heard the saying “early is on time, on time is late and late is unacceptable?” Live that saying and you will stand out among other athletes, trust me.
Motivational speaker, writer and consultant Denis Waitley says “A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you come to terms with the realization that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make.”
We humans make hundreds, if not thousands, of choices every day. A mature person realizes it is not the circumstances with which you are faced, but rather the choices you make regarding your circumstances that will determine the outcome. High school student-athletes need to have a firm grasp of consequences for actions.
You also must be the creative force of your life and understand that you are responsible for making it what it is. Sure, it’s really easy to blame it on others, circumstances and fate. But the bottom line is that the only one responsible for making your life what it is today, and what it will be tomorrow, was staring back at you in the mirror this morning. You must hold yourself accountable.
Be responsible for yourself. Don’t yell at your parents in the stands to go get you a water, go get it yourself. Don’t be seen walking out of an athletic venue scrolling through Facebook on your phone while your parents carry all of your gear. Carry it yourself, even if you have to make multiple trips. You are not a child anymore. If you act like one, you clearly telling everyone around you that you are not ready to play collegiate sports.
Of course you are going to make mistakes, everyone does. But you have the choice to accept responsibility for what happens, learn from it and move on, or blame others or other things, and continue on the path immaturity.
If you would like a list of all forty of my “separation qualities” send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @playupathletics and join our free Facebook recruiting community called College Athletic Recruiting Community.