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COURAGE is one of those magical qualities possessed by few, but found in all great individuals both in and outside of sports. Whether it’s standing up for what you believe in despite it’s unpopularity, remaining calm and composed under the heat of intense competitive pressure, consistently moving towards your fears and insecurities or maintaining a grace and dignity when you fail miserably, courage wears a number of different clothes. You don’t have to be a mature adult to be courageous. Children sometimes demonstrate far more courageous behavior than adults. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to be courageous. As a matter of fact, you don’t even have to be that athletically inclined to develop and fine-tune this quality, which is one of the cornerstones of mental toughness. In this month’s issue we will examine some of the different faces of courage.

ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Do you have the guts to take a stand?”
PARENT’S CORNER – “So what is it that you’re teaching your child?”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Being a courageous coach.”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “Olympian courage & class on the mat.”


“Do you have the guts to get off your butt and take a stand?”

Do you know right from wrong? Are you really honest with yourself? Are you willing to speak up when a teammate is wronged, scapegoated, or otherwise mistreated by other team members, even if those team members represent the “in group” and your speaking up might hurt your chances of being “in?” Do you have the guts to really stand up for your values? Do you have courage?

First off, what is courage? A lot of people think that courage is the absence of fear. Incorrect! You really can’t have courage without the presence of a fear-inspiring challenge. Simply put, there has to be something fearful in order for you to feel courage. Understand that both the hero and coward feel fear. What makes you courageous is what you then do with the fear that you’re feeling. The coward feels fear and quickly moves away from the source of the discomfort. He/she avoids the behavior or situation that’s frightening. The hero feels the fear, moves towards it and goes ahead and says or does whatever he/she was afraid of despite the fear. This is courage. An example:

Troy was a high school sophomore on a soccer team with lousy senior leadership. As a matter of fact, you might say that the seniors on his team were anti-leaders. They personified everything a leader should NOT be. They were negative and always focused on the dark side of things. They were condescending to their teammates, and poked fun at and ignored the underclassmen. They were, in simple terms, cowards! In games they yelled and swore at teammates who committed mistakes or failed to pass them the ball. If another teammate was open in these same games, they frequently held onto the ball themselves instead of passing to the open man. In practice they set a wonderful example by consistently dogging it and looking for corners to cut. When and if they were benched in games, (which was not often enough in my opinion!), they’d complain bitterly that the coach was an idiot and didn’t know what he was doing. Furthermore they refused to take responsibility for their behavior, pointing the finger of blame at everyone else. Another characteristic of the coward! All in all, they were “stellar” examples of rotten role models and poor sports.

As an underclassman Troy caught quite a bit of the senior’s crap. They dumped on him regularly and jumped all over him whenever he gave up the ball. Interestingly enough, Troy was a much more skilled player than many of the seniors. In addition, he was also a class act, not to mention a whole lot mature than most. When the seniors made fun of a player in the locker room and tried to get everyone else to join in, Troy refused to play their nasty, immature games. He didn’t care if not going along with them meant that he was further on their you-know-what list. Many times he did the courageous thing, standing up to them and, in front of the whole team, telling them to grow up and stop acting like losers. Unfortunately his responses only brought derisive laughter and more ridicule his way. To make matters worse, the coaches were totally oblivious to the team dynamics on their squad. They ignored the yelling and belittling and did nothing to protect the underclassman or the integrity of the team as a unit. Apparently they didn’t seem to have a clue that building a winning team starts and ends with the coaches! Furthermore the coaches didn’t even seem to care when the seniors dogged it in training and games. While they paid lip service to the need for the team to work hard and follow the rules, they provided no consequences for those athletes who regularly broke them. Seniors were allowed to play regardless of how they practiced or how they acted during games.

Troy, however, decided that he was not going to let this situation get him down. He had clearly chosen the most difficult road to travel for himself. You might say his road was paved in courage. When teammates belittled him in games he didn’t let that their immature behavior get him down. He responded by working harder in practice and being more positive himself. When other teammates were being put down he stepped in to support them and confront the offending seniors. When the coaches benched him after playing well while unfairly allowing their favorites to keep playing despite sloppy, selfish play, he maintained his motivation and a positive attitude.

Despite the coach’s intimidating style, Troy approached him after practice one day. In as respectful a manner as possible, Troy expressed his concern that the coach was being unfair and rewarding the upperclassmen’s poor play and rotten attitudes. While the talk didn’t necessarily get Troy much more playing time in the next game, he was determined that he wasn’t going to let the situation nor the people involved interfere with his bigger dream to play college soccer.

Keeping your head on straight in this kind of environment is not easy. Handling yourself with the kind of maturity and focus that Troy demonstrated takes courage and class. In this kind of situation it’s easy to feel bitter, discouraged and become negative. In fact, Troy would’ve been justified if he had let himself give into all these negative feelings. After all, he was in a terrible situation. However, you have to ask yourself, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be successful?” It’s the sure sign of a courageous winner to maintain your dignity and motivation in the face of this kind of hardship.


“So what is it that you’re teaching your child?”

One of the most important questions you have to ask yourself as a parent involved in youth sports is, “What do I really want my child to learn from his/her experience.” Whether you know it or not, in every interaction you have with your children, you are teaching them lessons about life, relationships and what is “right” or “wrong.” Unfortunately, too many parents don’t have an awareness that they are involved in an important teaching moment. Their emotions and own issues, stimulated by the “heat” of the competitive moment, cloud their good judgment. Consequently their teachings are terribly flawed. An example:

A swim mother rushes down onto a crowded deck after her 9 year-old daughter has just been disqualified from a race for missing the start. The mother, flushed with outrage, and as a consequence, in possession of zero parenting brain cells, slaps her daughter loudly across the face in front of everyone and yells, “Don’t you ever do that to me again!” A rare teaching moment has been seized! Unfortunately some very twisted lessons were taught. Can we first ask why this little girl missed the start of her race?

Two heats before her own, the girls’ best friend had a very disappointing race and was in the locker room in tears. Naturally, her best friend was by her side, comforting her. This is why she missed her race! Nothing wrong with this little girl’s judgement! What kind of lessons are you teaching your kids about their priorities, keeping the sport in perspective, their values and the “right” thing to do in various situations? Don’t miss the “teachable moment” boat. The following story by Al Corvino tells of a parent who found the opportunity to catch his child being courageous and doing the right thing. I found it at

As a high school coach, I did all I could to help my boys win their games. I rooted as hard for victory as they did. A dramatic incident, however, following a game in which I officiated as a referee, changed my perspective on victories and defeats. I was refereeing a league championship basketball game in New Rochelle, New York, between New Rochelle and Yonkers High. New Rochelle was coached by Dan O’Brien, Yonkers by Les Beck. The gym was crowded to capacity, and the volume of noise made it impossible to hear. The game was well played and closely contested. Yonkers was leading by one point as I glanced at the clock and discovered there were but 30 seconds left to play.Yonkers, in possession of the ball, passed off – shot – missed. New Rochelle recovered – pushed the ball up court – shot. The ball rolled tantalizingly around the rim and off. The fans shrieked.New Rochelle, the home team, recovered the ball, and tapped it in for what looked like victory. The tumult was deafening. I glanced at the clock and saw that the game was over. I hadn’t heard the final buzzer because of the noise. I checked with the other official, but he could not help me.Still seeking help in this bedlam, I approached the timekeeper, a young man of 17 or so. He said, “Mr. Covino, the buzzer went off as the ball rolled off the rim, before the final tap-in was made.”I was in the unenviable position of having to tell Coach O’Brien the sad news. “Dan,” I said, “time ran out before the final basket was tapped in. Yonkers won the game.” His face clouded over. The young timekeeper came up. He said, “I’m sorry, Dad. The time ran out before the final basket.”Suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud, Coach O’Brien’s face lit up. He said, “That’s okay, Joe. You did what you had to do. I’m proud of you.” Turning to me, he said, “Al, I want you to meet my son, Joe.” The two of them then walked off the court together, the coach’s arm around his son’s shoulder.Talk about seizing a positive teachable moment! Bravo Dad!


“Being a courageous coach”

Coaching is not an easy profession. In fact, many feel that it’s a thankless one. Coaches get a tremendous amount of feedback, mostly negative and mostly unwanted. All kinds of people are always standing in line ready to question your policies, decision-making skills and competence. It seems like everyone out there from parents, fans, athletes to the reporters in the media are instant experts when it comes to evaluating your performance and discovering all the various things that you’ve screwed up. Why is it that so many people seem to be lying in wait, ready to catch you doing something wrong?

A phone call that coaches at every level, across all sports from around the country field every day:

Parent: “Coach, this is Johnny’s Dad, Bill. I’ve been meaning to say something to you ever since the season got started.”

Coach: (gulping and holding his breath) “All right, Mr. Smith, what did I do wrong this time? I know, your son’s not getting enough playing time, right? Perhaps you think I should play him in a different position? You don’t like that drill I ran in practice yesterday? C’mon, let me have it!”

Parent: “No coach, I just thought I’d take the time this morning to tell you what a wonderful job you’re doing with my son.”

Coach: (stammering and suddenly very disoriented) HuHHHH? What?

Parent: I think you’re doing a marvelous job with my boy, coach and….

Coach: (interrupting) “Mr. Smith, are you feeling OK this morning sir?”

Parent: “I know you probably hear this all the time, but my wife and I can’t get over all the positive changes that have happened in Johnny’s life ever since he started playing for you. He’s a changed kid. He feels so much better about himself, so much more confident….

Coach: (interrupting) “Hey, who is this really?”

Parent: “He even stopped fighting with his kid brother. Said something like you told him that being older, he has a responsibility to be a leader and role model for those younger than him. We just can’t believe what’s come over him.”

Coach: “Surely you’re not going to blame that on me! Come on, who is this?”

Parent: “And the boy is even doing better in school. He’s regularly bringing his homework home and studying. His grades have improved. He just seems so much happier and is always talking about you and the things you’ve been teaching him.”

Coach: “Is this a phony phone call? I mean, come on! Who is this really?”

Parent: “So I want to thank you for having such a positive influence on my son and being such a great role model. This school and team is truly blessed to have someone like you on staff!”

Coach: “Jack! Is that you? You’re putting me on Jack right? This is one of your ideas of a sick, cruel joke, right Jack?”

Parent: (a little confused) “Coach, this is Bill Smith, sir, and thanks again for a job well done. Have a nice day!”

Coach: “Frank? Is that you? Are you playing with my mind this morning? I don’t think this is very funny! (Later that day the coach was found aimlessly wandering the halls, muttering to himself in a profound state of shock and confusion).

Let’s face it! These kinds of calls are a bit on the rare side. Which makes your job doubly difficult when you do have to make hard decisions regarding your players, their parents and your policies. It’s always tough to effectively function in an environment of negativity where what most people have for you are complaints. The irony is you’re supposed to build self-esteem in your kids when everyone around you is dumping on your self-esteem. Now there’s a magic act! The really tough question here is do you have the courage, in this “normal” coaching environment, to effectively do your job the way you think it should be done? Do you have the courage to go against the grain? The courage to follow what you believe in and to set and enforce appropriate limits with your athletes, regardless of how unpopular those limits may seem to be to others? For example, when your best players act out, goof off or otherwise break team rules, do you have the courage to be consistent and bench them, even if it means your team may lose, the fans will get upset, you won’t be fielding the best team and the parents will ring your phone right off the hook? Too many coaches don’t! They operate from an unspoken double standard. They enforce their rules with weaker players and look the other way when their stars break the rules. They allow their better athletes to engage in a kind of emotional blackmail. “I can do whatever I want and then I’ll play well for you. If you set limits on me or my behavior I won’t try and the team will lose.” If you get caught up in this destructive head game, you’re sure to lose alright and lose big! Not only will you lose the respect of everyone on the team, but you’ll also create a healthy amount of team conflict and resentment. No one wins when you don’t have the courage to fairly discipline ALL your athletes.

How about parents? Do you have the courage to run your program despite all the helpful suggestions that parents regularly offer regarding what you should be doing, when you should be doing it and how you should treat their child? Obviously you can’t do your job effectively if you are at the mercy of, or feel compelled to listen to, or please all of your athletes’ parents. There’s no question that no matter what you do, there will always be a few parents who will be angry with you. Do you have the courage to set clear limits with parents regarding their game related/child related behaviors and provide and adhere to consistent consequences when those limits are violated? For example if one of your rules is that parents shouldn’t “coach” in practice and/or at games, (and it certainly should be one of your more clearer rules) what consequences will you use when you see one of those parents with their “coach” hat on? I know a lot of coaches who will turn the child-athlete over to the parent for “full time” coaching whenever that rule is violated in their club or organization. That is, they have the child leave the team because of the parent. (not a bad idea with certain parents!)

Or how about appropriate sideline behavior? Occasionally a parent can become “overly enthusiastic” or “excited” during the heat of competition, causing them to say or do some rather unfortunate things. Do you have the courage to quickly and professionally “put a lid” on that parent’s behavior? Do you have the courage to take the necessary steps to get the parent to stop or have him/her removed from the game? If you don’t, the rest of the fans watching and the kids playing will lose out. It’s no fun for kids at any age to have parents out of control or inappropriate on the sideline.

Do you have the courage to trust yourself, your coaching, values and principles while some of the “local experts” question your decision-making and sanity? Do you have the courage to remain emotionally unhooked in dealing with fans and parents who think you’re just flat out wrong? Can you stick to these beliefs and principles regardless of what the media may write about you or the coup that a select group of parents may be planning in your “honor?” Tough questions for a sometimes very lonely job. It’s funny to hear so many coaches tell me that 90% of their job is dealing with all the b.s. from parents, the media or fans and the easiest, most rewarding and important part, working with the kids, is relegated to a mere 10%. It’s sad, but true. Imagine what it would be like if you could focus most of your energy on working with the athletes.


“Courage & Class on the mat”

Esther Kim had a lifelong dream to win Olympic Gold in taekwondo, which she had nurtured ever since she was a child and first began training with her father at his Houston, Texas studio. When she was six, Esther met her soon to be best friend and close training partner, Kay Poe at a Halloween party hosted by the taekwondo studio. They were seasonal teammates at first, but as they grew, both girls spent more and more time together. They constantly hung out together, talked on the phone until their parents kicked them off, and planned all sorts of “minor league” mischief. Early in their taekwondo training they made a pact with each other and Esther’s dad, Jin Won Kim, that if one of them made it to the Olympics, they would both feel like Olympians, and if one of them won a gold medal, then they would both feel like champions.

Their pact and relationship came to a surprising head in Colorado Springs last May when 20 year old Kim and 18 year old Poe had to fight each other in the finals of Olympic Trials to decide which one would go on to represent the United States at the Sydney Games. Best friends as opponents, with each standing in the way of the other’s dream. The situation was further complicated by what had happened to Poe in her semi-final match against another major contender, Mandy Maloon. With just two minutes remaining in the third and final round, Poe’s left knee had cracked into Maloon’s, leaving Poe rolling on the mat in excruciating pain with a dislocated kneecap. Hobbled by the collision, Poe still managed to end the fight in a draw and was awarded the trip to the finals because she had been more aggressive in the bout.

Now with the finals in front of them, and no additional time allowed by the judges to rest Poe’s injured knee, the two girls were about to face off against each other. As she sat in the holding area, downstairs from the crowd, Kim saw her coach-father carry her best friend down the short flight of stairs and deposit her in the adjacent chair. Poe’s knee was so bad she couldn’t even make the descent on her own power! Kim looked at her friend’s knee, swelling by the second and figured there was no way her best friend could fight. She thought of all the hard work Kay had put in and how her good friend had overcome a height disadvantage to become number one in the world in her weight class. Kim also thought about her own dream and her obsession over the years with winning Olympic Gold.

Then Kim made a totally unexpected, courageous and Olympian decision. Her father had always taught her that the true purpose of martial arts training was to better prepare the practitioner to lead a good life, not necessarily to win bouts. Her father had been drilling this into her and his students for as long as she could remember. Jin Won Kim placed a high premium on building character rather than just someone who wins matches. Being a champion in daily life was what was really important.

Kim told her friend that she was conceding the bout and the spot on the Olympic team to her because it was the right thing to do and because she felt her friend deserved the spot more than she did! If her friend won Gold than they would both share in the glory. Despite Poe’s protests, Kim refused to change her mind. Beating her best friend-opponent while she was this badly injured would not make Kim feel like a winner. This act of friendship and sacrifice would!

Kim’s courage and sportsmanship was truly unusual. There are very few parents, coaches and athletes today who could have pulled this off. Her values were rock solid, as was her understanding of what makes a true winner. Esther Kim is a true Olympian, a real heroine.

If you are struggling with a performance difficulty or consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!

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