The importance of forgiveness in athletes, parents & coaches
The importance of forgiveness in athletes, parents & coaches
IN THIS ISSUE:
COMPASSION: A common word that many people don’t quite understand yet the mark of all great athletes and coaches. Compassion is one of those little known qualities that contribute to mental toughness and success in the athletic arena. Want to be a winner? Then you have to have the quality of compassion. What does this really mean? Compassion means that you are able to forgive. If you have dreams of becoming a successful athlete, you will never be able to turn those dreams into a reality without being able to forgive yourself (or your teammates) for mistakes and failings. As a coach, your effectiveness with and ability to inspire and motivate your athletes rests in how much compassion you can muster up for them when they stumble and fall. In addition, you must be able to forgive yourself when you fail. A parent without the ability to forgive a child, is a parent in the biological sense only. Good healthy parenting and teaching is all about compassion and forgiveness. Peak performance depends on compassion. In this issue we’ll discuss why.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER - “Want to become a champion? Then, you’d better learn to forgive yourself!”
PARENT’S CORNER - “Raising a healthy, happy child-athlete.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Shame, humiliation and embarrassment as advanced motivational techniques for coaches.” (Yeah, right!)
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES –“A powerful act of coaching compassion”
“Want to become a champion? Then you’d better learn to forgive yourself!”
Most serious athletes are totally committed to the pursuit of excellence. They know in their heart of hearts that in order to become the very best, they have to push themselves to the limit and strive for perfection. There is absolutely no question that this drive to excel is largely responsible for these athletes’ ultimate success. As they strive to be #1, these competitors hold themselves to a higher standard than most of their opposition. Simply put, they expect a great deal from themselves and these expectations motivate them to scale new heights.
How can you possibly expect to become a champion without high standards anyway? Well, you can’t! Along with these high standards, you’ll also find that champions do not like it one bit when they fall short of their intended expectations and goals. Failures and mistakes do not sit well with these individuals. They hate failing with a passion. Mess-ups drive them crazy and motivate them to work twice as hard to make things right. However, it’s within their failings and mistakes that you will find the most significant difference between winners and wannabe’s, between the best and the rest. While winners demand perfection from themselves and hate falling short, when they do so, they adopt an entirely different attitude towards themselves than their less successful counterparts.
Specifically, the most successful athletes have learned to be compassionate to themselves when they fail or mess up. Simply put, they have learned to quickly forgive themselves for their failings, take away any important lessons from these setbacks and then move on. It’s this one, key emotional ability to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and screw-ups that will ultimately determine how successful you are in turning your athletic dreams into a reality.
Far too many, very talented athletes take their striving for perfection to an unhealthy level. Not only do they expect the best from themselves, but also when they fail to measure up to their own unrealistic standards, they immediately respond with harsh criticism and unrelenting self-putdowns. For days and weeks after a sub-par performance these athletes emotionally beat up on themselves. “You suck! You don’t deserve to be on this team. The team lost because of YOU! You let everyone down. I can’t believe you dropped that pass! You made a total fool of yourself in front of everyone!” They are own their harshest critic. They are completely unforgiving, unfair and unrealistic in their negative assessment of themselves. What these athletes fail to realize is that their demand for perfection and an inability to forgive and forget will ultimately cost them their success.
As an athlete you have to learn to accept something very basic about yourself: You are human. No more. No less. You may think that you walk on water, but sadly, you don’t! You are not a superhero. You are not larger than life. You have your strengths and weaknesses, your good points and bad ones.
Because of your inescapable humanness, sooner or later you will make mistakes and fall short. This will happen more than once. As a matter of fact, it will happen quite a bit. Why? Well, that’s sports and that’s life! Things don’t always go the way that you’d like them to. You can’t always have a great performance. You can’t always win! Deal with it! Screw-ups happen to everyone. In addition, because of your humanness you will sometimes do incredibly dumb things. By definition, being human means that you are imperfect, that you have a license to do dumb things. Therefore it is critical that you develop the ability to forgive yourself.
However, before you do, it’s important that you understand a few things. First, forgiveness does NOT mean that you must suddenly settle for less. It does NOT mean that you have to lower your standards and accept mediocrity and sub par performances. You can and should still go after the big enchilada. You can and should still set really big, scary goals. What it does mean is that when you slip up and fall, you have to quickly pull yourself back up, dust yourself off and encouragingly pat yourself on the back to keep going. Kicking yourself in the butt for falling or ridiculing yourself for being a completely uncoordinated klutz will do absolutely nothing for you other than to erode your confidence and bring you and your dream crashing down.
Is what I’m asking you to do easy? No way! Being kind to yourself and forgiving yourself for your mess-ups, losses and failures is wicked hard work. To get good at it you will have to learn to become hyper-aware of your typical “inner coaching” whenever things don’t go well. When you become aware that you’re trashing yourself, you need to immediately stop. How? You have to talk or “coach” yourself out of it. You have to remind yourself that coming down hard on yourself will only slow down your progress as an athlete and kill your confidence. If you really want to get good, then you need to forgive yourself for your shortcomings, learn from your mistakes and then forget them. Remember, forgiveness and compassion are personal traits of champions. Accept your humanness. Be compassionate to yourself. Practice forgiving yourself and you’ll become a winner.
“Raising healthy, happy child-athletes”
Shame is an interesting parenting tool when you stop and think about it. My father was well schooled in it, frequently using it on me and my siblings throughout our formative years. Whenever we did anything that he considered bad or wrong his responses were always humiliating and shaming. What I don’t think he ever really understood was how damaging it can be when you consistently respond to your children in this kind of unforgiving way.
By it’s nature, shame is an emotional response that emerges out of a feeling that you’ve done something terribly wrong. In fact, your transgression is so terrible, that it is beyond forgiveness. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to change the circumstances and right the wrong. This is what shame is. It is a personal, emotional response to a situation in which you know you cannot be forgiven for your behaviors. In this way, shame communicates to the child that he has broken the lovability bond of the parent-child relationship, that his behaviors are so heinous that they have made him unlovable. In this way shame goes far beyond embarrassment because shame is inescapable always lingering with you while embarrassment is easily gotten over. How does the “shame-worthiness” of a child’s behavior get communicated to him/her? Quite simply! By how the parent responds to that child’s behaviors on an everyday basis. Specifically, shame gets transmitted when a parent refuses to forgive the child.
Keep in mind that children have no real perspective about just how “awful” their behavior actually is. Frequently, because of their own unresolved emotional issues, parents have a tendency to blow some of a child’s behaviors completely out of proportion. I’m assuming that’s exactly what my father must have done with us. Lord knows my dad sure had a few control issues! As an adult I can look back and see that all those “shameful,” terrible things that we supposedly did as children were absolutely normal. We were just being kids, and relatively easy ones at that! None of us turned out to be bank robbers or ax murders. However, I did turn out to be a Sports Performance Consultant, which, I suppose, is almost just as bad.
Do I think my father consciously wanted to emotionally cripple his children in this way? Do I think he wanted us to go through our lives feeling that what we did was so bad that we couldn’t be forgiven?
Do I think he deliberately wanted us to feel unlovable? Absolutely not! He probably learned his shaming techniques from his mother when he was a kid. I’m quite sure that he was brought up in much the same way he brought us up. Furthermore, he probably didn’t have a clue as to what he was doing with us. But that’s beside the point. The fact of the matter is that bringing up children in an environment of shame, in a home that’s devoid of forgiveness is criminal as far as I’m concerned. Not that I have strong feelings about this!
If you want to raise emotionally strong, healthy and happy kids it is critical that you and your spouse/partner not allow shaming behavior into your home. There is no place for shame in a loving, nurturing environment! Shaming is not an acceptable form of parenting. EVER! Furthermore, there is nothing your children could ever do, behavior-wise that would warrant them to be shamed or rendered unlovable. Instead, you want to raise your children in an environment of support and forgiveness. You want to openly communicate to them that everyone makes mistakes and that regardless of the mistake, forgiveness is always available to them. Forgiveness for mistakes and misbehavior is also a critically important part of the learning process.
This does not mean that you have to accept all of your children’s misbehaviors without saying or doing anything. This does not mean that you shouldn’t discipline your children. It does not even mean that you should never get angry with them. Raising children is probably one of the most emotionally evocative things that you’ll ever do in your life. There will always be times when your children push your emotional hot buttons and get you responding in less than helpful ways. However these times notwithstanding, you still need to discipline yourself to respond to your children in a supportive, compassionate way. You must try to communicate to them in all your interactions that your forgiveness and acceptance of them is always an option and that their lovability as a child and person is never at stake.
This is an especially useful stance to take because one critically important lesson you hope to teach your children is how to forgive in their own lives. Modeling forgiveness in your house as they grow up will teach them to not only forgive themselves when they’re older, but also bring it into their own home once they’ve matured to adulthood and have children of their own. Furthermore, teaching your children how to forgive has an extra, added bonus for you as a parent. Just as they need you to forgive them for their transgressions when they are children, you will need them to forgive you for all your parenting mistakes while they were growing up.
Think back to your feelings about your own parents. Did they ever make any mistakes with you when you were a kid? Duhhhh! Of course they did. That’s what parenting is all about: Screwing up! Many of us take very strong feelings of hurt, resentment and anger into adulthood for all the things are parents did to us that we wished they hadn’t and for all the things they never did for us that we wished they had! Becoming an emotional adult is ultimately all about learning to forgive your parents for their humanness and failings. It’s about eventually letting go of all of those old resentments and hurts. When your kids have matured into adulthood and have families of their own, you will hope that they are able to forgive you for all your failings as a parent. Give them a good start on tomorrow, today. Be compassionate and forgiving in all your dealings with them.
“Shame, humiliation and embarrassment as advanced motivational techniques for coaches.” (Yeah, right!)
How’s this for a motivational style? Excerpt taken from our annual competition for the Coach Of The Year selection: “C’mon ladies, let’s move it! What’s the matter with you? Don’t want to get your nails dirty today? Ms. Smith! Is it that time of the month or something? Did you not get enough beauty sleep last night? Would you rather be playing with your Barbies instead of being out here? And that’s supposed to be a sprint? My little boy could outrun your big fat ass! You ladies just sicken me! You call yourself a football team! You’re all just a bunch of pussies! I should have you ladies going to school wearing skirts on game day because that’s how you play.”
You guessed it! The above candidate is certainly one of our frontrunners for Coach Of The Year honors. Why? Because this high school football coach has distinguished himself among his peers as a great “motivator.” He’s truly a man’s man, a builder of “real men,” with an uncanny understanding of his players’ psyches, he’s able to provide them (according to him) with exactly what they need. This would probably explain his stellar 1 and 7 record and the fact that every year since he’s been coach, 5-6 players have quit the team, (Our candidate explains, “They just couldn’t hack it. They were babies!”). Add to this the fact that he’s a tremendous communicator with an extraordinary sensitivity to his players’ feelings and we have the complete package! Can you spell Neanderthal?
Why is it that so many male coaches (it’s truly rare when you see this kind of abusive, clueless package in a female) still think that the best way to motivate their charges is by using shame and humiliation? I certainly understand that this was a widely accepted coaching stance in prehistoric times. But today, when people are supposed to be much smarter and more highly evolved? Give us a break please!
Shaming your athletes will not make you a better, more effective coach. Humiliating the individuals on your team will NOT get them to perform to their potential. If you think that this is simply your brilliant use of “reverse psychology” (‘I put the athlete down and motivate him to rise up and prove me wrong’) then you’re living in the dark ages! You may certainly get a few players to respond to your tactics, but in general your use of shaming, demeaning behavior will make you and your athletes big time losers.
The main problem with channeling your frustration with your athletes into shaming, demeaning behavior is that it ultimately will kill your players’ enjoyment of the sport and dampen their motivation. If your athletes are not having fun when they practice and play for you, they will never, ever compete well. Worse yet, by treating your players badly, you communicate to each and every one of them that you do not respect them. Now, in your heart of hearts you may sit there and kid yourself into believing that you do indeed respect them. However, if you consistently shame or deliberately embarrass your players then you do NOT respect them. This is simply not a respectful way of treating others.
So maybe you think, “So what! They have to earn my respect!” Be careful here! There is probably no one more powerful motivator for an athlete than the coach’s respect. At every level in sports, from little league to the pro’s, athletes want to be respected by their coaches. If you openly respect an athlete, that individual will run through walls for you. He will be motivated to do whatever it takes to get the job done. However, if you don’t respect your athletes and you openly communicate this disrespect to them, then you are setting both them and you up for some serious failure. You might want to reconsider this “earning respect” thing by first starting out giving them the benefit of the doubt and respecting them.
So what’s my point here? A simple lesson in Sports 101: Your athletes and teams are going to let you down. They’re going to disappoint and frustrate you. They’re going to blow the big play or miss that critical opportunity. They’re going to blow the lead and lose the game. They’re going to choke. They’re going to come up short again and again. Why? Because that’s what sport is all about! Your team and athletes will not always be at the top of their game regardless of how brilliant a coach you are. How you deal with your athletes’ mistakes and setbacks, their failures and losses is absolutely critical to your effectiveness as a coach and a motivator. Yell all you want. Get angry and rant and rave! You have my blessings! Just don’t use shame and humiliation as a coaching tool when you decide to lose control.
Forgive your athletes for their shortcomings. Forgive them for their mess-ups. Demand excellence from them, but don’t lose your mind and emotional control when they lose. Try to keep the bigger picture in mind. Your most important job is not just about developing a winning record. It’s about developing winners: Developing individuals who are self-respecting, who respect others, are team players, good sports, who can handle both victory and defeat gracefully and who are willing to put it all on the line and go for it. In short, your job as a coach is all about developing individuals with winning characters. You do this by who you are and how you carry yourself on the field. You do this by how you treat each and every one of your players. You do this by being compassionate and forgiving every day.
If you dismiss what I’m saying with the lame argument, “if I’m soft on them, then they’ll get soft on me, you’re completely missing the point. Developing mentally tough athletes is not a product of how abusive you are. It’s a direct product of what kind of leader you are and who you are as a person. Lighten up. Be supportive. Drive your athletes hard but be forgiving. It’s the best way that I know of developing motivated champions.
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES
“A powerful act of coaching compassion”
There was 18 seconds left in the 1982 NCAA Division I men’s basketball season. It was a Monday evening in late March as Georgetown point guard and freshman Freddy Brown brought the ball up court in the final act of March Madness, the NCAA Championship Game. There were some 70 thousand fans in the arena and millions more watching on TV all across the country. The Hoyas were down by one point to the North Carolina Tar Heels in a game that had been hard fought the entire way. With the ball in their possession and center Patrick Ewing under the basket, Georgetown had plenty of time to set up a final play and therefore a good shot at winning the national championship. This was just as Hoya coach John Thompson had planned it.
What happened next was utterly bizarre and downright confusing. As Freddy Brown brought the ball up past mid-court, North Carolina forward James Worthy apparently got caught behind him and off to his right. Some say Worthy used an old school yard trick and yelled to Freddy Brown, the wrong man, to pass him the ball. Whether this happened or not, or whether it was simply a product of all the pressure finally getting to the freshman, Brown turned towards James Worthy and flipped him the ball.
Before anyone could figure out what had happened Worthy sprinted the half court distance and laid the ball in for a three-point lead and the national championship as regulation time expired. The North Carolina Tar Heels wildly celebrated their victory while the Hoyas were stunned. Freddy Brown, totally devastated by his championship-costing mistake, hung his head and dejectedly walked off the court in shock. What happened next was as unpredictable as Freddy’s costly mess-up.
Coach Thompson walked over to Freddy, the kid whose bonehead play had just cost him a national championship, wrapped his huge arms around his young point guard and hugged him, telling him to forget about it, that everything would be OK, and that he’d get another chance!
Can you imagine what would have happened to poor Freddy if he had played for Bobby Knight, the infamous chair throwing coach, touchy-feely coach? No question Bobby Knight would have wrapped his arms around old Freddy but I sure don’t think he would have had any warm fuzzy feelings inside that would have led him to hug the dejected young man. More likely Knight would have wanted to squeeze the life out of the kid that had just blown his chances for a national championship. And you can bet your life that Knight would not have reassuringly said to Brown, “That’s OK son, you’ll get another chance!” More likely a Knight-like coach would have said something like, “Son, that’s the very last time you’ll ever play for me again!”
John Thompson’s ability to forgive Freddy Brown for this, the most visible and humiliating mistake he could have possibly made in the very biggest game of his college career is a measure of Coach Thompson’s character. Rather than shaming his young on-court team leader, which might possibly have driven Brown out of the sport, Thompson did the right, compassionate thing. He immediately and spontaneously forgave Freddy in front of all those fans and in front of all those millions of television viewers. I wonder what you would have done if you were in Thompson’s position. Would you have been able to keep your wits about you and think about the young man’s feelings instead of your own? Thompson’s act was truly self-less, the behavior of a winner.
Getting and giving forgiveness is critical to healthy emotional development and ultimate success in life. Without getting forgiveness from others you will never learn from and get over your failures and setbacks. You will never feel free enough to put it all on the line and really go for it. Without giving forgiveness to others you will live a lonely life filled with bitterness and regret. I say lonely because people who can’t forgive ultimately end up pushing people away from them. Without being able to forgive yourself, you’ll never ultimately feel that you’re good enough, that you’re a success. Learn from John Thompson. Keep the bigger picture in perspective. Be compassionate with those around you. Be compassionate with yourself.
Two years later when Freddy Brown was a junior, Coach Thompson once again hugged his starting point guard after another championship game. This time however, it was a celebratory hug because Brown had just led the Hoyas to the national Championship!
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