Jealousy & the Uglier Side of Sports
Jealousy & the Uglier Side of Sports
IN THIS ISSUE: Jackie was a very talented ball player despite the fact that she was only a freshman at the time and if you truly appreciated basketball, then you would go along with the general consensus, she was an absolute delight to watch. People who didn’t even follow the home team would pack the gym just to watch her do her magic. She was fundamentally sound in every aspect of the game. She was quick, knew how to move without the ball and her court vision was nothing short of amazing. Her jumper was smooth as silk and her accuracy was at times uncanny. Jackie had quick hands, great anticipation and a sense of fearlessness. She wouldn’t think twice about diving for loose balls or driving into a player to draw contact. She used her body well under the boards and pulled down a high percentage of rebounds for a point guard. In her first year on the varsity she led the team in every statistical category they kept! Add to this the fact that Jackie was genuinely a good kid, an all “A” student who was modest, selfless, and a real team player and you had a coach’s dream. So how come the head coach treated Jackie like she was his worst nightmare? How come he let her teammates openly complain about all the publicity that she was receiving and how “selfish” she was? Why did he consistently turn his back whenever her “teammates” blatantly froze her out on the court, even when she was wide open and not passing to her meant giving up a sure basket? What would make some of the parents of these girls bitterly complain to the coach that this talented freshman shouldn’t be on the team because she was “ruining it” for the seniors? Better yet, what kind of a coach would actually give “air time” to these kinds of parents?
Many people like to talk about how sport is such a wonderful vehicle to both teach us important life skills and bring out the very best in us as competitors and human beings: There’s no question that sport both inspires us and provides us with opportunities to push the envelope on human potential. Athletic competition stimulates us to overcome impossible obstacles, maintain a never-say-die attitude, sacrifice our own needs for the overall good of the team, demonstrate grace under pressure, believe in ourselves no matter what, display courage and heroism in overcoming our fears, be a good sport in both victory and defeat, and play fair. In these ways competing in and watching sports makes us better as an athlete and a person. Sports competition allows us to feel good about ourselves. It’s uplifting and inspirational, and gives us a reason to feel hopeful about and proud of the human condition.
However, what people are less readily inclined to talk about is the equally as powerful, although far seamier side of sport. Athletic competition consistently seems to be able to pull a fair amount of really ugly things from under the rocks that reside inside us all. There are a lot of qualities that we possess as individuals that are less than noble and should not ever see the light of day. Unfortunately I am a realist and know that all too often some of these rather repulsive qualities rear their ugly little heads. For example, selfishness, jealousy, lying & cheating, loss of emotional control, poor sportsmanship, excessive aggressiveness, bullying, taunting, fighting, pomposity (i.e. mega-swelled head) and the list goes on and on. These behaviors do not help us expand the human condition. They are not about reaching our potential. They do not inspire us to greatness. They don’t engender pride. They are, instead downright embarrassing and shameful. These kinds of feelings and behaviors give competitive sports and those who participate in them a big, black eye. Of course, most of you reading this may quickly assume that I’m going to use this introduction to launch into the Balco/steroids/ fiasco. Not today boys and girls! We’ll deal with self-destructive lying and cheating at another time.
In this rather late, end-of-last-year’s issue of The Mental Toughness Newsletter we will shed some light on a different aspect of the darker side of sports. Specifically I’d like to visit the feelings of jealousy, a rather unpleasant human emotion that resides in us all, a nasty, slimy, internal beast hiding under that rock, just to the right of your heart. If there’s any emotion that can kill your joy, ruin your experience of competition and embarrass the heck out of you, JEALOUSY IS IT!!! As a feeling, jealousy gets you to act like a spoiled two year old. When the feeling has firm control over your mouth and limbs you end up behaving like a complete fool. Jealousy as an internal beast is very much like the mosquito: It’s a royal pain in the buttocks, has no constructive or redeeming value and the world would be a much better place without it. Unfortunately, every summer those nasty bloodsucking nuisances return to make you miserable. Jealousy is much the same way. Show me an activity that involves human beings and performance, and within a split second or two we will both be able to identify this foul smelling creature doing it’s ugly, immature dance.
“The wonderful world of JEALOUSY”
Back to our freshman superstar: When Jackie was a little kid her dad was a college coach and from the time that she was old enough to walk, she was virtually a full time gym rat. She was always happiest when she was in the gym dribbling and shooting. Her dream was to play big time college basketball and unfortunately with this dream and her precocious skills came a lot of baggage that Jackie didn’t want. For example, Jackie was totally embarrassed by all the press she received. She didn’t give a hoot about the headlines or all those statistics. The media circus made her uncomfortable and she worried about the impact all this attention would have on her teammates. She just wanted to be left alone so she could play the game that she loved. The only attention that she privately cared about was that from the college coaches. But she never talked about this with anyone except her dad.
Interestingly enough Jackie handled all the attention and fame very well. She kept a level head and refused to think about herself as special or better than anyone else. Don’t get me wrong here. She knew that she was a better basketball player than most everyone she played with. The fact of the matter was that she deserved to be. She worked three times as hard as everyone else, all year long! She just didn’t let her athletic dominance go to her head. Unfortunately for Jackie, her coach, some of her teammates and their parents didn’t handle the girl’s success as well as she did. Their experience was completely colored by their own insecurities and jealousy.
If you’re an athlete with a dream and you’re willing to work harder than everyone else to turn that dream into a reality, then there’s one unfortunate thing that you can definitely count on reoccurring over the course of your athletic career. Like Jackie, at one or more points during your career, you will run into some rather unpleasant people who will have a very hard time with your quest and the success that it’s bringing you. Most of the time, those threatened will be other athletes your age or older who you have to directly compete against. Sometimes these athletes will be teammates whose role on the team is directly, and in their mind negatively affected by you, your work ethic and abilities. For example, because of you they might not get to start, swim on the relay, make the all start team or get all the press.
Sadly, at other times the people actually threatened by you will be “adults,” chronologically speaking. Most often these “adults” will be other parents and their problem with you will be pretty obvious and stimulated by the fact that their son or daughter is either a teammate or one of your chief rivals. In their immature and small-minded way, YOU are their problem because YOU are a threat to their child-athlete. YOU are making their child unhappy! YOU are starting instead of them. YOU are consistently outperforming them. YOU are a pain in everyone’s butt! They therefore feel that YOU have somehow taken something very valuable away from their child, and, by association, from them. These “adults” view the world in terms of a “win-lose” model. If someone other than their son or daughter is successful, this somehow diminishes or wounds their child, and by extension, them. Much less common, the “adult” sometimes threatened by your success is your own coach. Yep! Hard to believe isn’t it? For whatever reason your success might trigger some old wounds in the coach. Perhaps in his/her limited view of life, your talent and success is interpreted as a blow to an already seriously diminished self-esteem.
Of course with all of those threatened by your success, low self-esteem is almost always the major engine that drives the jealousy that emerges in these cases. Why would the senior captains on Jackie’s team accuse her of being selfish in a game where she had 9 points, 15 assists and 14 rebounds? Are those the stats of a selfish player? Why would their parents complain to the coach that the girl was ruining their daughter’s all-important senior season? Why would the four, much slower teammates of a 14 year old swimmer confront her after practice and blame her for destroying their chances of getting a State cut? UGLY, LOW SELF-ESTEEM DRIVEN JEALOUSY. Nothing more, nothing less.
On the surface, these unhappy people will never directly admit that they are behaving badly towards you because they are simply jealous. Obviously if they were that in touch with their feelings to acknowledge this, then they wouldn’t be treating you like a “meadow muffin.” (For those of you who have never seen a cow before this expression refers to cow poop.) So instead of being able to say, “I’m terribly sorry but I am acting like an idiot right now because I’m jealous of you,” they have to creatively make up a reason to adequately explain why they are against you. I.e. “you’re selfish, spoiled, hurting the team, you don’t pass enough, you cheat, or you butter your bread on the wrong side.”
Here’s how low self-esteem driven jealousy usually works: Let’s say that I don’t feel so good about myself. If I have low self-esteem and I don’t really believe in myself, then I am not going to be so willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. I will be too frightened to take risks, put it all on the line and go for it. I will be too afraid to entertain a dream for fear of failure. However, if I see you over there doing just that, exactly what I’d like to do but am too afraid that I’m not good enough to do, then that will make me feel even worse about myself. You and Your dream then become my problem. If I’m immature, not nice enough or, more likely, if I have very bad parental role models, then I will naturally turn to you as the primary source of all my problems. After all, if YOU weren’t here working hard, doing well, and stealing my starting position as well as the limelight from me, then everything would be just fine. So obviously this has to be all YOUR fault! After all, YOU are the reason that I am feeling so bad.
Since the experience of low self-esteem feels so rotten, the sufferer feels highly motivated to try to make him/herself feel better. Unfortunately this motivation is most often misguided. Rather than working harder to improve herself, the low self-esteemed individual chooses to go on the emotional offensive in an immature and flawed attempt to raise her self-esteem. Specifically, she begins to strike out at the one person supposedly causing all those bad feelings. The reasoning behind this is simple. If she can make you feel badly, then she will be able to feel just a little bit better about herself. To do this she enlists the aid of those around her, friends, teammates, coaches and of course even parents. She therefore lobbies hard to put together a coalition in hopes of making you, her “stuck-up” trouble-making teammate really pay. Perhaps she gets her coalition of weaklings to ignore you, refuse to pass you the ball, talk behind your back, make sure that you’re not invited to any social functions when everyone else is, or she engages in some other highly “mature” behaviors. (On the highway work crews put up appropriate signs – MEN AT WORK, so that those in the area can be aware of what’s going on and act accordingly. Here too we should put up corresponding signs: CAUTION: B - - - H AT WORK).
Personally I think that it’s a very sad statement that those pursuing excellence appear so threatening to so many others. That someone else’s success can motivate you into acting like a spoiled three year old is pitiful. However, that’s life in this very fast paced and competitive society where some people will do almost anything to get ahead, even if it’s small minded, nasty and dishonest. Where does that leave you if you are the one being singled out for this abuse and mistreatment?
You must discipline yourself to travel the higher road, which is a very hard one indeed. You must not stoop to the level of the “little” people around you. You must not strike back at them in the same way that they are attacking you, even though it might seem at the time to be the right thing to do. You must, instead demonstrate grace and class under pressure. What does this really mean? You must be a good teammate to these individuals even though they don’t seem to understand the concept. You must remain a gracious, humble team player regardless of how selfish or nasty they might act towards you. You must continue to do your job to the best of your ability, even if it means that they will continue to remain unhappy with, and attack you.
Above all, you must make sure that you do not play into their small minded games. Simply put, you must keep a level head about your success. You must not treat yourself as larger than life. This kind of egocentric behavior will only get you into more hot water with your teammates and coaches, providing them with some reality based ammunition to shoot at you. Feel as confident as you’d like to on the inside. However, in all your interactions with teammates and others you want to maintain a self-effacing modesty on the outside. Do not get caught up in the trap of acting like you’re a legend in your own mind. It’s both tacky and distasteful and ultimately will bring you a world of grief.
Taking the higher road does NOT mean that you simply turn the other cheek and let those around you continue to abuse you. If your teammates are being nasty to you, calmly and directly call them on their behaviors. Ask them why it seems that they are so angry with you or why they aren’t passing you the ball even when you’re open. If they accuse you of being selfish and stuck up, ask them for concrete examples. “So let me get this straight. You think that I’m selfish because I scored 9 points and had 15 assists?” Do not pretend that the nastiness isn’t going on. Call a spade a spade! In a nice enough but firm way you want to hold them accountable for their words and actions. Cowards usually back down when they are confronted in this manner.
Of course the most important thing that you need to do when confronted with this kind of situation is to involve the coaches. Do NOT hide your mistreatment from the coaches. It is their job to know what is going on with the team dynamics and to do something immediately to stop the problematic behavior. You are NOT tattling on your teammates when you do this, regardless of what they might say to you. You are NOT being weak. On the contrary, this is a sign of strength. Team conflicts are a coach’s responsibility, NOT just yours! You should never be alone when dealing with this social nightmare. If the coach is part of the problem and seems to turn a deaf ear to you while continuing to indirectly encourage your teammates’ mistreatment, then I suggest that you find another coach to play for. To remain in a situation where you’re being scapegoated by both teammates and coaches is untenable. Get out quickly!
Also understand that even though you may feel totally alone on your team, you’re NOT. There are almost always other players who can see exactly what is going on. They understand that you are not this terrible, team destroying influence. They understand that their own teammates’ jealousies are driving their nasty, immature behavior. They may not have the courage to immediately say something or overtly support you, but sooner or later they will come around. Athletes who act like mean, spoiled little brats are highly visible and embarrassing to themselves and others. Their immature and catty behavior is not lost on those around them. Sooner or later some of your other teammates will feel ashamed to be aligned with these crybabies and so will come around to your side. Just be patient and conduct yourself with class.
Finally, under no circumstances should you ever back down from your high level of play so that you can better fit in or be more “accepted” by the group. This is far too high a price to ever have to pay for “belonging.” If you do that, it’s like selling your soul to the devil. Besides, what kinds of friends would ever want you to deliberately hold yourself back from reaching your potential so that they can feel better about themselves? What kinds of friends would demand that you let them win in order to remain in their good graces? Certainly not the kinds of friends that you’d really want to hang out with. Finally keep in mind that you owe it to yourself and every player on that team to keep your level of play up. By playing to the best of your ability you will invariably lift the level of play of all those around you. Should you decide to deliberately back down and play at half speed, you are not only hurting yourself, but you’re hurting everyone else, including all the crybabies who are too immature to realize that having a great player on their squad is the very best way for them to improve the fastest!
GOT A PERFORMANCE BLOCK? I’VE GOT THE SOLUTION FOR YOU! Call me today at (413) 549-1085
“Be the adult!”
When we’re talking about a child’s strong feelings of jealousy, what’s a parent to do? Let’s first tackle the simple and uncomplicated version by examining the parental job in general terms. Besides being virtually impossible and brutally challenging at times, a parent’s job is unbelievably multidimensional. There are so many things that good parents have to do in order to properly raise their kids that I’m getting overwhelmed with anxiety right now just trying to think about and clearly articulate all of them. Can you spell hyperventilation? Come on Doc! Slow your breathing down and take a chill pill! Whew! O.K.! O.K.! I’m all right. I’m starting to feel much better, thank you. Let’s just simplify the question by breaking down a parent’s job into two very broad, but exceedingly important and interrelated tasks. First, an effective parent is a life teacher. He/she teaches the child the details and specifics of the culture, language, the ABC’s of social relationships as well as innumerable other life skills. This education goes on 24 - 7 – 365 year in, year out both directly and indirectly, with words, behaviors and even silence for much of that child’s life. The fact of the matter is that parents are always teaching whether they’re aware of it or not, whether they are even present or not and whether they even want to be teaching or not. In fact, as a parent you can’t, NOT teach!
Quick example: A high school coach is also the father of his basketball playing 16 year old son. The boy is overly aggressive and belligerent at games. He screams at the refs and trash talks his opponents. Recently he punched an opposing player in the neck as they both went up for a rebound. He was caught and assessed with a flagrant foul. Amazingly his father-coach did not take any action as a result of his son’s behavior. He said absolutely nothing to him on the bench. He set no limits. He didn’t even bench him! The very next game this kid was back out on the court in his starting position. The father’s inaction spoke very loudly to his son about what was and wasn’t acceptable. You can bet your life that this young man will continue to exhibit this overly aggressive behavior as a result until something more seriously happens and outside limits from the school, league or even the local law are imposed.
Second, a good parent helps the child to gradually achieve a state of independence. When a child enters the world she is completely helpless and totally dependent upon the parents for emotional and physical survival. As the child develops and matures she becomes more and more competent and self-sufficient. As part of this developmental process, the child ever so gradually begins to move away and separate from the parents. As this process continues, the parent’s role is to support the child’s growing independence by both encouraging it and gradually letting go of their own control. So what this means for you is that when your child turns sixteen and gets her learner’s permit you actually have to move over onto the passenger’s side and let her get behind the wheel. Horrifying thought that it may be! Anyway, let’s weave all this into our current topic of jealousy.
As you’re probably well aware of, the most powerful teaching tool available for parents is modeling. In fact, it’s who you are as a person as you interact with your child that is the primary vehicle for what your child will eventually learn about herself, relationships and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. How your child feels about herself, her self-esteem gets formed and develops throughout the process of your teaching and parenting. In the daily interactions that you have with your child, her self-esteem gets shaped for better or worse. If you are kind and supportive, and consistently catch your child doing things right and reinforce these instances, then she will learn to do this to herself and others. On the other hand, if you are unsupportive, neglectful or consistently ignore or put your child down, then she will end up feeling badly about herself and learn to do this to herself and others.
Unbeknownst to many parents are the effects that their own level of self-esteem may have on directly shaping their children’s feelings about themselves. For example, a parent who feels good about himself will not be threatened by his child’s or a peer’s success. As a result, this parent will be able to celebrate his daughter’s or another’s success without any ambivalence. As a consequence, this parent will automatically model how one handles another’s good fortune in an appropriate manner. The child therefore learns that another’s success is not ego-threatening. As a consequence, she is able to take this stance out of the home and use it when interacting with more talented or more successful friends or teammates.
However, if a parent suffers from low self-esteem, the exact opposite happens. Parents who don’t feel good about themselves often tend to over-identify with their children and their activities. What this means is a son or daughter’s sport now takes on much too much added significance. The parent becomes directly dependent upon his child’s performance as a source for his own self-esteem. When that child excels, the parent naturally feels better about himself. However, should that child lose or fail, this same parent experiences a blow to his own self-esteem. In response to this threat to his self-esteem, the parent is more likely to lash out in a defensive response. He could verbally and emotionally attack his son, for example by being hypercritical of him and putting added pressure on him to excel. He could bad-mouth the coach for not playing his son, or direct his hostility at a better teammate or opponent. The child of this kind of parent realizes early on that there is an awful lot at stake whenever he performs. He may sense his parent’s insecurities and, like his parent, come to see another’s success as threatening to himself.
How the parent then deals with these feelings of insecurity becomes a template for the child’s own behaviors. If you experience your father or mother being hypercritical of a more talented teammate or opponent, then you will learn through modeling that this is an acceptable thing to do. If you see your parents acting out their insecurities by directly complaining to the coach, other parents, or worse yet saying and doing things to this other teammate, then you are being given a green light to act the same way. However, if parents do a better job of handling their own insecurities, they will never put themselves in a position of teaching their children these inappropriate behaviors. In addition, more secure parents will be far more likely to set limits around jealousy-driven behaviors when they see them in their children, thus directly teaching them about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.
Of course there are also many other factors that impinge upon a child’s sense of self besides the parents, not the least of which is her peer relationships. If your child comes out of early childhood with a solid sense of self, then she will be less inclined to entertain strong feelings of jealousy. Keep in mind that it’s low self-esteem that usually is the catalyst for feelings of jealousy and the inappropriate and nasty social behaviors that follow. While feelings of jealousy may be a very normal part of the human condition, acting that jealousy out is not! Let me explain.
If I feel good about myself, I will have far less difficulty with what I see as other people’s successes or advantages over me. I may feel jealousy, but I will be less inclined to act those feelings of jealousy out in nasty and immature ways. However, if I feel shakier as a person, and have low self-esteem, then the threat posed by someone else’s superior skill level or success will be experienced as a further blow to my self esteem. As a consequence of this threat, I will be more compelled to actively try to defend myself by attacking the source of this personal threat. As I’ve already mentioned, whether this actually happens or not directly depends upon the parents’ response to witnessing their child’s jealousy. Parents who look the other way encourage this nasty acting out. Those who put their feet down and actively intervene give the child a very clear message that these behaviors are unacceptable.
What does all of this mean for you as a parent? You have to teach your children that while jealousy may be a rather common, albeit ugly human emotion, acting it out in any way is totally unacceptable and not something that you do in your family. This means that you have to actively set behavioral limits when you see your child behaving from her jealousy. Do NOT collude with this behavior or wait for it to go away. Make your son or daughter aware of it and be clear that you won’t tolerate it.
Help your child understand that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, that some people are much better at one thing than another. Following up on this, encourage your child to pursue her own strengths. In the process, teach her NOT to measure her self worth by comparing herself with others. Comparison is a dead end game! Ultimately you will always come out at the short end of the stick when you get caught up in comparisons. Therefore, as a parent, I urge you to NEVER sanction comparison in your family. Don’t pit your children against each other and don’t bring up outside teammates or opponents as a measuring stick for your child. Jealousy is born out of comparison and comparison is a wonderful way to maintain feelings of deep insecurity. Let me give you an example:
When I was growing up my friend Jay organized his life, albeit unconsciously, around frustrating the heck out of his over-controlling and success-driven father. While his father was a dapper dresser, Jay always made sure that he looked like a “total schlump.” While his father was a big time go-getter and highly motivated, you could measure Jay’s drive with an electron microscope. Jay wanted absolutely nothing of what his father was selling. Whenever I went over to my buddy’s house, his father was always very nice to me. Unfortunately his “niceness” was often at his son’s expense. Jay’s dad would always find various ways to say to his son in front of me, “Why can’t you be more like Alan?! Play some tennis or do something competitive.” Of course, this embarrassed me terribly and made me feel that Jay’s dad was a complete and total ass! If Jay felt jealous of me, he never acted it out. He had a very kind heart and simply tuned his dad out. Unfortunately, most kids in Jay’s position end up feeling exactly the way Jay did, terribly damaged by their parent’s comparisons. Please, don’t compare your children with others! It’s depersonalizing and shaming!
Teach your children to embrace a healthier understanding of competition that transcends comparisons. Teach her to see that the opponent is always your partner, NOT your enemy. Help her to understand that the better the competition, the more opportunity she will have to reach her own potential. In this way you want to help her align with and welcome the more talented teammate. In addition, help your child maintain a healthy perspective about what’s important in life. Help her to see that being the best in a particular sport is nowhere near as important as your character as a person and the way that you treat others. Teach humility and modesty about one’s athletic prowess. Instill a sense of responsibility to make those around you better.
Finally, try to model the behavior that you would like to see your child adopt. If your own feelings of jealousy get triggered, talk with your spouse or partner. Work the feelings out there. Don’t share these with your child or act them out in any way. Remember, jealousy is not the kind of trait that makes us better as human beings. Treat it accordingly!
“Make it your business!”
I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but let me say it to you once again. As the coach, YOU and YOU ALONE are the captain of the ship. YOU are the chief architect and builder of a winning team. It is up to YOU to teach your athletes which behaviors are acceptable when interacting with their teammates and which behaviors are NOT. In other words, YOU have to take a proactive role in dealing with the interpersonal dynamics that always go on between the athletes on your squad. It is not simply OK for you to ignore these issues because they may seem to always happen away from the pool, court or field. The fact of the matter is that these so-called “unrelated” issues, when ignored, will always come back to haunt you. If you pay close enough attention, you will always see indications that something isn’t quite right either during practices or competitions.
A fair number of coaches seem to think that their job stops when the issues move outside of simply teaching the X’s and O’s. This is a huge mistake. Teaching technique and strategy as well as properly conditioning your athletes are critically important parts of your coaching responsibilities and necessary for success. However, your job doesn’t just simply end with the physical. How well you balance the mental/emotional dimension with the physical one will ultimately determine whether you soar with the eagles or gobble with the turkeys. Far too many coaches leave team dynamics to chance. If you truly want to be successful as a coach and field a team that has the best chance of getting along, then you must make how-your-athletes-interact-with-each-other your business. This is especially true when you coach girls or young women. The female athlete is far more sensitive to the emotional and interpersonal climate on a team than her male counterpart. The fact of the matter is that most adolescent guys are totally oblivious to their teammates’ as well as their own feelings. As a consequence, they are less likely to get caught up in the interpersonal conflicts more common to a team of females. This is not a judgment statement. This is just a difference in behavior that I’ve observed over the years and have had reinforced from coaches of both men and women.
For some reason it’s more unusual for men to get caught up in team disrupting conflicts that have their roots in interpersonal problems on the squad. This is not to say it doesn’t happen, because, of course, it does. However, with females these intra-squad squabbles take on added significance. As a number of female athletes have told me, the “social soap opera” becomes much more important to some of these young women than coming together as a team and being successful. What drives a lot of these disruptive team conflicts is low self-esteem driven jealousies. According to Allie, “Jane is a stuck up ‘B’ who thinks she is better than everyone else.“ (Truth be told, Jane is starting in front of Allie and Allie resents the heck out of her for it). Sidney complains, “Sara is continually talking behind my back.” (Could this be because Sidney also has this annoying little habit of constantly talking behind her teammates’ backs?). Then there’s Rachael who won’t talk to Megan because she thinks “the floozy” has been flirting with her boyfriend. And let’s not forget all the cliques: “There’s a group of four girls on our team who beat to their own drummer. They don’t listen to the captains. They talk behind the coach’s back. They seem to go out of there way to dog it in practice”…..and the drama goes on and on.
This kind of mind-numbing and petty social warfare is enough to drive even the sanest coach to distraction, not to mention out of the sport. So if you want to maintain even the slightest thread of sanity, not to mention a winning record, you have to commit yourself to swimming with your eyes open through this social undercurrent. Specifically you need to be on top of those issues that are driven by jealousy. The first step in doing this is by keeping your eyes and ears open. You have to be sure that your social antennae are functioning. Simply put, you must be AWARE. Awareness is one of the most important diagnostic tools you can have as a coach. Without awareness, you are unable to make changes in strategy or technique. Without awareness of team dynamics and interpersonal tension you will be helpless to correct problems. The bottom line here of course is the power of teamwork. Your squad is only as good as how well they get along and play together. Talent and superior skill levels mean nothing if the chemistry on your team is toxic or explosive. It’s never the best team that always wins. It’s always, the team that plays best together.
Petty jealousies are always a threat to your team playing well together. Therefore it’s your job to expose these jealousies when you first become aware of them and set appropriate limits. In simple terms you want to nip them in the bud. Keep your finger on the social pulse of the team. Go out of your way to check out how the team is working socially. Jealousies are always fueled by low self-esteem and selfishness. As you know, selfish players will inevitably sabotage your team. You need to sit down with those players who seem to be acting out their jealousies and firmly educate them about what’s acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You need to be clear with them about the team’s mission and how their behavior is jeopardizing that mission. You need to state in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate this kind of nastiness on your squad and make it very clear what consequences you intend on meting out should this unwanted behavior continue.
Even though it’s important that you set clear and firm limits with the jealous athlete, it’s also critical that as you do so, you also understand where the nasty behavior is coming from. Jealousy NEVER comes from a place of strength. It always comes from a place of weakness and vulnerability. As you set appropriate limits with this athlete, it’s important that you also attempt to simultaneously build that athlete’s self-esteem, (if at all possible). For example: “You know you’re on this team for a reason. Your contribution is important to me and the entire squad. If you weren’t good enough then you would’ve been cut after tryouts. I have no doubt that you’ll help us achieve the goals that we’ve set this season. I also have no doubt that you have tremendous potential. You’re going to be a great player. But a great player can’t act the way that you’ve been acting. You’re too good an athlete to be treating your teammate in this way. It has to stop and it has to stop right now. I need you to make a positive contribution to your teammates. I need you to build them up, not tear them down. Yada, yada, yada.”
How well your player is able to hear and take in any of this depends on how you present it to them and, most important, on their level of maturity and mental health. If they have a seriously damaged level of self-esteem or are too immature, then they might not be healthy enough to make the changes that you are demanding. If this is the case, then you need to be prepared to ultimately ask that player to leave the squad.
In addition to setting limits with your players around jealousy driven behaviors, you must also be prepared, if the opportunity ever presents itself, to do the same with their parents. The old adage, “the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree” seems relevant here. Quite often the athlete who is immature and acts out her feelings of jealousy has one or more parents at home either directly or indirectly encouraging this kind of behavior. They either have a parent who models this kind of nastiness or one who has never stepped in to set the proper limits to stop it. If you witness this kind of a parent treating one of her daughter’s teammates in an inappropriate manner, then you must be willing to calmly, but firmly step in to put a stop to it. I’m chuckling a little as I write this because it’s sure a whole lot easier to say than actually do! The point is that sometimes you have to be willing to “coach” the parents just as much as you do the athletes.
Remember; make your athletes’ social interactions around the sport your business. Make the team’s interpersonal dynamics your business. Don’t close your eyes, cover your ears and look the other way. When you do that, not only does the whole team suffer, but the athlete who is being targeted by her teammate’s jealousy seriously suffers.
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DR. G’S TEACHING TALES
The Ambitious Violet
Adapted from Kahlil Gibran, From www.inspirationalstories.com
There was a beautiful and fragrant violet that lived placidly amongst her friends, and swayed happily amidst the other flowers in a solitary garden. One morning, as her crown was embellished with beads of dew, she lifted her head and looked about; she saw a tall and handsome rose standing proudly and reaching high into space, like a burning torch upon an emerald lamp.
The violet, suddenly filled with insecurity and envy opened her blue lips and said, "What an unfortunate being am I among these beautiful flowers, and how humble is the position that I occupy in their grand presence! Nature has done me harm and fashioned me to be so short and poor.... I live very close to the earth and I cannot raise my head toward the blue sky, or turn my face to the sun, as the roses do. I am not worthy. If only I could be like them."
As the rose heard her neighbor's words she laughed and commented, "How strange is your talk my dear Violet! You are truly fortunate indeed, and yet you cannot understand your good fortune. Nature has bestowed upon you fragrance and beauty which she did not grant to any other... Cast aside your jealous thoughts and be contended, and remember that he who humbles himself will be exalted, and he who exalts himself will be crushed."
The violet answered, "You are consoling me because you have what I crave.....You seek to embitter me with the meaning that you are great and I am not.... How painful is the preaching of the fortunate to the heart of us that are miserable! And how severe is the strong when he stands as advisor among the weak!"
And Nature heard the conversation of the violet and the rose; she approached and said, "What has happened to you, my daughter violet? You have been humble and sweet in all your deeds and words. Has greed and jealousy entered your heart and numbed your good senses?" In a pleading voice, the violet answered her, saying, "Oh great and merciful mother, full of love and sympathy, I beg you, with all my heart and soul, to grant my request and allow me to be a rose for one day."
And Nature responded, "you know not what you are seeking; you are unaware of the concealed disaster behind your blind ambition. If you were a rose you would be sorry, and repentance would avail you but naught." The violet insisted, "Change me into a tall rose, for I wish to lift my head high with pride; and regardless of my fate, it will be my own doing." Nature yielded, saying, "Oh ignorant and rebellious violet, I will grant your request. But if calamity befalls you, your complaint must be to yourself."
And Nature stretched forth her mysterious and magic finger and touched the roots of the violet, who immediately turned into a tall rose; rising above all the other flowers in the garden.
At eventide the sky became thick with black clouds, and the raging elements disturbed the silence of existence with thunder, and commenced to attack the garden, sending forth a great torrent of rain and strong winds. The tempest tore the branches and uprooted the plants and broke the stems of the tall flowers, sparing only the little ones who grew close to the friendly earth. That solitary garden suffered greatly from the belligerent skies, and when the storm calmed and the sky had cleared, all the flowers were laid to waste and none of them had escaped the wrath of Nature except the clan of small violets, hiding by the wall of the garden.
Having lifted her head and viewed the tragedy of the flowers and trees, one of the violet maidens called to here companions, saying, "See what the tempest has done to all these poor flowers!" Another violet said, "We are small, and live close to the earth, but we are safe from the wrath of the skies." And a third one added, "Because we are poor in height the tempest is unable to subdue us."
At that moment the queen of violets saw by her side the converted violet, hurled to earth by the storm and distorted upon the wet grass like a limp soldier in a battle field. The queen of the violets lifted her head and called to her family, saying, "Look, my daughters, and meditate upon that which Greed and Jealousy has done to the violet. Every creature no matter how large or small, how tall or lowly has its’ own inherent strengths. Let the memory of this scene be a reminder to us all of what can happen when you forsake yourself and look to be like others just to make your happiness."
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