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There’s a terrible cancer out there that’s spreading through your sport. It may be festering in one or more of your teammates. It may be sitting in the stands growing large and ugly behind the false smiles of several of the team’s parents. I sure hope it’s not growing in you! Your coach may be desperately trying to ignore it, hoping beyond hope that it will just go away. This cancer is a deadly killer. It kills the happiness that is supposed to be an integral part of sports participation. It kills an athlete’s self-esteem and self-confidence. It positively destroys the integrity of a team and makes playing together impossible. When it’s finished wreaking its’ havoc, this killer will turn your season into a shambles, taking talented, well trained athletes and turning them into losers. The cancer that I speak of is cultivated and spread by the “little people” on your team. The little people are those immature, selfish, petty and sometimes wickedly stupid athletes and adults who let their emotions and self-esteem rule their intellect and guide their judgment. “Little people” gang up and mercilessly pick on other teammates. They are cowardly and do it behind the coach’s back. The targets for their scapegoating behaviors are almost always far more talented athletes than them. Why? Simple! Little people are threatened by the success of others. Sadly, it makes them feel more inadequate than they already are. Whether parent or athlete, these little people exhibit a loser’s attitude and they must be stopped! In this issue of the Mental Toughness Newsletter we will address the cancer of pettiness, jealousy and immaturity in sports.

ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Will you please just grow up!?”
PARENT’S CORNER – “The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Don’t be a wishy-washy. Take a clear, firm stand. Protect your kids and your program.”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES – “What big people really look like – The stock boy”


“Will you please just grow up!?”

Sandy is a very talented athlete. As a 14 year old, she is a national caliber swimmer with Olympic potential. She has been ranked in the top 3 in the nation in her best event, the 100 Freestyle ever since she was 10. Amazingly she is unimpressed with her own success and doesn’t flaunt it. In fact, you would never know that she was as good as she was by talking to her. She is a good sport and is self-effacing. Sandy and her family recently moved to a small town in a new state when her father was transferred because of his job. As expected, Sandy joined the local swim team to continue her training.

Ideally, one might expect that the new town and team would warmly embrace Sandy. After all, having someone that good on your team can only make the whole team better. Sandy’s talent can potentially provide a source of motivation for every athlete in that pool as well as a model of excellence for the younger swimmers. If an athlete is smart, he’ll see that someone who is much better than him will provide him and his teammates with the opportunity to lift the overall level of his training. This is one of the very best ways to get better as an athlete. You have to be challenged by stronger, more talented individuals.

The fact of the matter is that your success as an athlete is always built upon your failures and losses. Getting beaten by other athletes, like milk, is good for you. While it never feels good to lose, these failures help make you stronger. Your continual losses to that pesky archrival are supposed to motivate you to train harder, not turn you into a whining, jealous, crybaby. If you are always number one, and you never experience failure, then you will never reach your true potential as a champion. Suffering and losing are an important part of the success package.

What Sandy and her family couldn’t anticipate was that she was moving into a town inhabited by “little people.” Actually there are “little people” in every town and on every team wherever sports are played! Sandy was not at all welcomed on this team by the five girls that were her age. Quite the contrary! As soon as they realized how very fast she was and how hard she worked, they began a campaign of hate, jealousy and immaturity. They began to mercilessly pick on her. They openly ignored her. They huddled in a group before practice and whispered to each other, occasionally glancing over towards Sandy to let her know that they were talking about her. They said stupid and mean things to her!

When I got off the phone with Sandy after she told me this story I was hopping mad! As I write these words I am still fuming! All I have to say to athletes like this…no, I am not even going to qualify you as an athlete…to little children like this is PLEASE GROW UP! Stop embarrassing yourself! These girls think that they are somehow superior to Sandy because they have been able to exclude her from their stupid, immature clique. All they have accomplished as far as I’m concerned is to completely make fools of themselves. Their behavior is downright embarrassing! You’re 14 years old and you’re acting like a little baby. PLEASE! GROW UP!

Several of them actually approached Sandy and said to her, “If you hadn’t moved here we would be better than we are now and would be ranked higher.”

Can you believe that?! This statement not only reeks of their petty nastiness, but it reflects their immaturity and immense stupidity. Wake up and smell the coffee girls! Because Sandy is there, you NOW have the opportunity to get better and be ranked higher. You should be thanking the girl and your good fortune that she moved to your town, not mercilessly picking on her. Stop whining and start working. Sandy is your greatest asset, not your biggest liability.

So why do middle school, high school and even college athletes act like this? Why do they let their jealousies boil over and control their brain cells? One main reason: SELF-ESTEEM. I think that when you see these kinds of dynamics on a team, it’s because the “little people” actually feel little inside. They do not feel good about themselves. They have very low self-esteem. It is, in fact their intense feelings of inadequacy that direct their witch hunts. If they can make that better athlete suffer, if they can make her an outcast, (For some reason you mostly see this sort of stuff happening with girls and young women. Boys and young men don’t get as threatened by better athletes on their teams. While I occasionally see this situation occurring on a guys’ team it is not nearly as prevalent as it is with girls), then it makes them feel just a little bit better.

If you are on a team and you see this attack of the little people going on what kind of message do you think they are sending to the rest of their teammates? Oh, it’s a great message! “IF YOU GET BETTER THAN ME, THEN I AM GOING TO HATE YOU!” The little people are not making it safe for you or anyone to excel. The little people do not want you to reach your goals. Why? They are simply too selfish. They are not team players. They don’t really care about you or how the team does. They are only interested in their own comfort and happiness. They would rather make a teammate miserable than get better or have the team win. They don’t pass the ball to a wide-open teammate because they hate her and think she’s “stuck up.” They are jealous because she has already scored too many goals. They don’t even care if they get reamed out by the coach for not passing the ball. You see, expressing her own pettiness and immaturity is far more important to the little people than the well being of her team or teammates.

So if you are on a team with little people listen up! Stand up! Speak out! Be courageous! Tell them to GROW UP! Do not allow the little people to poison your athletic experience. Do not allow their cancer to spread and ruin your season. Tell them to act their age! Call them on their immature, nasty behavior. Do NOT turn your back on what they are doing! Do not ignore them. Challenge their scapegoating behaviors! OPENLY SUPPORT your teammate who is being attacked. Fill the coach in on what is going on regardless of whether they call you a rat or not.” The little people of the world desperately need your help. If they are not taught to grow up and act decently now, then they will end up inadvertently crippling themselves for life. Their immaturity and pettiness will get them into trouble socially and professionally. You can help them NOW! ENOUGH ALREADY. TELL THEM TO GROW UP!


“The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree”

Where do you think our children learn to act like “little people?” Where do you think a child learns to act out her feelings of inadequacy and jealousy by mercilessly ganging up and picking on a teammate? That’s right, let’s take a very close look at ourselves in the mirror. Our children learn an awful lot from our behaviors and sometimes what they learn is pretty awful. Just what kind of behaviors are you modeling around teamwork, the pursuit of excellence, and having to deal with a much more talented teammate?

It is interesting that Sandy wasn’t just plagued by petty little children. By itself, that would have been hard enough to deal with. No, Sandy was also picked on by the parents of those nasty little children! That’s right, a number of “adults” (and I use the word quite loosely here) on the team were also openly unhappy that Sandy had joined their club. These mothers would sit in the stands during meets and make nasty comments to each other about the girl. They too complained that Sandy was robbing their child of an opportunity to get better. Some of them even made sure that this poor little girl heard the nasty, wickedly stupid things that they were saying! So is it any wonder that their children acted the very same way?

A long time ago when I was teaching tennis, two of my female students were playing in a relatively competitive challenge match against each other. Student “A” was positively kicking the butt of student “B”. On a changeover, “B” confronted her much stronger opponent and complained about her “unfairness” because she was winning too many points. (and I thought I had heard it all!). “A” was so taken aback by this bizarre complaint that she lost her composure and then proceeded to lose the match! “B,” a clearly weaker player, then came up to the net and thanked her stunned opponent for letting her win! Chronologically, player “B” was an adult. Emotionally player “B” was a charter member of the “little people.”

Let’s get something straight here about competition. First, competition is a very healthy thing for your child. Competition, when placed in the hands of appropriate adults, can help your child soar to great heights. Second, in competition there are winners and losers, just like in life. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Third, your child can’t always win. He/she can’t always be the best! As a matter of fact, chances are quite good that you’ll frequently find a lot of children who are much better than your child. That’s OK too. That’s just life! It doesn’t make you or your child any less of a person. Fourth, being the best is not the main purpose of youth sports, or most sports for that matter despite what everyone else may tell you! Striving for personal excellence is important. Giving it the best you have also counts a lot. But expecting that your child will always win, score 20 points, be the fastest, hit the most home runs, etc. is an adult fantasy that is much better left tucked away in far recesses of your mind.

Don’t misunderstand me here. It’s fine to want your child to excel. I certainly want my children to be winners on and off the court or field. What I am saying is that sports should not be solely about winning. If you make winning too darn important, then the behavior of the “little people” will begin to emerge. When winning is too important, people start feeling very badly about themselves when they lose. When winning is made too important, one’s self-worth and ego become pathologically intertwined.

When you then lose, you end up feeling diminished, inadequate and like a failure. The athlete is then more likely to feel threatened by and jealous of a better teammate. In a defensive attempt to ward off these negative feelings and bolster a shaky self-esteem, he/she then resorts to nasty, petty scapegoating behaviors.

Keep in mind, that as a parent it is your job to help educate your child regardless of whether they are 5 or 15. It is your job to set and enforce boundaries as to what are appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. It is your job to put a stop to behaviors that reflect meanness, jealousies or poor sportsmanship. If you don’t set limits around these behaviors your child will never learn to for him/herself. And, if you don’t set limits, you are solely responsible doing your child a terrible disservice.

In addition, it is imperative that you teach your child to have a healthy attitude and understanding of competition. This is especially true if you are raising daughters. Girls must be taught that being aggressive, competitive and excelling are not only OK, but are healthy qualities that should be actively pursued and cultivated. You want to teach your child to have tolerance for and appreciation of the more talented athlete. You want to help your child understand that the better her teammates, the more opportunity she is presented with to excel and improve as an athlete in her own right. This is a critically important lesson to be taught. The opponent and teammate is really a partner helping out in the pursuit of excellence.

Teach your children to embrace a win-win mentality. Reassure them that if a particular teammate is better, that teammate will, in the end, be actively contributing to their own success. The issue here is that you as the parent and appropriate adult maintain a healthy attitude about this. Help your child understand that the “pie” is plenty big enough for everyone. Let me explain:

“Little people” have a win-lose mentality. That is, if you do well and are successful, they experience your success as a blow to their ego, as if somehow they have suffered a defeat. This is because in their mind, the pie is quite limited in size. If you get a big piece, that means theirs will be that much smaller. In this way your success is their failure. This is an unbelievably self-limiting and self-defeating way to approach competition and life in general. The fact of the matter is that the better your child’s teammates get, the more chance your offspring has to get good. In this way of thinking, that pie has no boundaries. It contains more than enough for everyone!

Help your children grow up with a healthy view of competition and a healthy respect for their teammates and opponents. Do your part as a parent to eradicate the disease of the “little people” from the face of the sporting world. Teach your children to act with respect and tolerance towards their peers, especially if they are more talented. Teach your children to carry themselves with class.

Remember, your children don’t miss a trick. They are watching you very closely. What kind of behaviors are you modeling for them? Are you training them to walk with class like the “big people” or slither along with the little people?


“Don’t be a wishy-washy. Take a clear, firm stand! Protect your kids and
your program.”

What should you do if you get wind that the behavior of “little people” are infiltrating your team? How should you handle the athletes that scapegoat and mercilessly pick on the teammate who is better than them? This is a critically important question and how you handle this situation will dramatically determine how effective you are as a coach and ultimately how successful your teams will become.

Here’s a key issue. Learning and peak performance can only be nurtured in a safe environment. Your athletes need to feel safe and supported both by you and their teammates in order to reach their true potential. When they are not concerned with protecting their social status among their peers or defending their self-esteem from frontal attacks, your athletes will then be freed up enough to channel all their physical, emotional and psychic energy into the tasks at hand: Listening to you, learning the proper technique and strategies, practicing hard and taking risks and going for it in competitions. Furthermore, when athletes are freed up in this way, they are then able to have fun training and competing. As I’ve said in numerous past newsletter issues, fun is a critical prerequisite for peak performance. If your athletes are having fun, they will be more motivated, more relaxed and therefore far more likely to perform to their capabilities.

However, when athletes are scapegoated, ostracized or otherwise treated cruelly by their peers, all their energy gets diverted away from training and performance and wasted in defensive activities. Since being accepted socially is such a huge need for most preadolescent and adolescent athletes, failure to be accepted knocks their world way out of alignment. The target athlete becomes preoccupied with her outcast status. The mean treatment by her peers leaves her depressed and can easily undermine her motivation to train and excel. Her feelings of isolation completely smother any fun that the sport may have provided her in the past. She is even left questioning whether it even makes sense any more to be the best.

I have seen very talented athletes in this position, being picked on by jealous and less talented teammates, who consciously decide to stop working as hard and being as good! Their rationale is simple. If I’m not so good, then maybe my teammates will like me again. Social acceptance from their peers is so important that they are willing to harm themselves to better fit in.

If these other issues don’t upset you as a coach, then this latter concern of the athlete should really alarm you. Kids who pick on a teammate because that teammate is more talented spread an insidious, poisonous message on your team. If this message continues to be sent it can leave you totally frustrated and with a group of unhappy, disconnected underachievers. The message is quite simple: IT IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU TO EXCEL ON THIS TEAM. IF YOU ATTEMPT TO PERFORM BETTER THAN US, YOU WILL BE ATTACKED.

How can you preach the pursuit of excellence and the value of hard work as a coach if you have athletes on your team undermining this peak performance ethic with their petty, jealous acting out?

YOU CAN’T! It is imperative that you create an environment of safety on your team. It is essential that you make it safe to excel. It is critical that you teach your athletes how to have a healthy attitude towards their more talented teammates. How do you do all this?

You must be open and direct. You must make it very clear which athlete to athlete behaviors you will tolerate and which have no place on your squad. You must be prepared to reinforce this message over and over again over the course of the season, especially if you have a group of athletes with some nasty chemistry going on between them.

Most important, you must be prepared and willing to enforce your rules regarding treatment of teammates. If an athlete refuses to follow your rules and continues her scapegoating behavior, then you must be ready to ask that athlete to leave your program.

Many coaches mistakenly believe that what goes on in the locker room or after practice or games is the athletes’ business and of no concern of the coach. Don’t kid yourself. Anything that affects your athletes’ well being should be a concern of yours including how they are doing in school as well as how they are getting along with their teammates. Make it your business to “butt in” and learn as much as you can about your team’s interpersonal dynamics. Remember, the success of your season and the individual performances of your athletes are at stake.

Keep in mind that it is not neither necessary, nor realistic to expect everyone on the team to be close friends. With varied personality differences among your squad, this would be highly unusual. What is necessary though is that despite these personality differences each athlete follows clear rules regarding the treatment of teammates. It is imperative that you help teach your athletes about the meaning of mutual respect.

In the process of doing this you might also find it necessary to educate your athletes’ parents regarding this same issue. Frequently scapegoating behavior is either modeled or condoned by the parents. You may need to clearly teach your parents about the importance of a close-knit team that interacts with mutual respect and appropriate behavior. They need to understand that when there are undercurrents of conflict, the whole team will suffer. In addition, you may also have to teach your parents why having better athletes on the team will actually make their child that much better. This may be a hard lesson to learn for the overly invested parent who has had to watch his child lose his/her starting position to a more talented newcomer. Parents like this strongly resent the new athlete and tend to make their selfish feelings known to whoever will listen.

Be clear. Be firm. Enforce your rules. Take a proactive stance to eliminate the behaviors of “the little people.” There is absolutely no way that your squad can become successful when the “little people” have their way. With consistent, proper and firm training, you even can help those “little people” grow up to become champions.


“What “big people” really look like – The Stock Boy” (I recently received the following emailed story)

In a supermarket, the stock boy, was busily working packing shelves when a new voice came over the intercom asking for a carry out at check register number 4. Kurt was almost finished with his shift and desperately wanted to get some fresh air, so he decided to answer the call. As he approached the checkout stand a distant smile caught his eye. The new check out girl at number 4 was absolutely beautiful. She was an older woman, maybe 26 while he was only 22. That didn’t matter to Kurt one bit. One look was all he needed. He instantly fell madly in love.

Later that day, after his shift was over, he waited by the punch clock to find out the new girl’s name. Suddenly she came into the break room, smiled softly at him, took her card, punched out, and then left. Kurt stole a glimpse at her card. He looked at her name, BRENDA. When he walked out to go home he caught a glimpse of her as she was walking up the road on her way home. That night he couldn’t get Brenda off of his mind. He kept seeing images of her at the check out and in the break room. He had to do something!

The very next day, Kurt got up his courage and waited outside the supermarket for Brenda to come out. As she left, he offered her a ride home. Since he looked harmless enough, she readily accepted. When he dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again outside of work. She graciously thanked him but said that it simply wasn’t possible. Undeterred, Kurt pressed her and she explained she had two children and just couldn’t afford to hire a baby sitter. Kurt said that was no problem and quickly offered to pay for the sitter himself. After all, he explained to her, he was the one asking her out.

Brenda reluctantly accepted Kurt’s offer for a date the following Saturday. However, when that Saturday night rolled around and he arrived at her doorstep, Brenda apologized and

told him that she was unable to go with him. She explained that the baby-sitter had called at the last minute and canceled. Kurt seemed undaunted by this turn of bad luck and simply said, “Well, let’s just take the kids with us.”

Brenda then tried to explain to Kurt that taking the children with them was not an option. Call it hard headedness, persistence or simply a refusal to accept “no” for an answer, Kurt pressed Brenda and asked, “why not?” Finally Brenda brought him inside to meet her children. She had an older daughter who was just as cute as a bug, and then Brenda brought out her son. He was in a wheelchair. He had been born a paraplegic and had Down syndrome.

Kurt turned to Brenda and asked, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be dense here but I still don’t get it. Help me understand. Why can’t the kids come with us?” Brenda was simultaneously dumbstruck and amazed. Most “normal” men would run away from a woman with two kids, especially if one of them had such serious disabilities. After all, that’s exactly what her first husband and father of her children had done.

That evening Kurt and Brenda loaded up the kids went out to dinner and then took in a movie. When her son needed anything Kurt would take care of him. When he needed to use the rest room, Kurt picked him up out of his wheel chair, took him to the bathroom and then brought him back. The kids immediately fell in love with Kurt. At the end of the evening Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life with.

A year later, Brenda and Kurt were married. After the wedding, Kurt adopted both of her children. Since then they have added two more children to their family….

So what ever happened to that stock boy and check out girl? Well, Mr. & Mrs. Kurt Warner, now live in St. Louis, where he is employed by the St. Louis Rams and has played himself into one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

If you have a performance difficulty or you’re consistently underachieving, call me today. I can help!


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