December, 1999 Vol. 1, #7
IN THIS ISSUE:
In a Special Olympics 100-yard dash a very interesting event occurred halfway through the race. One of the runners lost his balance and fell to the track. Almost reflexively every other runner in the race stopped and came to the aid of their fallen competitor. They helped him to his feet and then all eight runners finished the race together, holding hands as they crossed the finish line. While this act of sportsmanship may seem out of place in today’s serious competitive environment, it highlights behavior that is becoming increasingly rare in sports. Is sportsmanship and character in today’s athletes going the way of the dinosaurs? Let’s explore this question now.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Is character & class in sports dead?”
PARENTS’ CORNER – “Raising a classy kid.”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Giving your opponent what they really deserve.”
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales – “Doing the right thing.”
“IS CHARACTER AND CLASS IN SPORTS DEAD?”
I was watching an NFL game the other day when I came across a “bush league” and all too familiar sight. A team that will remain un-named from southern California had just scored a touchdown and all 11 guys had spontaneously broken into the cutest little celebratory dance you’ve ever seen. (hmm…I wonder if they had actually choreographed and rehearsed it?) They also appeared to be singing and I cursed my local affiliate for not being able to bring me the sound “up close and personal” that went along with those cute little steps. I’m sorry. Stupid me! I thought this was a football game. My Bad!!! How was I to know that I had actually tuned into the “NFL Follies,” a tasteless musical playing in many of the major cities across the US. As I watched further I saw several defensive linesmen performing what appeared to be “solo dances” after making routine plays. They pranced around, pounded on their chests, did the “funky chicken” and otherwise made themselves look like idiots. Why? Because they actually did their jobs?! Tacky! Tacky! If football isn’t your game, don’t worry. You can still see some mighty fine moves on the basketball court, baseball diamond or wherever pro sports are played today. The NBA has it’s own version of the Follies replete with Spreewell-like “impulse control”, taunting, pouting, celebratory strutting after scoring, the famous “throat slash” gesture and their own interpretation of the funky chicken which I once saw performed beautifully by Shaq after one of his thunderous dunks. How I long for the good old days when tennis pro John McEnroe was throwing his patented temper tantrums all around the world.
Martina Hingus’ boorish behavior just can’t hold a candle to Mac’s legendary tirades. And kiddies, don’t go getting any ideas now! Remember what Sir Charles said about himself as a professional athlete, “I am not a role model!”
Whatever happened to class in sports? Is sportsmanship going the way of the dinosaurs? Does an athlete or team’s character count for anything anymore?
What lunacy has gripped us when athletes will physically attack the refs after a game because they didn’t like the calls. Has winning become that important and all-consuming that we readily throw away our brain cells and act like barbaric imbeciles? The sad part about that particular story is that the incident happened at a high school hockey game, not a professional one like you’d expect! And just the fact that we expect professional athletes to be inappropriate and misbehave is a sad statement of where sports have taken us today.
When I trained regularly in Okinawan karate there were some really old-fashioned ideas underlying our training: Mutual respect for your fellow student; an “ego-less-ness” and sense that it’s the group or team that is important, not the self; the understanding that one is always a beginner and always has more to learn; never showing emotion (whether one is messing up or performing flawlessly); and my very favorite, increasing rank and skill demands increasing responsibility to bring lower ranked students up to your level. Our traditional school had no tolerance for the “I am holier, cooler and better than thou” attitude so rampant in sports today.
Is winning that important to you that you don’t care about how you come across to your friends, teammates, parents, coaches and fans? If you’re real talented does that give you a license to act like your God’s gift to creation? To “bad mouth” teammates and coaches? Does being “the best” make it OK to have no loyalties? To change teams, friends and peer groups like you were simply discarding a worn pair of jeans and replacing them with a new pair? If it’s done in pro sports why not in college, high school or even younger?
How about honesty? Is coming out on top worth compromising your integrity as a person? A lot of coaches and athletes lie and cheat to get ahead…why not you? Does your word mean anything? Can your teammates and coaches trust that you’ll do what you say? Or are you like so many athletes and coaches who will say whatever they need to in order to get or get out of whatever they want? And how about your behavior? Is winning more important than acting with class and dignity?
I guess I’m just old-fashioned. I think winning in sports can’t be defined by the outcome of a game, match or race. Winning is something more significant than a superficial score or ranking. Being a real winner is about having class and showing character. It’s not just about doing your best and giving the old 110%. It’s not just about a commitment to hard work and the pursuit of excellence.
It’s not just about being a good sport and having a deep underlying respect for your opponent. Having class also has to do with how you manage your successes and failures. Class athletes handle victory and loss the same way – graciously with their heads held high. They don’t brag when they win nor make excuses in defeat. Having class is about remaining composed when the officiating or outcome goes against you. It’s about controlling your emotions and acting mature. It’s about being a good sport when you win and not rubbing your opponents’ face in it with taunting or infantile, “bush-league” behavior. Having class is about being confident inside yet humble on the outside. It’s about being a team player, a positive leader and role model. It’s about taking responsibility for your and not pointing the finger of blame anywhere but on you. The class athlete praises the opponent for a job well done.
Believe it or not, there are still a few “prehistoric” examples of these real winners in professional sports too. Peyton Manning, the Indianapolis Colt’s second year quarterback is a good sport and wonderful example of an exceptionally talented athlete with a lot of class. When he first joined the Colts he asked that his locker be placed amid those of the offensive linesmen. What does that tell you about his understanding that teams win, not individuals? A superstar and franchise player, Manning works harder than most at his craft. He refuses to do separate weight-training sessions the way most quarterbacks do and instead does his workouts with the rest of the team. In practice he volunteers to fill in on the scout team’s kick-off coverage unit, giving his defensive tackles an occasional breather. He doesn’t need to do any of this. He does it because it’s important to him. He does it because he knows this is how true leaders act. He does it because he has character and is a winner!
Manning is a superstar who does not act (in the negative, entitled sense) like one. On the other hand, Ryan Leaf, his floundering counterpart on the San Diego Chargers has been giving a clinic this season on selfish, spoiled, entitled and infantile behavior. At the time of this writing Leaf was serving a four-week suspension for berating the team’s General Manager. Apparently it’s everyone else’s fault that Ryan is failing miserably. Like the Denver Bronco’s John Elway, the San Antonio Spurs’, Tim Duncan, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Mark McGuire, the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa and tennis pro Pete Sampras, Peyton Manning carries himself with a lot of dignity and class. He is approachable and down-to-earth. It’s as if he acts like a person first and then, as an athlete second. I think that you’ll also find this healthy attitude and perspective in most great female athletes. It is interesting to note that with only a few minor exceptions, (Hingus, of course, being one of them) the vast majority of visible female athletes have both feet on the ground. They have character and class. Whether this is because they are better socialized than their male counterparts, are under less pressure or have their sport in a better perspective is irrelevant.
What is relevant is how you as an athlete carry yourself. Pick your models very carefully. Just because someone you see on TV looks cool doesn’t mean that you want to build yourself in that image. Understand that being a winner is not simply about how much talent that you have but what you do with that talent. Be a positive leader and role model. Adopt a winning attitude. Be a good sport. Respect your opponents, teammates and coaches. Be a team player.
Be honest with yourself and willing to look at and work on your weaknesses. Be honest with others. Be humble and give credit to your supporting cast. Walk the talk. Don’t be satisfied with the status quo. Continually push yourself to get better. Understand that playing time is not a right but a privilege that you earn. Take responsibility to lift the play of those around you rather than putting them down for having lesser ability. Be a class act. Think before you open your mouth. Remember, in time, people will forgive your failures and forget your successes. However, your character and attitude as an athlete & person will stay with them much longer. Make a lasting positive impression. Be a real winner!
“Raising a classy kid”
Bjorn Borg was one of the most dominating tennis players in this last half century winning 62 career singles titles that included 11 Grand Slams (5 French Open titles and 5 consecutive Wimbledon singles championships from 1976-1980). Most people who remember Borg recall his unflappable demeanor and ice cool temperament under pressure. His facial expression rarely changed. He rarely, if ever, showed emotion. He never pumped his fists after a great shot. He never threw his racquet down in disgust. He rarely questioned a linesman’s call, and if he did, there was never a hint of emotion in his presentation. Because of these behaviors Borg was nicknamed the “iceman.” The “iceman” was truly a good sport and a class act. He was a true gentleman.
What you may not know about Borg was that when he first started playing the game as a 9 year old he was your classic head case. He was “hot headed” and would curse and throw his racquets after a missed shot. He questioned calls and would complain bitterly when things didn’t go his way. As he got older his tantrums increased until one day his parents laid down the law. They told him in that if he threw his racquet once more, complained or acted like a poor sport, he would NEVER be allowed to play the game again. NEVER AGAIN! Lo and behold, Bjorn’s behavior changed over night and a real champion was born!
What’s your role in raising a classy kid? What should you do to increase the chances that your child-athlete will grow up benefiting from the best that athletics has to offer rather than being seduced by all that’s wrong in sports today? Well, the answer to that one is quite simple! Do what Borg’s parents did. Take an active role in shaping their character on the playing field. Set and enforce appropriate limits in relation to your child’s sport. Make it very clear to your child what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Continually let them know what you expect from them as far as sportsmanship, honesty, fairness, unselfishness and attitude goes.
While you’ve heard me tell you never to coach as a parent, intervening when your child is having a temper tantrum, cheating, abusing an opponent or teammate, or otherwise acting badly is perfectly fine in my book. In fact, not only is it fine, it is a MUST! To teach your child how to be a class act you can’t just sit back and hope that it happens. You have to thoughtfully shape your child’s behaviors and be willing to go in and enforce limits when they are behaving badly. If you don’t, ultimately you are the one that ends up teaching your child how to be a poor sport.
A father recently watched his 10 year-old son play in the finals of a 12 and under tennis tournament. As the match wore on and the boy began to win, his 11 year-old opponent began to call the boy’s good shots out. When the boy called out the score, his opponent would at first say nothing, and then a point or two later, turn the score around by saying that he was the one who was ahead or had won the game. Repeatedly the 10 year old had to call for a linesman. When the linesman was present, the cheating stopped. Unfortunately, the linesman did not stay for the entire match. He kept leaving to check up on other matches being played and as soon as he left the cheating and dishonest scoring continued.
The 10 year olds’ father watched his son get “hooked” time and again and was fit to be tied. After the cheater called a ball out that was clearly two inches inside the line, the exasperated father turned to the cheater’s mother who was sitting right next to him at courtside and pointed out what was going on. He asked her what she thought of that last call and if she was aware that her son was cheating and changing the score. The mother’s reply left the father speechless. “I didn’t see anything!”
DIDN’T SEE ANYTHING!? HELLO? ANYBODY HOME? Were you too distracted by the knitting that you weren’t doing or were you watching a different match being played on your son’s court? Perhaps the fact that you were sitting a whopping 10 feet away from the action made it too difficult to get a really clear view of the action? What’s that you say? The fog was too thick to see through? There was a blinding snowstorm? Didn’t see anything?! And you didn’t notice that your son’s semi-final opponent was complaining about the very same thing? Oh….I see….I think I get it now!… This is that famous “three monkeys” version of parenting, “SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL.” Good job of setting appropriate limits Mom and helping your son really learn some important life lessons! After all, there’s no question that coming home with the winner’s trophy more than justifies blatant cheating and poor sportsmanship! No “challenged parenting” in their house! Totally disgusted with this mother and the tournament director, and unwilling to let the cheating go on any longer, the father pulled his son off the court forfeiting the match. Game, set, and match to young Mr. Cheater. Another wonderful parenting and teaching moment timely and effectively used. Bravo!!! In my book this mother’s behavior is nothing short of SHAMEFUL! Then there’s the story of the mother who has consistently gone out of her way to enable her 14 year-old daughter’s inappropriate acting out behavior to continue on the basketball court. Last year she was behaviorally out of control, mouthing off to the refs, cussing out her opponents, putting teammates down and not following team rules. The head coach appropriately sat her down for two games, explaining to her exactly why he was benching her. (Incidentally, this bad behavior took place right under the “watchful” eyes of the girl’s father).
The daughter, skillfully manipulative, then complained to her mother that the coach was being unfair and mean. After all, she was clearly one of the best players on the team and should be in the starting line-up. The mother then confronted the coach who calmly explained to her that when you violate team rules the way the girl had and continue to act inappropriately after being asked to stop there are (DUHHHH!) logical consequences, i.e. you don’t get to play! Unhappy with this response and outraged that anyone would try to set limits on her daughter, she went to the league director and pressured her into letting her daughter get back on the floor. Stupidly, (and I mean STUPIDLY!) the league director did not support the coach, forcing him to put the girl back into the starting lineup. (He has since resigned…now that’s curious…I wonder why?). And when the coach sought out the girl’s father for support, since he had witnessed several incidents of her bad behavior, his response was, “I didn’t see anything!”
What’s going on here? Is there something in the water that’s clouding parents’ vision and turning them into limit-setting “spaghetti spines?” Why do some parents deliberately look the other way and seem so unwilling to set and enforce appropriate behavioral limits with their kids around sports? This is not rocket science here! This is NOT how you teach a kid to behave with class. This is NOT how you teach a child to get control of his/her impulses. This is NOT how you teach a healthy perspective about sports and what good sportsmanship is all about.
If you truly want to teach your child to carry him/herself with class, then you have to do two things starting today. First, model the behaviors that you want to see, i.e. good sportsmanship, composure under pressure, being a team oriented player, honesty, fairness, etc. Modeling is one of the most powerful ways that we have of teaching our children. Second, actively teach your child the proper behaviors by not being afraid to intervene and set and enforce limits. Do not collude with bad conduct. Do not ignore it. Take responsibility. Remember, your children are depending upon you. They may not yet have the maturity to understand appropriate behavior. Hopefully, you do. Be a proactive teacher so that your child learns to become a class act both on and off the field.
“Giving your opponent what they really deserve”
Let’s face it. Being a coach in today’s winning-crazed society sometimes can be a thankless and demoralizing job. There is pressure from the administration to win. There is pressure from the media to win. There is pressure from the parents to win. There’s pressure from your fans to win.
Even your own parents have told you that you can forget about that inheritance unless you’re victorious. (Just kidding). And then there’s all those inner voices telling you that unless you come out on top you’re really no good. It’s no wonder that coaches prematurely burn out, leave the profession and become lighthouse attendants! It’s also understandable why some melt down and succumb to the pressures by compromising their ethics and values just to get that W. There’s no question that you have your work cut out for you trying to teach today’s athlete what’s really important and why. It seems that with all the focus on winning, more critical factors like teamwork, sportsmanship, fairness, and good character get discarded by the roadside. Too many athletes today don’t have a clue as to how to conduct themselves. They’re too selfish, entitled or self-important, view the opponent as an evil twin or in some other way conduct themselves like poor sports.
However, there are still a few athletes out there who restore your faith in all that’s good in sports. Athletes who teach you that competitive sport is nothing more than a vehicle to raise your level of personal and performance excellence. Working with the University of Connecticut’s men’s soccer program this season I’ve had the good fortune to meet quite a few of these class acts and witness this first hand: In a hard fought quarter-final game at the 1999 NCAA Division I Soccer Tournament the UConn Huskies came from behind to beat Furman University 3 to 2 in Storrs, Connecticut. While the Huskies were wildly celebrating their first appearance in the final four in 16 years, several of the Furman players lay sprawled out on the ground crying. Furman had confidently planned on making the Final Four, not on losing this match. Darren Lewis, a Connecticut forward, approached his sobbing Furman counterpart, helped him to his feet, walked him back to his bench and sat down next to him, all the while offering words of comfort and reassurance. Here’s an athlete who truly understood the nature of competition and displayed an amazing respect for his opponent. Darren explained to me afterwards that he knew exactly what this guy was going through and had been there himself many times. “Besides”, he added, “all game long we were telling each other, ‘good play’ whenever the other did something great” Darren wonderfully demonstrates the proper way to look at and deal with an opponent, with tremendous respect and deep appreciation. Why should your athletes respect and appreciate the competition? Simple! Your opponent provides you with the valuable opportunity to reach a heightened state of excellence. Without a worthy and challenging opponent, competition would be a joke. What’s the point of scheduling “cream puffs” throughout your season? How can you even hope that your athletes will improve consistently going up against much weaker competition. Without a skilled opponent pushing them to the limits, it would be nearly impossible for your players to have a peak performance. In this way your opponent is really your partner and should be treated as such. Perhaps this is why the word “compete” comes from two Latin words that mean “to seek together.” At Magic Johnson’s retirement ceremony, this great NBA champion went down a long list of people that he wanted to thank for their contribution to his storied success over the years. When he got to his perennial arch-rival, Larry Bird, who he had been competing against since college, he said, “And I especially want to thank my good friend Larry Bird, because without Larry Bird, there would be no Magic Johnson! Larry Bird made me the player that I am today.” And he was absolutely right. Their intense rivalry over the years, like the one between Martina Navratilova and Chris Everett, made them both much better players than they would have been without the intense competition from the other. In a more traditional and narrow-minded view of competition, the opponent is considered to be “the enemy.” Naturally this view leads to a loss of respect for, and less-than- sportsmanlike attitudes and behaviors towards the opponent. As a coach it is imperative that you do not collude with or condone this kind of behavior. Instead, you want to actively teach your athletes to act with respect towards the competition. You do this by first modeling these kinds of behaviors yourself. You must walk the talk. You must not engage in bush league behaviors like running up the score, cheating or encouraging your athletes to deliberately try to injure an opponent. Similarly you must not allow your players to act out their frustrations or negative feelings on the opposing team. In simple terms, you must demand that your players conduct themselves like winners at all times. An example: Andy Blaylock is the head baseball coach for the University of Connecticut Huskies. Over the years Andy has sent his share of ball players on to the Major Leagues. More impressive to me is the tremendous support Andy gets for his program from his former players. They are always there when Coach Blaylock needs them. Why? Because they feel indebted to him! Andy gave them a gift when they played for him at UConn. He taught them not only how to play the game but the discipline and dignity to be a class act. He taught them how to conduct themselves like champions. Andy had no tolerance for any behaviors that fell short of this. One rather humorous example of Andy’s sometimes unusual teaching methods: A Connecticut player struck out in an important game. Because he had failed to take advantage of such a great scoring chance, this individual angrily ripped his batting helmet off his head and slammed it down into the dirt in disgust. The helmet bounced along the first base line stopping halfway between home plate and first. Before anyone could do or say anything, Andy ran out to where the abused helmet lay, kneeled down in the dirt with his face right next to it and started screaming at it, “Bad helmet! Bad! Why did you make him strike out? Why did you mess him up? How could you be so stupid to make him strike out at a time like this!?” Needless to say the batter was totally mortified. He flushed beat red in embarrassment and looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole. That was the last time anyone on the team ever saw that kind of behavior from this player again.
What kind of standards of behavior do you set with your team? Are there clear rules of what’s expected as far as honesty, fair play, attitude, work ethic, sportsmanship, behavior towards teammates and treatment of opponents? Do your players know exactly where you stand on these issues and what you’ll do if and when they violate these standards? Are you consistent in your enforcement? Do your players have a healthy respect for the competition?
While these may seem like superfluous concerns that have little to do with the more important X’s and O’s of coaching and how to get to that W, these standards of excellence are critical for producing real champions.
Dr. G’s Teaching Tales
“On doing the right thing”
The (politically incorrect) Man in the Glass
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t your father or mother or wife
Whose judgment upon you must pass.
The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the one staring back from the glass.
You may be like Jack Horner and chisel a plum And think you’re a wonderful guy.
But the man in the glass says you’re only a bum
If you can’t look him straight in the eye.
He’s the fellow to please – never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end.
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
The following story is taken and adapted from The Mountain Story at www.inspirationpeak.com, a wonderfully inspirational web site.
A little boy and his father were climbing a mountain. Up from the valley they climbed, all afternoon until they could see far down onto the valley floor. Unexpectedly the young boy slipped on a rock and banged his shin quite hard. Reflexively he let out a painful scream…. “Arrrrghhhhh!” The mountain almost immediately screamed back …”Arrrrghhhhh.” Puzzled and confused by this, the little boy called out, “Who are you??” A second or two later the mountain responded, “Who are you??” Frustrated by this response the little boy yelled back, “You’re stupid!!”
A second or two later the mountain responded, “You’re stupid!!” This made the boy really angry and he screamed back, “I hate you, you’re a coward!” And the mountain responded, “I hate you, you’re a coward!” Puzzled and troubled, the boy turned to his father who had been watching this whole incident transpire and asked, “What’s going on Dad?” His father smiled at his young son and said, “My boy, listen carefully, I’m going to teach you a valuable life lesson.” Whereupon the father screamed to the mountain, “I admire you!” A few seconds later a voice screamed back, “I admire you!” Again the man screamed, “You are a champion!” The voice from the distance answered, “You are a champion!” And once more, the man yelled, “I really like you!” Soon the mountain yelled back, “I really like you!” The boy was surprised but still did not understand what was going on. Then his father explained: “People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE. It always gives you back EVERYTHING that you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions.
If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart.
If you want good sportsmanship on your team be a good sport.If you want people to respect you, respect them. If you want your team to work harder, then you need to work harder. If you want more competence on your team, improve your competence. If you want people to treat you fairly, treat them fairly.
If you want honesty from others, be honest yourself. This relationship applies to everything in all aspects of life. Life will always give you back everything that you have given it.”
Your life is not a coincidence. It’s a true reflection of YOU! Be a class act. Be a leader. Be a positive role model. Make a difference in someone’s life. Be true to yourself! Carry yourself with integrity. Be a support to those around you and help lift their level of performance. Be a positive powerful force on your team. Walk the talk. Do the right thing!
If you have a performance difficulty or you’re stuggling with a performance issue, call me today. I can help!
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