Character Counts….

Over the Christmas Break I was asked to write an article for the CIAAA (Canadian Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association) Newsletter. I thought I’d post it here as well.

Character counts…unless it doesn’t.  Sportsmanship matters …unless it means I must accept an outcome I don’t like or am convinced is unfair.  In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there is scene where King Claudius, who has come to the throne and all places in his life through murder and deceit is kneeling, presumably in prayer, at the appropriate place in the castle.  (Stay with me on this weaving a bit of English class into an Athletic Director/Administrator conversation) Initially he is expressing a bit of remorse for the poor actions he has taken.  Hamlet, unaware of Claudius’ words or thoughts, is out of sight but pondering how he might seize the moment to exact revenge and kill the murderer of his father, the rightful king.  As the scene closes Claudius does not speak or hold thoughts of true remorse, his true character is pleased to be king, pleased to be married to his brother’s wife, overall pleased with the outcome of his poor choices.  He recognizes his lack of sincerity in his prayers with the line, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below, words without thoughts never to heaven go.” If we are ever going to see character development and sportsmanship that sticks, we must be willing to cement our words and expectations with our actions, acknowledging that when we fail in that connection we have failed, and MUST do better moving forward, no excuses.   

I have been involved with high school athletics as a player, coach, administrator, and Alberta Schools Athletic Association Board member, Commissioner, President and Past President spanning almost 50 years now from those days as a grade 10 playing volleyball in Calgary and have coached close to 80 teams total in football, volleyball, and basketball.  It is extremely easy to see where character and sportsmanship receives Claudius like lip service and where cultures of character and expectations of behaviour and appropriate response have been taught and acted upon on a consistent basis.  Is there really a “good technical foul” a necessary “unnecessary roughness” or a sportsmanlike, “unsportsmanlike penalty”?  I will never believe there is.  Our language, our actions, our instructions to our team in terms of how they will carry themselves, in fact how we will carry ourselves, win, lose, or draw in every moment sets the course for what we will do, how we will respond under pressure. 

These are sports we are involved with, high school sports for the most part, and while it’s a wonderful thing to win and we all believe that sports provide great lessons for life, too often we fail to acknowledge that many of those lessons are how to properly respond when it doesn’t go the way you wanted or believed it should go.  I have heard some form of the phrase, “Character isn’t developed in times of pressure, that’s when it used” on many occasions.  I do agree in the immediate moment of response that is where our character is at that moment; but believe further that we learn in that moment and from that moment refining our understanding, polishing the practice of great character when we have chosen well and reflecting on how we might choose a better way when we have chosen poorly.  We can all continue learning every day.  We are all role models – sometimes we are role models for what people shouldn’t do, sometimes for what they should.  There are much harder things going to happen in our lives, and in the lives of our players than anything that will happen in sports. 

I want every shot to go in, every serve to be good, every play to succeed.  I’d prefer my team to be ranked as high as I see them, I want to win every game, but the Rolling Stones nailed it years ago, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find…you get what you need.”  What we need is to be resilient, you hear that word a lot and resilience is directly tied to being a person of great character under pressure.  A resilient person can celebrate the success of others even in a situation where it means the other person wins the moment at their expense.  Live it. Lead it. Don’t just speak it or think it.   You always have a choice…choose wisely align your words with your actions in private and public, your coaches, athletes, friends and family will follow. 

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