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. 

What a 365, and now for tomorrow…

Three hundred sixty-five days each of them with 24 hours and each of us presented with the opportunity to decide how those hours, and the minutes and seconds inside each, will be used.  And that’s a year.  Typically, we go from January 1 to December 31 and count that as one.  Educators and students might wind the clock from September 1 to June 30 and define that as a school year, September to April for university, but each is a frame for how time passed.  One year ago, Thursday, March 12, 2020, Julie Stern presented a session on Teaching for Conceptual understanding live and in person at the Enmax in Lethbridge.  North America began closing down during Julie’s presentation.  Alberta started to close down.  

Before the end of the weekend, schools across Alberta cancelled classes on a Sunday afternoon, no less.  Schools closed to students, and suddenly “pivot,” a fundamental basketball skill (all games cancelled, so no need for the word there), became an operative phrase for all endeavours.  We will; we did, pivot from one to another form of instruction, engagement, assessment, connection, living, communicating, greeting new ones to the family and saying goodbye temporarily and in this life to some young and too many old ones across many families.  

It has been a year, not so much to celebrate, yet there is so much to celebrate individually and collectively that it’s essential to find a way.  

There has been suffering and, if not suffering, trials.  Economic trials, holding on to jobs, homes, offices, yoga studios, restaurants, small businesses and large and over 2.5 million deaths accredited to the pandemic worldwide.  So yes, I would suggest stick with suffering.  The year Covid was and is much more than a trial.  And loss.  Any days we might have had with a loved one we didn’t have because of Covid is a loss.  Christmas Dinner was delicious and lonesome.  Zoom could bridge the gap somewhat, but a hug has an extraordinary power, the absence of which is…a loss. 

The Maui Habit might be a little easier with a memory of being in Maui but try it anyway

There is magic in a calendar.  The truth is every day starts a new three hundred and sixty-five.  B.J. Fogg, the author of Tiny Habits, has one foundational habit I just love and frankly plan to use every day as long as I can speak, and then I’ll just think it but still do it.  He calls it the Maui Habit.  I love the name.  It’s simply this, your trigger for the habit is the very first time your legs move out from your bed.  As your feet touch the floor and you begin to rise, you say (out loud), “Today is going to be a great day” (Fogg, 2020, p. 20) then congratulate yourself for saying it.  Obviously, saying doesn’t make it so, but it is absolutely a start.  Building from there, we look at each day for the opportunity it presents to work at achieving all you can to achieve your aspirations, to learn a little more, be a bit more grateful, a day wiser, friendly, connected, fit, to live that day and Sisyphus like push that rock a little bit further up the hill. 

In his book, The Leader Who Had No Title, Robin Sharma (2010) suggests that there are seven fundamentals of personal leadership, the first of which is the importance of learning. I’ve determined in these last 365 that learning is an eternal round, everyone, every day.  There will be “Resistance” (Pressfield, 2002) to any learning; the resistance presents a form of learning itself. Embrace it, look for it and invite learning from every aspect of your life.  Look for people and organizations that can help, read, listen, watch, experiment, try and try again tomorrow.  Inventory the last day and the 364 before that, plan for the next day and the 364 after that but start small and remember as you go to get out of bed tomorrow, the Maui Habit is a great place to start.  It’s going to be a great day.

ps. Any learning day would be a good learning day with a bit of reading from any or all of the three books below:

Fogg, B. J. (2020). Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Pressfield, S. (2002). The war of art: Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. Los Angeles, CA: Black Irish Entertainment.

Sharma, R. (2010). The leader who had no title: A modern fable on real success in business and in life. New York, NY: Free Press.