“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
It has often been said that sports build character. Sports allow people to learn many lessons. The games themselves, though, don’t necessarily build character. Instead, they reveal character. Just like a test that you might take in school doesn’t build your knowledge base, but it reveals what you already know. The homework that you’ve done or not done is revealed when you take a test. In the same way, what you’ve done in practice and your workouts is revealed during the games. Your habits can make or break you.
I often told my players that bad players remember the good things that they do. Good players remember the bad things that they do. A good player will remember the time that they didn’t dive for a loose ball. A bad player will make a big deal about that time that they blocked out. Good or bad habits can lead to success or failure. A person’s habits oftentimes come down to their motivation. What is most important to a person? What makes them tick? Most players and teams that I talk with will tell me that they want to win a championship. However, their actions do not always back up this claim. Many players do not act as if winning a championship is the most important thing to them.
One of my favorite quotes is “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” There is a reason that race horses wear blinders. Race horses need to stay focused on the goal. They need to keep looking straight ahead to the finish line. Teams need to take the same approach. Distractions and obstacles can cause teams to fall short in their goals. Players say that they want to win championships but how many players get off track and distracted by other things. Hanging out with the wrong people, getting mad at coaches, jealousy of other players, drinking, smoking, complaining, arguing with officials … all of these things take a player’s focus away from what it takes to win. Many times, these things are selfish. Players are more concerned about their ego, pride or feelings than accomplishing their goal.
Just a couple of weeks ago (editor’s note – originally posted on January 18, 2016), the Cincinnati Bengals were on the verge of winning a NFL playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers when they had two unsportsmanlike penalties on the same play that allowed the Steelers to move the 30 yards they needed to be in field goal range. Pittsburgh won the game and advanced in the playoffs because of two undisciplined plays by the Bengals. The second penalty, especially, was truly a breakdown in Adam “Pacman” Jones and what his goals were. He lost focus. What was most important to him was getting his way and being right. He argued with the official and lost his cool. That cost him and his team a potential chance to go to the Super Bowl. He took his eyes off the goal.
Recently, the Indiana High School Athletic Association, suspended Ben Davis and Pike’s women’s basketball teams for the remainder of the season because a bench clearing brawl that occurred during a game. Those players involved lost their focus. They were more concerned with reacting and responding to others than they were about staying locked in on their goal to win a sectional, regional or even state championship. Could this happen to you or your team? Both school’s administrators and coaches said that they never thought this could happen to them. These teams didn’t go from having fun playing a game to a bench clearing brawl. Lots of little distractions got in the way of these players. If players don’t stay focused on doing what is right, then there is no guarantee that something like this couldn’t happen with your team. To a lesser degree, what about the yellow cards or technical fouls that players get? Those can have an impact on a game’s outcome. Remember the Steelers and Bengals example?
What are you doing today to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you? What are you doing in practice today to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you? Do you get upset when you don’t get your way? Are you rolling your eyes at something your coach says? Are you coachable? Are you getting mad a teammate when they shoot the ball even though you were open? Are you wanting to fight or push back when someone elbows you? The habits that you establish today will ultimately decide what your behaviors are tomorrow. You have been building your character day-by-day. What will your next game reveal about the character you’ve been building?
Jamy Bechler is a former college basketball coach and championship high school athletic director. He is also a John Maxwell Certified Leadership Speaker and Coach. Contact him at CoachBechler@CoachBechler.com to find out how you or your team can be more successful.