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Friday, June 28, 2013

CHARACTER: A WORKING DEFINITION

This is the first of two parts on the subject of character with great thought from H.A. Dorfman from his outstanding book "Coaching The Mental Game."  Character is something that we as coaches must work to develop within our players and, just as with leadership, our best teaching tool is our example.  Our student athletes always have a watchful eye on all that we do.  It is hard to teach and expect character from our players if we don't first demand it of ourselves.

I once worked with an individual who would always talk about the reason he loved golf was because it taught and displayed "character."  I disagree.  A perfect case in point would be Tiger Woods and a period where he dominated his sport like no athlete in any other sport at any time.  Yet privately he obviously was a very flawed person character wise.  I would submit that when Tiger drops an amazing putt it displays simply that he is an excellent putter -- has a great work ethic and a keen ability to concentrate.  All our admiral traits for those that want to excell.  But there are golfers that may never wear a green jacket or be known to many that can have the highest of character -- and it has nothing to do with the fact that they play golf.

Here are some of Dorfman's thoughts:

"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." -Thomas McCauley

You identify yourself by what you do when no one is watching.  The supervised athlete may by the hardest worker, the most selfless and responsible competitor.  But how he practices when no one see him, how he interacts with teammates when the coach is not within listening distance -- that's when he defines himself.  His character.

Theodore Roosevelt extended the definition to self-awareness and independent self-evaluation, saying, "I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do.  That is character!"

Vince Lombardi: "Character is not inherited; it is something that be, and needs to be, build and disciplined."

The first step in teaching character is to define it for the athlete.  The Greek word character means "impression."  But the Greek philosopher Aristotle had a more useful definition: "Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the things a man chooses and avoids."  Motive and choices.  Character, then, is the relationship between what a person does, what he doesn't do -- and the reasons behind his choices.

The coach is in position to influence the athlete's character dramatically.  The coach's desire and ability to represent the best philosophical and behavioral model -- and, as an educator, to stamp them on the athlete's character, go far in the reshaping.

Philosopher Martin Buber has said that "in this realm of education of character, of wholeness, there is only one access to the pupil: his confidence.  His confidence and trust in the coach, in this case.