Monday, March 19, 2012


Character begins with the ittle things in life. I must show that I can be trusted with each and every thing, no matter how trivial it may seem. By the time I was a teenager, my dad let me stay out pretty late playing basketball with my friends. It didn’t happen right away — I couldn’t be out at midnight when I was thirteen. But gradually, my parents gave me a little more freedom — and usually with someone they knew would keep an eye on me. By the time I was sixteen or seventeen, they knew that if I said I was playing ball with my buddies in East Lansing or Ann Arbor, that’s exactly what I was doing and I wasn’t involved in anything that could get me in trouble. They had watched me grow and had given me enough opportunities to test my character that, by then, they knew they could trust me.

“Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones,” wrote Phillips Brooks. Over time, we create ourselves and build our character through the little we do.

When it comes to character, the game of football can be a real test for our players. During any given season, they will have many moments when their character will be challenged. Will they decide to do the right thing, even when they know doing so will be difficult?

Character can also be revealed at those same crossroads: what are the values that guide the decisions these players make in their day-to-day lives? Training camp reveals them early. A person’s reaction to winning, success, fame, recognition, and acceptance reveals character. Would you rather be described as successful and famous or as honest, forgiving, faithful, trustworthy, understanding of others, reasonable, thoughtful, and personally accountable?

Character is tested, revealed, and further developed by the decisions we make in the most challenging times. We have to know what is right, and we have to choose to do it. That is how character is developed — by facing those decisions and choosing the right way over and over until it becomes second nature. It’s just how you do things.

Outwardly, character reflects an inner life committed to honor and uncompromising integrity. If we haven’t allowed our players, subordinates, or children to grow into those values and learn to be accountable for themselves, then we have done them a disservice.

Albert Camus once said, “Integrity has no need of rules.” I tend to agree. I don’t have very many team rules for our players. They know where I stand on things, and they know that there are consequences for breaking the rules that we do have. I try to apply one set of rules uniformly for our team, while keeping in mind that players are individuals and come from different life experiences. Really, it’s not any different from what I do with my children.

Ultimately, character and its growth don’t come from rules but from the small actions of responsibility that occur day after day. That’s why I believe it’s important to give our players a certain amount of freedom — and the responsibility that goes with it — to allow growth to take place. In the end, character is a blend of inner courage, wisdom, and a sense of duty to yourself, to others, and to something greater than you.

In a common world, becoming an uncommon man begins by cultivating uncommon character.