COMMENTARY: Coaching for Character

I’ve spent lots of time with some of the world’s most successful coaches. I discovered that many of them think about character a lot, especially traits that are important to winning – like self-discipline, perseverance, resiliency, and courage. They pay less attention to virtues like honesty, integrity, responsibility, compassion, respect, and fairness — aspects of character that make a good person, citizen, spouse, or parent.

The problem is that, even at the amateur level, many coaches are hired and paid to win, not to build character. Unless it interferes with performance, to worry about the kind of person an athlete is off the field is a waste of time.

Coaches who seek to hone the mental and physical skillsof winning while ignoring moral virtues of honor and decency too often produce magnificent competitors who are menaces to society.

Perhaps coaches of elite athletes not connected with educational or youth-serving institutions can operate in this moral vacuum, but all others have a responsibility to teach, enforce, advocate, and model all aspects of good character, including trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

Whether it’s sports, business or politics, whenever we divorce issues of competence from issues of character, we create a class of amoral professionals who think they’re exempt from common standards of honor and decency. This discredits and demeans the moral standing of everyone involved.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 7

  1. Coaches, and that means all of us, remember that trust is the foundation for success in all endeavors. Trust does not guarantee success, nothing does. But, without trust, every relationship is compromised. In order to develop and sustain trust we must consistently demonstrate our competence, character, and commitment. Coaches, all of us, must endeavor to develop each of these qualities in all whom we touch (including ourselves). All the best, Pat

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  2. My contribution to this discussion is “humility” : While my office is built of mostly wood and concrete, we do have two vital GLASS windows creating at least a partial “glass house” environment. The point of course, is that my own competence is critically part of my character. My personal skill, discipline, fairness and character models the leadership lessons/examples that I teach my athletes. Job ONE is “youth development”, growing these kids into happy, healthy, committed young adults. I believe skill achievment is closely entwined with the strength of character that Michael’s Institute teaches. My personal leadership example is the most powerful lesson I deliver. The creation of fresh, new goals requires discipline and committment that our students will hopefully also learn and grow with. Thank you Michael for the great topic, Paul :):)

  3. I am 70 years old and have coached for 48 years – I am currently completing my 42 year as a head baseball coach – As I finish my path in life as a coach I spend more and more time with my players in character development – To have a successful program in any sport character traits must be talked about each day with players and on as many occasions as possible with my players parents – What my parents taught me about responsiblity – respect – kindness – forgiveness – caring – think of the other person during my youth in the 50’s and 60’s just does not come naturally from parents to their children today – Someone must be that vioce and I as my players coach have taken on that responsibility – Not that I am perfect by any means but I will always make the attempt to be better as a person and coach – That is what I want my players playing in the program I lead to see from me each day – I want my players to see that within their parents also

  4. As a recently retired coach of 44 years at the collegiate level in men’s tennis, I urge you to continue with this theme. Between my first (1970) and last season(2013) I noticed a shifting in athletics culture that reinforced your concerns.
    All of us want to win. The dilemma we face occurs when our desire for victory eclipses our good judgment and sense of right and wrong. In the final analysis ,when college coaches are comfortable putting success over the teaching of life values it is time for colleges to end them and use those funds more appropriately. I have been blessed to have been employed by exemplary institutions (US Naval Academy, MIT, Notre Dame) that reinforced those positive values. Many of my colleagues have not been as fortunate. Cudos for you, Michael!

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