By Randy Traeger
2009 SportsLeader Coach of Uncommon Strength
Our mission is to help our young people grow moral virtues through education, deliberate virtuous acts, perseverance in struggles, and by following good examples. I would like to drill down a little deeper into the “example” part of this equation.
Aristotle had a pretty good handle on the learning process, and modern psychology and other contemporary studies back him up. Learning by example is monumental in our young people’s development.
If we want our players to learn how to be virtuous men and women, there is an indispensable condition: They must be in the presence of coaches who live virtuously. This is the only way that they will learn that virtue is not just a game, not just talk, but rather that it is the code that successful people live by. They can see right in front of their faces, real people with real responsibilities, living virtuously.
If you are fake, if you are putting on a charade, today’s kids will see right through that and they will chew you up and spit you out. I can’t tell you how many new first or second year coaches I have seen take coaching jobs who weren’t “genuine”. The kids know they are fake and these guys usually end up lasting only about one or two years.
We coaches need to be the consummate example of living virtuously….living heroically. If you can’t do that, then you are in the wrong business. Get out now before somebody gets hurt.
We try to instill virtue in our kids all the time by what we “say”. But they are closely observing what we “do”, even when we don't mean for them to. Our actions speak so loudly sometimes that they can’t hear what we are saying. A lot of coaches mean well, but they aren't really aware that their actions are actually teaching a lesson opposite of what they intend.
Coaches can't say, “Don't use me as an example today,” or “Do as I say, not as I do.” Coaches need to be constantly aware of how their behavior affects players. Fortunately, even screwing up can turn into a lesson. When players catch coaches messing up, that's when it's most important to be a role model. By taking responsibility for our actions and trying to fix what we did wrong, we're giving our players a great example.
Here are a few areas where coaches sometimes send unintentional messages to players:
- Bad Call by an Official: You tell your players not to talk back to the officials and “Next Play”, but you and your coaching staff spend the next few minutes in a tirade screaming at and belittling the referees.
- Your Reaction to a player late to practice because he was studying getting his grades up: Every kid on your team is waiting and listening for your reaction thinking “Does coach really care about academics?”
- How you administer discipline: Your players are closely watching how you administer discipline. Is it fair, is it even, is it equitable? Do you play favorites? Do you equitably discipline the star athlete?
- Do you love everyone on the team equally? Or do you seem to show more love, pay more attention to the guys who score the most touchdowns and make the most tackles. How much time do you spend serving players who don’t put points on the scoreboard? When you helped the least of my brethren you were helping me. Top players pay close attention to how lower caliber athletes are loved by coaches.
- How do your players see you treat your wife and children: For many players with broken homes, the example you set as a husband and father is the only “manly” modeling they will ever have. Players are closely watching how coach lives by his priorities of God, Family, Football, and Career.
Our players won’t take virtue seriously until we coaches demand virtue from ourselves and others.