Character in Sports

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”–Helen Keller

Recently I encountered the question, “Are sports really all that important?” It came from a mom whose child has shown little interest in organized sports so far in her young life. The honest answer to her question is yes and no. There are other arenas where similar benefits and rewards are available, but without a doubt, there is much to be gained in sports participation.

Sports is every bit a classroom. It is a particularly effective one because of the emotional energy players invest. The learning doesn’t come without sacrifice, risk, and disappointment. That is the way quality coaches approach practices and games, with an understanding of the potential reward that comes with commitment and discipline.

Lest you think that character building is the goal during a sports contest, let me be clear. If they are keeping score, I am focused on victory. In that context, character building is an enduring by-product from the competition. But the immediate goal is to find a way to win. Character that already exists on a team can be the X factor in a hard fought game. Here is what Nick Saban, renown college football coach, has expressed:

“Saban believed that if you invest–honestly and truthfully invest–in building a better person…you end up with athletes who, in times of intense stress, embrace the moment rather than run from it.”

The System by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian

In this book about college football, it goes on to say that although the “mental game” is not enough by itself to cause a team to win, it can definitely cause a team to lose. The margin is quantified at 5-6% which we can all attest is enough to sway the outcome of a close big-time game. If you have been a fan of sports for very long, you have seen this played out. Teams that were persistent, resilient, and playing unselfishly have beaten teams with more talent and hype.

In the 2018 NCAA Basketball Tournament, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt served as the chaplain for the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers. Sister Jean was 98 years old but was clad in school colors, supporting in the stands as her underdogs defeated teams such as no. 1 Virginia and no. 3 Tennessee. She admitted to praying a little harder for the Ramblers, but that she prayed for both teams in the contest. She referred to the unselfishness of the Ramblers, that no one was concerned about who got the credit. That is a mark of a team with character. Undoubtedly the no. 16 seed was less talented than the Goliaths that they eliminated. But perhaps it was the mindset of the higher ranked teams that opened the door for this team of character to burst through.

When the qualities of perseverance and humility are demonstrated through sports to be important keys to success, that makes an impression on a young athlete. They learn for themselves the qualities that lead to more productivity and satisfaction; and that translates to their future beyond their playing days. Sports is not the only endeavor that can teach these principles, but for those who choose to play, the rewards they gain follow them throughout their lives.

Key Tips

  • Whether it be sports or another discipline, children experience the ups and downs that teach them perseverance and other life-enhancing qualities.
  • Underdogs can take advantage of weak mindsets of their opponents and win contests over teams with more talent.


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