I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Friday, October 26, 2012

Humility and Respect: Balancing the Talk with the Walk

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on what lessons people have taken from their participation in football. Some of the stories have been funny and encouraging, but not all the lessons have been fun or easy to learn. Respect and humility are two themes that are extremely important to sportsmanship, but fall in the category of “tough to teach” and “tougher to learn.”

Respect for teammates, opponents, officials, and the game itself is a value of sportsmanship that needs to be modeled and practiced by everyone involved in a program. Humility is important to individual athletic development, and it is also the key to becoming a gracious winner or loser and a team’s dynamics.

It was a common theme from people on these two topics that some of the most valuable learning occurs in the moments many of us consider our worst:

This season I was reminded that our kids are hard enough on themselves when they make a “mistake” that they don’t need us as parents to remind them of it during or after the game. As parents, we need to remain positive during all aspects of the season. –Amy U. 

Let the coaches coach, players play, refs ref, fans cheer - all ends well. --Carey Z. 

Attitude has a huge impact on the performance of a player and the team as a whole. In practices and games, a team always plays its best when they stay positive. As parents and coaches, we are a huge influence on that positivity. In both success and failure, learning is always best acquired through encouragement. –Erika S.

Respect begins with a positive attitude and supportive atmosphere. Coaches, players, parents and officials all play a role, and they each need to do their best to fulfill those roles and honor the efforts of others. Respect is something that coaches and programs establish and build over time. I believe this is a step-by-step process and you can not overlook the little things that will help you earn respect. Simple but sincere acts like shaking hands with opponents after a game, cheering on teammates from the sidelines, and hearing positive comments from parents for opponents and officials help to teach respect to young athletes. Remind your kids that respect is not exclusive for the team that wins the most, it is given to those who work hard, show character in all situations, and follow through with their beliefs.

While respect is a tough concept to teach, humility is a tough one to learn. Every game has a winner and a loser, and every athlete will make mistakes at some point in time. Learning to handle those moments with grace and humility is a critical aspect of sportsmanship: 

First game of my last year of high school football, I carried the ball once. I fumbled and never got a chance to carry it again. It would be a few years later when it didn't bother me anymore.
The fumble taught me I'm not going to be good at everything, but the things I can do, I want to do well.   --Craig M 

One of the great challenges of sports is learning to set your ego aside and recognize what is the greater goal for the entire team. That is something I struggled with as an adolescent and find even to this day as a competitor is not an easy task. I was fortunate to have some strong mentors that helped me realize that winning was not always the most important thing and how I handled myself winning or losing as I walked off the field demonstrated more about my character than anything else.

My early years at the University of Sioux Falls were difficult to say the least as I bounced around in positions and sat the bench, but they might have been the most important years of my maturation as an athlete, coach and person. As our team struggled, I watched and learned from Coach Young what it meant to be humble and the importance of putting the team’s goals ahead of all things, even when this was trying to learn lessons from a difficult defeat.

Nobody likes to lose, but in the situations where mistakes occur or a team loses, we have an opportunity to demonstrate individual character. Those situations are only “failures” if we don't learn from them and improve. Coaches and parents are important role models in this area, so speaking favorably of opponents and officials is incredibly important. Helping kids keep emotions under control and support their teammates at all times is also extremely important to their individual development and the team’s atmosphere. We need to model respect in every aspect of the game and humility in winning and losing if we expect our kids to do the same.

The themes of discipline, determination, respect and humility form essential aspects of sportsmanship and success. The final theme that people discussed with me was ‘teamwork”…more to come.

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