There is the common idea that sports develop character. However, is this really true? More often than not, it’s not sports that develop character, but rather the coaches and parents involved that develop character. Because of this, the character values associated with success in the eyes of the adults involved are very important. These are the character values that are passed on to the players and are ultimately reflected by the team. An example of the impact of adult influence on youth development can be seen in research on adult-run organized youth programs. Many professionals argue that it is the tremendous growth in adult-run youth programs that accounts for this deficiency [in leadership skills]. Ironically, the organized sports opportunities that so many parents have created for their children are actually working against their children’s development of leadership skills (Janssen, 2003). It is evident that the influence of the adults involved in a sport program can have a profound impact on the athletic development of children, but it can also impact their lives as well. David Bornstein, author of How to Change the World, states that “the meaning that coaches or parents help young people derive from sports can shape their lives” (Bornstein, 2011, p. 1).
What does it mean to demonstrate character? To understand this, we first have to acknowledge that there are traditionally two types of character: moral and social. Social character is related to social values, focusing on concepts such as teamwork, loyalty, and self-sacrifice. Moral character is related to moral values and focuses on concepts such as honesty, fairness, responsibility, and respect. Ultimately, moral character is what helps develop not only a good player, but a good person. Unfortunately, in the world of sport, social values such as loyalty and self-sacrifice are often considered most important due to the association with winning.
While social character is typically valued over moral character, it is important to recognize the value of moral character. Moral character is critical to human relationships, and when put in the context of sport, is vital to providing a fair and safe competitive environment between opponents. According to Rudd (2005), “…an athlete is considered to have moral character if he or she understands the meaning of fair play, values fair play, and is able to play fairly when perhaps others around him or her are playing unfairly” (p. 209). These moral values, while applicable to sport, are also applicable in any context or culture, and contribute to the development of good people, not just good players.
Following the idea of moral character, we utilize the Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility (TPSR) model in all of our youth programs here at YSC. According to Hellison (2003, p. 17), the TPSR model has five levels that include:
1. Respecting the rights and feelings of others
b. The right to peaceful conflict resolution
c. The right to be included
2. Participation and effort
b. Exploration of effort and new tasks
c. Courage to persist when the going gets tough
a. On-task independence
b. Goal-setting progression
c. Courage to resist peer pressure
4. Helping others and leadership
a. Caring and compassion
b. Sensitivity and responsiveness
c. Inner strength
5. Outside the gym (or off the playing field)
a. Trying these ideas in other areas of life
b. Being a role model
Each of these levels are incorporated into our programs in various ways. Below are some of the character attributes, reflecting both moral character and following the TPSR model, that we aim for players in our programs to develop. These attributes will be examined both on and off the field.
On the field: Respect on the field means listening to what the coaches have to say and being open to the suggestions and advice provided. It means listening to your teammates, being willing to provide them with feedback, and being willing to accept feedback. It means being polite and courteous to the officials even when you may not agree with a call. You take pride in your team and training facility and pick up after yourself and the team.
Off the field (in school, at home, etc.): Respect off the field means listening to your parents and appreciating the time and effort they put into helping you succeed. This also means being polite to your teachers and friends, as well as others you interact with on a daily basis. Being respectful is often exhibited in a general politeness and desire to be positive and encourage others. An example of this is holding the door for someone or saying “hello” even when you are busy.
Commonalities: Respect, both on the field and off, comes down to your general attitude towards other people. How much you appreciate them and recognize the good within them. Respectful individuals may have more opportunities due to the likelihood that others enjoy their company and respect their opinions. Respectful behavior should be encouraged and practiced on a daily basis.
On the field: Demonstrating effort on the field means giving 100% during an entire training session. Even though you may be tired, you keep pushing as hard as you can. This means being persistent when learning new skills and not giving up after a mistake is made because you know this is part of the learning process. Giving effort doesn’t mean expecting perfection, but doing whatever you can to succeed.
Off the field (in school, at home, etc.): Demonstrating effort off the field means dedicating yourself to any activity you are completing, whether the activity is homework, hanging out with friends, or doing chores around the house. There may be activities that you prefer less than others, but you give 100% and do the best you can. You persist until you are successful!
Commonalities: Both on and off the field, demonstrating effort focuses on doing anything in your power to be successful. You are focused on the task that you want or need to accomplish, and know the steps necessary to achieve it. You continue to push on as hard as you can even when things are not going your way. Effort is an attribute that is important to all aspects of life and is a key characteristic in success.
On the field: Being a leader means not waiting until you’re told what to do. Instead, you show initiative and do what you know should be done. This means setting a good example for your teammates and focusing on what is best for the team rather than what may be best for just you. This means providing your teammates with suggestions on what they can do to improve, and being open to suggestions they give you. This means getting all members of your team to perform at the highest level and strive to be the best.
Off the field (in school, at home, etc.): Being a leader off the field means being a role model for those around you. This can be in school, for siblings at home, or for friends. This means stepping up and showing initiative, confidence, and control. This means focusing on what’s good for an entire group (such as a group project) and being helpful and supportive to others.
Commonalities: Both on and off the field, leadership involves taking an active role in your own development and sometimes means stepping out of your comfort zone. This means supporting those around you and helping others step up and give 100% effort. Being a leader means setting a good example for others to follow on their path to success. According to Brandi Chastain, Olympic athlete and World Cup Champion, “sometimes it’s not so much who you are or what you say – it’s what you do and how you do it” (Chastain, 2004, p. 92).
On the field: A player who exhibits perseverance on the field is able to set goals they want to achieve and continues to strive towards them. Even when faced with adversity, you are able to stay committed and focused on what you want to achieve. You do not let obstacles stand in your way and you use obstacles as opportunities to improve and get better. You are able to stay confident in your skills and know that if you continue to work hard you will overcome the challenges you face. Perseverance is often displayed when learning a new skill. Although it is difficult learning a new skill, you continue to push and improve. If the other team scores a goal, you don’t get down and give up, you push to come back and do your best.
Off the field (in school, at home, etc.): Perseverance off the field focuses on an individual’s will to reach a goal even in the face of challenges. In school this may mean you aren’t as good at a particular subject, but use this as motivation to work harder and improve your skills. You know that you can’t back down because it’s not easy. Instead, you work harder. You don’t let a challenge deter you from your goals.
Commonalities: Both on and off the field, individuals that exhibit perseverance are able to continue working towards a goal despite challenges or obstacles they may face. They are able to cope with these and stay motivated to push towards what they want to achieve. They are confident and focused and are able to keep going when times are tough.
Each of the characteristics above are important for developing not only great soccer players, but well-rounded people. Each one can be applied both on and the field, and can be transferred to and from soccer. Each of these characteristics focus on the moral values that both the players and adults involved can implement into their athletic development. As a player, it is important to continually work on your personal development, not just your skill development. Focusing on building the character values discussed above will transfer to soccer and help you become a better player. Within each of these values it is important for a player to have good communication skills with parents, coaches, teammates, teachers, etc. Having good communication is important for establishing a relationship with others and will help the experience be beneficial and fun for all involved. As a player, it is important that you learn to speak up for yourself and have positive communication with people you interact with. For parents and coaches, these values should be continuously reiterated throughout daily activities. Parents and coaches can utilize these values to be a positive influence on the young players involved. As previously stated, they can be used both on and off the field, and will help develop a well-rounded player and person.