Sportswriter Heywood Hale Broun has been credited with saying, “Sports doesn’t build character. It reveals it.” So after the teams leave the field, the scoreboard is cleared and field lights are shut off, what does sports reveal about your child?
Raising a humble athlete should be at the forefront of every parent’s mind. Humble athletes are the total package of everything we want children to learn through sports – sportsmanship, teamwork, confidence and respect for others.
But humility gets a bad rap. Some people think being humble means you can’t take pride in the accomplishments of yourself or your team, or you can’t strive to be the best.
Not only is this not true, but being a humble athlete goes beyond basking in your own success.
“Humble athletes take responsibility for their performance and they focus on the greater good,” says Dr. Ian Connole, director of sport psychology with K-State Athletics at Kansas State University.
Connole works with student-athletes to develop the skills to reach their goals and continue their pursuit of excellence with commitment, optimism, flexibility and an all-around positive mindset.
“Humble athletes have a special ability to be part of a team and take pride in the work they have put in together,” he says.
Humble athletes focus on the things they can control rather than just focusing on winning or scoring points. In fact, they can handle wins and losses better than athletes who haven’t developed skills in humility, says Connole.
“The humble athlete looks at the game objectively,” he says. “They analyze and evaluate their performance, then put it away. From this they are able to learn from the wins and losses.”
Some athletes may experience emotional extremes on either the winning or losing side of the game. The winner might be ecstatic and filled with happiness while the loser might be very upset and blame the ref for bad calls that caused them to lose the game.
However, the humble athlete does not ride these waves of emotions.
“They stay focused on the process, not the ups and downs of winning or losing, which shadow any information they can glean to learn from the experience,” says Connole.
TIPS FOR INSTILLING HUMILITY
So was Broun right? Do sports just reveal character, or do sports build character? Perhaps a bit of both.
Here are some ways parents can instill a sense of humility in their children and fight entitlement.
Praise positive examples
A professional athlete’s behavior – whether positive or negative – can provide teachable moments to point out humility. For example, if a soccer player gives thanks to a teammate for setting him up to score a game-winning goal during a post-game interview, point that out to your child as an example of being a humble athlete. Ask your child to think about a time a teammate put them in a position to make a big play and how it would feel to give their teammate credit.
“When you catch a professional or youth athlete showing humility, reinforce their behavior,” says Connole. “Then you will see how it changes them.”
Watch your actions
Make sure your actions are consistent with the message you are telling your child. “We may say one thing,” said Connole, “but our actions may reinforce something else.”
As a parent, you don’t have control of the referee’s calls or the coaching decisions but you do have control of how you will carry yourself and act in the stands.
“Every athlete is best focused on what they have control over, like their effort during a game,” says Connole.
By demonstrating positive behavior and cheering for your child and their team from the stands you can teach your child how to make the most of what they can control.
Ask them how they want to be remembered
Ask your child what they would want a teammate to say about them. Not about how many points they scored or games they won, but what kind of person do they want people to think of them as.
“This gives them an opportunity to reflect on how they want to be remembered and think of the bigger picture,” says Connole.
Even if sports are a big part of your child’s life, it is still just a part of who they are. Get them to think of what they contribute aside from points, goals and wins and losses.
Participate in activities that focus on more than self
Serving others through volunteering and community service can help young athletes be grateful for the things they have. Connole says that sometimes just telling a child to be thankful for their sports skills or opportunities they’ve had isn’t enough and that it’s “better shown than told.”
Allow them to connect with others through service to help them see the bigger picture and gain perspective on the things they should be grateful for.