“You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by…”–Crosby, Stills and Nash
After he struck out, he slowly approached the bench; and as if it were a last minute decision, he reached up and removed his helmet sending it sailing into the dugout. If you have been around adolescents very much, you have noted that there is a time when they try out different looks. I have heard it described as going into a dressing room at a department store, putting on an outfit, then coming out to gauge the reaction of those around.
While kids are developing, many factors come into play. Whom do they admire? Whom do they deem successful? What’s culturally “cool”? Even the youngest athletes are aping collegians or professionals they most esteem. Parents, coaches, and other wise adults must help kids recognize authentic greatness, not just great athleticism.
The young baseball player, while still in the dugout pondering his recent at-bat, was approached by a coach who himself had been a successful athlete. “Hey man,” he said, “you are way too talented for that stuff to be a part of your game.” That 14 year-old went on to become a legend in college, a number one draft pick in the MLB, and a man of unquestionable character on and off the field. He’s the professional you hope your son or daughter chooses to emulate.
Parents have incredible influence, however it begins to diminish as children grow older. You hope there is a coach who can reinforce what you have taught them from an early age. Caring adults have powerful impact as well. In a Babe Ruth state baseball championship game for 9-year-olds, the pitcher felt fatigue and pressure. The final game was tied in the top of the sixth. He had pitched all six innings through heat, humidity, and a rain delay. After striking out two batters, again he stepped up to the mound. Do you know what he remembered about that moment? He heard parents of the opponents yell encouragement from their fan section. Very powerful. He, too went on to play at the highest level of sports.
These are examples of what Jim Thompson of Positive Coaching Alliance calls honoring the game. US Lacrosse uses the motto: “Compete with Class and Honor the Game.” Athletes learn to do that from the adults they observe. It’s important for a young player to realize that playing sports is a privilege, not a right. Mike Singletary has said: “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”
There’s a “reverence” that I recognize when I watch certain athletes perform. It’s as though they understand that they participating in something far larger than themselves. “Chariots of Fire” is a movie which depicts the life of Eric Liddell, a Scotsman who won gold in the 1924 Olympics. He is famous for more than his speed. As a Christian, he understood that his talent was a gift. He is known for saying: “God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure,” and “to win is to honor Him.” Sports end for everyone at some point. What is endures is how lives are impacted through the experience.
Although I cannot wait to cheer for the Big Orange football this fall, I will be keeping an eye on Clemson who features a young player named Trevor Lawrence. Recruited more highly than any quarterback before him, he leads the Tigers with humility and confidence. Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit suggests that “the touch, the hands, the athletic ability, the poise (he possesses)…it’s rare.”
It has been said “look good, feel good; feel good, play good.” The athlete’s honorable approach to the game can be observed, but originates from within. I believe his code of honor can lift not only his own performance, but that of other participants, coaches and even the fans who love the game.
- Teach your children from an early age to appreciate sports role models who are not only great athletes, but are great people.
- Honor the sport by acknowledging that it is larger than just one player. One way to do this is to make it your goal to develop strong character and excellent sportsmanship.
- An honorable approach lifts athletic performance.
- The value of sports is how it impacts a life for good after the experience is over.