Attitude, pride, character more important than athleticism

October 14, 2010 

Seeing Battery Creek High School fall to 0-7 last week, and then watching Clemson drop to 2-3 with a loss at North Carolina, the ol' coach began to reflect on a lesson learned years ago: Athleticism isn't the only factor that makes a young man a winner and builds a team.

To be a winner in the rough-tough competition in practice and games, it truly helps a player when he has profound pride, a positive attitude and rock-solid character. Pride, attitude and character found between an athlete's ears and under his left lapel are as important for winning as athleticism and more important than a playbook filled with perfect Xs and Os.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney's statements after the Tigers lost to North Carolina mentioned a lack of discipline. I had similar feelings several times in my career.

"I saw a team that wasn't very smart," Swinney said. "I saw a team that wasn't very disciplined. I'm embarrassed."

The Tigers have championship athleticism, but they need a team filled with pride, positive attitudes and character to create to a disciplined team to minimize penalties and to eliminate busted play assignments. And, Battery Creek -- with its quality athleticism -- needs the same ideas to begin winning. I believe head coach Carlos Cave is working hard to build a winning team based on those ideas.

Winning without players whose hearts and minds aren't filled with ideal pride, positive attitudes and strong character is like trying to win with players who haven't practiced. (I've experienced that!)

Pride is an essential feeling of self respect, respecting the team, the coaches and the school. True pride in a player's heart and mind helps him do his best. Pride creates the confidence a youngster needs to compete against quality athletes and have a chance to be successful.

Encouragement is the seed of pride. The seed is planted and nourished by a coach as surely as the sun nourishes trees and grass. A young athlete's pride blooms when coaches encourage him day after day to do his best on and off the field. Encouragement is the most important contribution a coach can make to players as they mentally and physically battle to become the player of their dreams.

An athlete's attitude reflects how he views and reacts to factors affecting his life. He is affected by any association with those around him, the school and team rules he must follow and the expectations coaches place on him. A positive attitude reflects the acceptance of these influences because he believes they are in his best interests. A poor attitude isn't adjusted by making a player run the stadium steps 10 times or by a threatening lecture; it's adjusted by coaches convincing him, with compelling thoughts from the heart, that a change in his attitude will help him become successful.

Character makes a youngster who he is. It determines whether he loves or hates, whether he is honest or dishonest, whether he is mentally strong or weak and whether he is selfish or unselfish. Solid character makes a player a true team leader who is helpful to teammates. Quality leadership is a critical aspect to create a successful team.

Years ago, legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant, after being praised for the quality character of the Crimson Tide, said, "I didn't develop character, they got it from their parents, ministers, teachers and family."

In today's complex society and pressurized sports environments, I believe coaches -- regardless of sport -- have to be included in Coach Bryant's list of character-builders. Coaches should take responsibility for aiding a kid to build and maintain quality character, and also for helping kids with character flaws to erase those flaws. It's a responsibility that is more important than coaching blocking and tackling, because quality character helps build a disciplined team, a factor that is absolutely essential to develop a winning team.

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