Have you ever heard stories about elite athletes who ultimately flame out for any number of reasons - whether for academic, moral, or legal issues?
One instance that comes to my mind is that of a star running back at the University of Nebraska. Back during the mid-to-late nineties, he had the college football world in his hands. I personally knew this individual and spent one night out on the town with him. During that night, there were certain red flags that made me question his character.
Later, that football season, this individual was suspended from the team. He was given a second chance and ultimately went on to be a first round NFL draft choice. It was only a short time before he screwed up, again. His life became defined by a cycle of bad decisions. Ultimately, he committed a felony and was sent to prison, and sadly, just a couple of years ago, he died in prison after apparently taking his own life.
This article isn’t about that individual but rather about character and why it’s so important.
For that star running back, his character was flawed, and because of that, he fell well short of his goals and tragically lived a troubled life that ended too soon.
What is Character?
Character is an individual’s infrastructure and is defined by how it responds and acts in the presence of adversity.
Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said, “The true test of a man's character is what he does when no one is watching.”
For any individual, the choices we make define us. As an athlete, it may be that choice to go to a weekend party – even though your coaches may never know about it. Or, maybe it’s the tone you speak with to your parents when you think nobody else can hear. Perhaps, it’s as simple as leaving a piece of trash on the ground as the last member of the team leaving the dugout.
The thing about character, it’s always be challenged and shaped.
Character is shaped by adversity.
Whether it be for the good or the bad, character grows. If you fall in a habit of making poor choices, it may persist and devolve. Likewise, good choices can gain momentum in one’s life and lead to positive growth.
An individual’s character is their personal responsibility. It’s never too late to change. You’ll be given multiple opportunities each day to make the right choice – to do the right thing.
One of the challenges is that you must have strong character to handle adversity or temptation but at the same time, one needs adversity and temptation to develop character.
Strong Character can be Identified in Three Ways
Doing the right thing even when it’s inconvenient.
Making the right choice despite your desire to do otherwise.
Admitting when you’re wrong and adapting to do better.
College coaches talk about character all the time. It’s an important element in the recruiting process and a ton of investigative work is done in this area before an athlete is invited to be part of a team. Character reveals itself when you play. That’s why coaches always want to see you in competition. Often, they want to see you fail – simply to see how you handle it.
Character matters – it’s important – your skills alone won’t be enough. Keep this in mind as you move forward in your process. Allow your character to evolve, grow in positive ways, and remember that character is who you are when others aren’t watching. Therefore, be willing to advance your character - be a good decision-maker and be willing to work on your character as much as you work on any other aspect of your game.
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