Do Sports Build Character? According to a Research Digest article entitled, "Sports and Character Development", simply put, no. However, can sports build character? Yes. In the article they identified three prominent aspects of character as; Perspective-taking and empathy, moral reasoning, and motivational orientation. According to their definition, someone with good character knows how to see the world through another’s' eyes and can empathize with their situation. They know right from wrong and act accordingly. Lastly, they are intrinsically motivated; they strive to truly master a skill rather than to simply beat an opponent.
We can't just throw youth into sports programs and expect them to emerge with good character traits that will enable them to "live in fidelity with their moral values". For instance, look at our professional athletes, how many times have we seen our sports idolscaught up in a steroid scandal? If their history with sports had created a sound character within them, they would believe cheating was wrong, and wouldn't be tempted to win by an unfair advantage. On the contrary, sports seem to be a big contributor to the good character displayed by players like Buster Posey and Greg Maddox. So what's the secret?
According to the article, coaches of sports programs have to consciously implement character building into their coaching philosophies and styles. They have to talk about and discuss the aspects of good character and how it relates to sports with their players. For instance; in sport it’s common to hear a coach say, "keep your head in the game" when an opponent gets injured. Empathy is almost shunned in the moment. But, after the game, coaches can ask their athletes to put themselves in the injured players shoes. Asking them, "How do you think suzy felt when she hurt her ankle sliding into home plate?" Coaches can open up the conversation, allowing athletes to realize that getting injured or losing, isn't the easiest situation to be in.
As a coach, you have a huge impact over the "motivational climate" of your program. In the Sports Psychology world, it is common knowledge that intrinsic motivation is more beneficial than extrinsic motivation in the long run. You want your players to strive to be the best they can be, not just to better than an opponent. An internal reward would be to play the sport because it feels good on the inside and gives the athlete a sense of competency. These are the kinds of rewards coaches want to focus on. We don’t want athletes to thrive on “showing off “ or being considered a winner. These are external rewards and are dependent on uncontrollable factors such as the talent level of an opponent, and calls made by an official. Coaches can alter the "motivational climate" to breed intrinsic motivation. Make practices focus on giving your best effort, being better than you were the day before, and highlighting the positive things their athletes display.
Read the full article, "Sports and Character Development" at
Provided by: Sarah Marcia is a sport psychology graduate student from California’s Bay Area. She has an extensive history in athletics, playing collegiate softball and coaching at an elite level for a number of years. She received her Bachelors degree in Kinesiology with a focus in coaching and a minor in exercise science. She is passionate about making sport a positive experience for all athletes; her passion is evident on her blog,onegameonelove12.com, where she lends sports psychology advice to coaches, athletes, and parents.
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