As I have finished working with several high school and college teams over the past few weeks, a topic that has repeatedly come up has been the issue of an athlete’s character. During the recent NFL draft, this was one of the most talked about topics that was discussed by analysts, coaches and members of the media. Many teams were hesitant and often passed at drafting players who were very physically gifted, but had problems related to their personalities and behavior. I heard comments from several NFL coaches and draft personnel that they were reluctant to draft certain individuals because of troubles they had with teammates, coaches and girlfriends. Unlike 20 years ago, details about almost anyone’s personal life can be found all over the internet, and on a number of social networking cites. Between facebook, twitter and cell phone cameras it isn’t difficult to find out private information about almost anyone’s past or current behaviors.
A discussion I have recently had with several college basketball coaches about what kind of players they want to have on their team focused on this issue. Ideally, they would love to have players who were at the top of the scale in both character and talent levels. And, indeed they believe that they have several players like this. However, these coaches also mentioned that they have taken chances at times on players who were extremely high on talent and physical ability, but had a history of personal issues ranging from drug and alcohol use to behavioral problems. Typically, when they have signed players who have had a history of some kind of behavioral problems, they have provided counseling and alternatives for these individuals to be able to deal with their problems. Several times this has been helpful, but several times they have found that these problems have continued and have led to other problems on their teams. So if you are a coach, what do you do? The feedback I have received from most coaches is that they would almost always take a chance on working with an athlete who has superior talent, but has had behavioral problems in the past, as long as they haven’t been to severe. However, unless they consistently work with these individuals on a personal basis, most coaches have told me that these problems are almost certain to continue. Consequently, several coaches have stated they would rather have athletes on their team who may not be the most physically gifted, but have great character, because they are easier to coach and make better teammates. Young athletes in their teens leading up to their early 20’s are very impressionable and easily influenced. If they were raised without a solid upbringing and without consistent role models to help direct them, there is a chance that they might not always follow the rules. However, I believe if you can assist them at working on these issues consistently, offer them the guidance and support they need, you stand a greater chance of success. But, in the end, as I always like to say, if you have two athletes of equal skill and physical make-up, the one with the stronger mind will usually come out on top.