Sunday, July 31, 2011

MIKE JACOBS COLUMN: Time to stress being humble as an athlete

From the Evansville Courier Press, July 31, 2011

With preseason for so many high school and collegiate soccer teams — as well as all fall sports — right around the corner, this is a great time for coaching staffs to really stress what facets will become important parts of the culture of their team.

A friend of mine once described the idea of culture as "that's how we do things around here." I loved that description, because it really makes it clear to a coach's players about the ideals and standards that a team should possess.

One of the first things on a priority list for a group that wants to have a successful culture is humility. Wikipedia defines humility as humility (adjectival form: humble), the quality of being modest and respectful. It also uses the term "egolessness" in its definition.

In the new book, "Don't Waste Your Sports," author C.J. Mahaney profiles what a humble athlete looks like. Here are some of Mahaney's keys to help your athletes, children or co-workers develop humility:

— A humble athlete recognizes his limitations, as it is our limitations that are meant to humble us.

I asked a group of campers this summer if any of them went through the whole training session without giving a pass away or having a shot they had taken go off target. The reality is that everyone makes mistakes, and it is the humble athletes who don't get too caught up in magnifying a teammate's mistake (or their own).

— The humble athlete welcomes criticism and correction from coaches and teammates. If a player is truly humble, he or she will not only realize their weaknesses, but also be open to correction.

I've found over the years that the players who really are professional in their demeanor seek out correction or instruction rather than hide from it. Most of the players I've worked with who have moved on to the professional ranks have really bought into the idea of video editing — studying their own performance — as well as using support staff such as strength coaches, sports psychologists, athletic training staff and extra work with the coaching staff.

The special athletes want to use any resources available to help improve themselves and turn weaknesses into strengths. If we are truly humble we know we need to improve, so we want others to show us where and how.

— The humble athlete acknowledges the contribution of others.

No athlete accomplishes anything alone. The truly humble athletes are the ones who heap praise on their teammates and support them when they are interviewed rather than talk about themselves.

— The humble athlete is gracious in defeat and modest in victory.

When the humble athlete loses, he recognizes that his opponents played better. When the humble athlete wins, there are no excessive celebrations, no inappropriate victory dances. He or she acts like they have been there before

The humble athlete also realizes that victory is a gift. When a truly humble athlete tastes defeat, rather than put blame on someone or something else, he or she accepts defeat on that day and then works toward improving the following day.

The margin between victory and defeat is very slim, and the humble athlete appreciates how hard he or she has to work to achieve victory.

— The humble athlete honors his coach.

He or she doesn't rip the coach in private, doesn't slouch when on the bench and expresses gratitude and accepts the role the coach chooses for him.

— The humble athlete respects the officials.

He or she doesn't protest a call, even if they felt it was inaccurate.

I try to stress to our players that an official has never scored a goal against us or cleared one off the line of the opposing team. Even if a referee is perceived to have made a call that has affected the outcome of the match, the reality is that the ball has to go past 11 of your own players before it can go in the goal.

Humility is a trait that everyone should possess, yet very few athletes have a grip on how to develop it. The truly special athletes are the ones who are humble, and the best teams are the ones that have humility at the core of their program's culture.

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