Test your character

Today, let’s talk about character and the (very) important role it plays in mental fitness.  

Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to say: “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” 

Wooden, rightfully so, considered character as a part of his pyramid of success. It was a huge part of the basketball dynasty he built at UCLA.

For me, character is one of the reasons I have been involved in the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top Division 1 men’s hockey player each year. One of the Hobey criteria is strength of character.  The winners I have met over the last 17 years have exemplified that character builds excellence.    

Success without character can taint or destroy how you feel about an accomplishment.  

Take for instance the recent events surrounding Kyle Beach and the Chicago Blackhawks during the 2010 Stanley Cup Season. As more details emerged about the sexual abuse and the protocols followed or not followed, you learned how those who may previouly have been deemed of ‘high character’ did not act like it then.

Character happens when we act out of care, courage and compassion, elevating those values even when it’s uncomfortable. Courage is then acting with integrity in spite of fear (two words really can’t be used in relation to the Blackhawks and Kyle Beach situation). There have, unfortunately been so many other instances in sports where you see people act without character or courage (Penn State, USA gymnastics etc.)

So much of a person’s character is built in reaction to situations like those mentioned. Reaction to the comfortable and uncomfortable. In sports, we often believe the uncomfortable means something is wrong with us, but earning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable is an important skill. It helps us to act with character.

High-profiled and extreme instances like the Blackhawks aren’t the only uncomfortable character building situations however. Several years ago, I was hired by a team that repeatedly lost to its rival in pursuit of a state championship.  

During a session, I asked the team if there was anything that they felt the coaches needed to change. The coach, hearing this and being put on the spot immediately felt uncomfortable. My reply?

“Do you want to be uncomfortable now or after you lose again for the fourth year in a row?” 

So, together — the team, coaches and I — created a plan. We learned from that conversation the players had about changes of their coach. And then, ya know what? Care, courage and compassion happened. Character was built and guess what — the team won state.    

If you haven’t, watch Kyle Beach’s interview where he talks about his experience.  It is hard, and uncomfortable, but necessary watch. Test your character and ask yourself what you would have done if you were Kyle’s teammate.

Kyle Beach speaks with Rick Westhead about his lawsuit against the Chicago Blackhawks organization

The pain is real, and raw. It takes courage, care and compassion to get the help you need.  Sometimes we need to share some of our own to help others find theirs. 

Challenge the myths. Change the conversation.