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Sports Don't Build Character

Basketball is Psychology XLVI


There’s a common misconception that “sports build character”, but simply lacing up and shooting a basketball does not make you a better person.

Sports simply provide an opportunity for character to be developed. Character, morals, and sportsmanship have to be intentionally taught, modeled, and encouraged. In fact, if character development isn’t intentionally being taught, our “win at all costs” sports culture tends to worsen character. Our culture defines success in terms of wins and losses rather than the contents of our character. The problem is, the way we define success is fleeting, but your character is what will last.

Eliminating Handshakes Eliminates Character Development

In an article published by the Coloradoan (written by Kelly Lyell), a Windsor youth sports facility announced they were eliminating the traditional postgame handshake line for, “Fears of a potential altercation that could cause injury to a player or coach,”

If you eliminate the handshake lines, you decrease the risk of a fight, but you also lose a great opportunity to develop character.

Handshake lines were designed to promote good sportsmanship and mutual respect, regardless of who won and who lost.

It takes character to give your best effort, come up short, and still congratulate your opponent.

It takes character to win and still give credit to your opponents for a hard fought battle.

The article said, “Why wait for it to happen? We continue to have issues with kids speaking disrespectfully to each other…”

Fears of a “potential altercation” is not a good enough reason to eliminate handshakes, but it is a good enough reason to work on character development.

Character Lasts

There are roughly 156,000 high school varsity boys basketball players. Roughly 48 of them will make it to the NBA. Those odds give you about a .00025641% chance of making it to the NBA. The odds are even worse if you want to make the WNBA because there are only 144 roster spots; that is less than one third the size of the NBA.

Even if you do make it to the NBA/WNBA and have a successful career and play professionally for 20 years, you will only be about 40 years old when you retire. Best case scenario still only gets you to halftime of your life.

Which is why, if you are not using the game as a way to develop your character, you are wasting a lot of time and energy.

In his book, What Drives Winning, Brett Ledbetter asked the important question, “Are the forces of sport moving you closer or further away from the person that you want to become?”

In an article published by Sports Illustrated, Billy Donovan revealed that after winning 2 national championships, he was depressed. “I was depressed… it doesn’t change your life one bit, other than someone may write next to your name, ‘national champion coach.’ Outside of that, it does not change your life."

Success and winning championships will not change your life, but developing your character will.

Regardless of what level you make it to as a player, use the game as an opportunity to develop your character and strengthen your mind.

When you do this, it will always be more than a game, and you will benefit from it for the rest of your life.

If you don’t use the game as a vehicle for developing your character and mental strength, at the end of your career, you will feel robbed.

Life lessons give all those countless hours in the gym greater meaning and value.

Character First, Results Second

Former UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach John Wooden holds the record for the most national championships in the history of NCAA Men’s College Basketball. However, if you ask his players, they will tell you he never mentioned winning.

He once said, “Never strive to be better than someone else, because you have no control of that.” Rather than focusing on competing with others, Coach Wooden believed you should focus on becoming the best version of yourself. He didn’t talk about winning because he was more concerned with character. As he put it, “Who you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.” He believed winning was merely a byproduct of high character and giving your best.

Mentally strong players don’t let the scoreboard change their character. John Wooden said it best, “When the game is over and you see someone who didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or they outscored you.” This should be your mindset; regardless of the results, you treat your opponent with nothing but respect.

Winning is not the point.

Success is not the point.

Who you become is the point.

Character is the point.

Character first, results second.

Action Step:

Focus on Character.

Don’t focus on your record, don’t focus on how many points you score, don’t focus on the results, focus on the process, focus on your character. Focus on being the best teammate, focus on being the hardest worker, focusing on being the most respectful, focus on putting your best foot forward and getting better every single day.

We get easily disappointed when we tie our identity to the result. The problem is we can’t control the results, but we can control the process. We can control our character, we can control how we treat people. Don’t focus on the numbers, focus on how you want to be remembered, and you’ll be remembered for your character.

Focus on your character and everything else will take care of itself.


Written by Julie Fournier

Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology




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