Character is like a tube of toothpaste

… when the pressure is on, what’s on the inside is squeezed out.

This was just one of the many sayings that I used (and meant) as an athletic coach.  I spent 4 years playing college sports and close to 15 coaching college and high school sports.  Volleyball was my favorite sport to play and coach, and since leaving the college coaching ranks, I am still an avid fan of the game.  One of the best performances of the season was by the Illinois State Redbirds.

Congratulations Redbirds!

Redbird VB 2

Watching the Redbirds’ fantastic 2014 season has been a joy.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a team with the heart and tenacity that they exhibited this season.  During their 23-game win streak, Missouri Valley Conference Champion title, and NCAA Division Championship Second Round competition time after time they exhibited that on the inside of them as individuals and as a team were the best character qualities found in sports.  Match after match they forced their opponents to play their best, came from behind, never gave up, and always believed in and trusted one another and their coach.

My main focus as a coach, besides the obvious – winning as much as possible – was building character in my athletes.  Many ask if we can actually build character or if players with certain characteristics drawn to the sport.  I think it’s both, however, it is most gratifying when players change as a result of what they’ve had to do at practices and in games.  Unfortunately, some players change as little as possible – they change their outward behavior, but what’s on the inside remains the same, so when the pressure is on … well you get it.

I coached one player for 3 years and it wasn’t until her senior year that she finally understood how to approach an opposing hitter on defense.  90% of the time she was out of position and watched the ball go over her head and hit the floor behind her.  Then one game toward the end of her senior year she held her position and picked up the tip that came right to her.  I think I yelled, “YES!”  While it may not seem like a character issue, it really is … she had to trust that I knew what I was talking about and that following my instructions would benefit her and the team.

So here I am coaching again and asking my clients to trust me.  As I lead and direct them, I know that when the pressure is on what’s on the inside will come out.  We’ll know what we need to work on and we’ll also easily identify the growth and progress.  Just remember, pressure is a friend that can lead to change … trust me on that!