In the weeks leading up to the mother of all football events, the Super Bowl, there was no shortage of defining moments for me to tell my 13-year-old twin athletes: "Be humble -- first, last and always." The experience from which I draw wisdom is active involvement in my boys' seven years of youth football.
When I witness egregious behavior by a few professional athletes, my blood boils. I tire of bad examples set by a few. I'm not sure why, on the football stage, athletes are more susceptible to displays of appalling conduct than other sports -- from what football players say to what they wear to how they act. There appears to be a lack of respect for self, women and authority. Why do some high profile athletes' filters seem to be broken?
Professional athletes who want to express themselves should remember their young, impressionable audience. Young athletes (and their parents) are watching their every move. Grabbing the groin in celebration of a touchdown is inappropriate and speaks volumes about the athlete. Also telling are disparaging remarks, illegal activity, and aggressive behavior towards women and children. Marv Levy's statement, "Football doesn't build character, it reveals character," weighs heavy on my mind. I wonder if offensive behavior is symptomatic of an underlying issue among some athletes who are "role models"?
When athletes feel they are above reproach for any number of reasons, there is a problem. Every problem has a beginning, a place where inappropriate actions based on erroneous attitudes are incubated. I have been to this place and witnessed it first-hand. It begins with youth sports. Parents should be aware they are the agents of change for their young athletes. Undoubtedly, the single most important contribution we parents make in life is being an advocate for our children. It is the parents' responsibility to provide building blocks for development of a conscientious athlete. I believe, more than actions or words, humility needs to be embraced as a way of being. Having humility and exercising it often creates a habit, and like muscle memory, it becomes the athlete's default position when emotions take over and a display of inappropriate behavior is imminent.
As parents and advocates for our children, it is our job to facilitate respectful behavior in our youth athletes and constantly reinforce this concept. If a youth athlete is told all of his life he is great, better than everyone else, and is allowed to act in a manner inconsistent with teammates, he internalizes this as entitlement. The accumulation of building blocks, like principles of right and wrong, must be instilled early on. We also need to model these characteristics as parents.
Humility is not created overnight. It is the culmination of subtleties, sound bites, examples others provide, repetitious expectations and behaviors, and gut feelings. We should never miss an opportunity to show our athletes how to be humble. We should let our young athletes experience how being humble makes them feel and to see the positive manner in which other athletes, coaches, friends and family respond when an athlete displays humility.
Small gestures are important, like shaking coaches' hands, showing respect to others, being supportive of teammates, giving it your all (whatever that looks like). We should never allow an athlete to stand out from the crowd for all the wrong reasons. Some occasions call for the parent to intervene when it comes to disciplinary action for off-field misbehavior. School disciplinary actions should have a corresponding disciplinary response from the team. Players need to be held accountable for their actions regardless of their position on the field or talent level. Everybody makes mistakes and it is how we grow as human beings. It is how we handle our missteps and celebrate our victories that reveals our character.
Parents should always remember their athlete is their child -- parents should take ownership of the outcome. Young athletes have to be taught that the journey to success requires perseverance and hard work. There are no short cuts, and we cannot cheat the system. Nothing good comes to an athlete who feels he is entitled and thinks he is the end-all-be-all. It is my hope parents will teach their youth athletes that, above all else, humility is key.