Thursday, October 05, 2006

T.O Means Time Out

Given the recent troubles in professional sports, it has made me want to call time out and reflect on what we’re teaching and promoting in sports. Clearly there are thousands of professional athletes who conduct themselves honorably on and off the field and serve as wonderful role models for young athletes, but the recent events involving Terrell Owens, Albert Haynesworth and Jason Grimsley among others are reminders of how off track things can get. I don’t know any of these men personally. I don’t know the efforts their coaches and teams have made behind the scenes. I don’t know the true stories behind the struggles of these men, so I can’t speak specifically to their situations. However, their behavior highlights the various vulnerabilities athletes face in the wake of competing at such high levels. The desire to cheat to win, the propensity to become overwhelmed in the face of failure, and the inability to control impulses effectively on and off the field are scarring the face of sports at all levels.


Perhaps this is a societal problem. We’ve become so focused on entertainment and its financial benefits to the extent that whatever sells is good regardless of the means to get there. Or sports have become so advanced and competitive that athletes at all levels athlete have to go to greater extremes just to keep up. The irony of it all is that the “win at all cost” mentality often leads to the opposite result, losing. Taking short cuts, cheating, and breaking rules (acts that lack character) often undermine individual and team performance. Typically, athletes who lack character run into trouble. They get caught; they explode; they implode. And they lose. They lose and so does their team.


Teaching players how to play and live with character at young ages is a growing necessity given our quick fix, entertainment driven culture. Character prepares the average athlete to be a good citizen, and it prepares the elite athlete to manage the strains of high level competition with perspective and grounding values. I am glad to see that professional sports’ administrators and coaches are beginning to take a harder line with these character breaches. More often than not, teams that do this are the ones that are most successful and set the best example for the next generation.



Richard D. Ginsburg, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist and Sport Psychology Consultant

Co-Director, MGH Sport Psychology, PACES Institute

Harvard Medical School





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