In a recent article, Does Sport Participation Build Character?, written by Rob Haworth, Assistant Superintendent of Valparaiso Community Schools, Mr. Haworth raises some pretty thought-provoking questions regarding character building:
Did sports participation build the character of the professional football player who funded a dog fighting ring? Did sports participation build the character of the high school athletes who sexually assaulted their younger teammates in a hazing activity? Beyond these actions are the constant news stories of cheating and unsportsmanlike behavior by athletes, coaches and parents.
When contemplating these questions and statement above, you would likely conclude that character building is something neither supported by nor taught through competitive sports participation. However, the issue is a little more complicated than that.
As Mr. Haworth points out in his piece:
If you are talking about moral character or what is just, right and fair then "no." If however you are talking about social character or the willingness to sacrifice for others then "yes." The problem is moral character without social interaction does very little good and social character without a moral compass can be dangerous.
Despite the difficulty in defining character, the definition that lends itself to what schools and communities want from their sports programs combines the moral and social definitions of character. [my bolding]
Haworth finishes with his conclusion that:
Sports do NOT build character in young people- character driven adults do! So for character to be learned it must be taught. Character-driven athletics must be intentional. Inherent to character-driven athletics is the belief that character is handed down from one generation to the next.
I especially like Haworth's combination of moral and social character as a definition and as something that schools and communities should unquestionably be supporting. I also wholeheartedly agree that the importance of "character-driven adults" is essential to developing the type of ethical behavior we would like to see more often from competitive athletes.
Yes, the proper path must be created within the environment by those in charge of running it, and, yes, "character-driven athletics must be intentional" as Mr. Haworth states. However, I find myself compelled to also place a large part of the responsibility on the athletes themselves, for it is the choices they make, no matter how character-driven the environment is, that will make the difference.
Character building is not a one-sided affair; it takes all parties acting in unison for it to become an integral part of a sports culture - an obvious need based on our current sports and youth sports environment. From my perspective, sports are merely a tool used to build one's character and ethical decision-making ability through the opportunities that it gives. It is not inherent in the participation itself but in the choices the athlete makes through the variety of experiences and situations they face as a competitive athlete.
Basically, sports participation reveals an athlete's character; they must then elect to build on that character or detract from it based on the direction they chose to travel.
Great article Mr. Haworth, however, no matter how positive the environment created, ownership for good character building must be equally placed on all parties involved - including the athletes themselves. In the end, it will be the athlete who decides the kind of character they want to possess.