- 09.29.2020 The Rise of Philosopher-Athletes
“Life involves you, but is not about you.”
In the past week, the Coronavirus pandemic caused many high school, college, and professional coaches to gather their teams to deliver very disheartening news. The games in sports already in progress, as well as the games for spring sports which had yet to begin, were either being suspended or the remainder of their seasons, e.g., college conference and national championship tournaments, were being cancelled. For high school seniors, this meant the end of their high school sport careers. The same fate was dictated to college seniors whose seasons were near the end. For college seniors whose sports were just beginning, it is not yet known whether their seasons will resume or whether they will be cancelled. If cancelled, it is also not clear whether they will be given another year of eligibility next year if they so desire.
This was a difficult moment for coaches, yes, but it was also a tremendous opportunity to employ the PCA philosophy of using sports to teach life lessons. First, it is always wise in the face of this kind of adversity to give players examples of the success of others in similar situations who have gone before them. Many athletes have had their careers ended prematurely by injury, family situation, or even a shocking 16 v. 1 first round tournament game upset and have still gone on to have very successful careers in their sport and in the business world. They took the triumphs and the hardships from their experiences in sport and used them to be “better athletes, better people” in all aspects of their lives.
From the beginning of their relationships with their teams, PCA coaches emphasize that their time together is not really about wins and championships. PCA coaches use the challenges and opportunities of sports to prepare their players for life after sport. Concepts such as having a Teachable Spirit and a Growth Mindset so a person routinely gives their best effort to get better every day and understands that adversity and mistakes are a normal and healthy part of learning help PCA coaches teach lessons within the game for beyond the game. The Coronavirus may have caused the games of this season to be over, but the opportunity to apply the real value of what they have learned to their lives is just beginning.
For coaches of high school seniors, in particular, this is a crucial time to emphasize that a student-athlete is a student first and should always choose a college as if they were not an athlete. The Coronavirus is just another one of many reasons why an athlete’s career can be over in a moment’s notice. When the games are done and the student graduates, how many opportunities for a career the student is passionate about did the college prepare them for and make available to them? If the college is not the best possible college for these reasons, the student-athlete should not attend the college simply to play a sport even if the college is paying part or the entire student’s cost to attend the school. If the educational outcome of the college experience does not afford the student-athlete great job opportunities in careers the student is passionate about, the school is really not paying for the student’s education; the student is paying the school to play a sport.
Of course, the most important life lesson PCA coaches teach their players is, “Life involves you, but is not about you.” The goal of becoming a Triple Impact Competitor involves not only becoming a better player and person yourself, but involves helping your teammates to do the same. It also includes making the game better by respecting the rules, opponents and officials of the game and by using the player’s status and influence as an athlete to make the world around them a better place. In other words, athletes of PCA coaches learn it is not about me, it is about We.
The Coronavirus pandemic has caused employees of sporting arenas to lose essential income when the games held there were postponed or cancelled. Many team owners and players have illustrated what it means to be Triple Impact Competitors by donating their own money to pay the salaries of the employees who lost income. Athletes in many sports are reaching out to their communities to volunteer to help those in need.
The real teaching moment from the Coronavirus pandemic is not about what is being lost, but what can be gained by seeing opportunities to help others. This starts by acknowledging that even though young people may not get sick or die from the virus, those people need to take necessary precautions to stop the spread of the virus because many other people are very vulnerable. Young people need to be taught that the right thing to do for us is the right thing to do for me.
The current Coronavirus pandemic crisis is one of the most extreme adversities we will ever encounter, but it is one we will overcome and benefit from if we use the opportunity to teach our players the real life lessons involved, e.g., “Make living your life about other people.” This opportunity is one PCA coaches are uniquely trained to do.