Character Matters, Maybe More Than You Think

char·​ac·​ter (ker-ik-tər) n. one of the attributes or features that make up and distinguish an individual

This is the definition of character, per Merriam-Webster. Character is defined differently for each individual, but for athletes it can be loosely defined as how they interact with their teammates and respond to challenges. Character can be viewed as a representation of an athlete’s intangibles. It can affect the amount of interest and offers he or she receives during the recruiting process.

To Eric Akin, the Northeast Texas and South Arkansas Director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), “Character is a reflection of what is going on, on the inside.” To him and his colleagues, everything starts internally and is then reflected externally. 

If character reflects the athlete’s intrinsic values, then it is important. But in the sports world there is often a mentality of letting one’s play do the talking. Although this mantra can be contradicting, an athlete’s character is taken into account when being recruited just like his or her athletic abilities. Coaches are looking for athletes to hold themselves accountable on and off the field.

College coaches care about the athletes they recruit and need to ensure that their players fit together on and off the field. Coaches are looking for athletes who are willing to trust each other and put any personal quarrels aside when it’s game time and ones who act in a responsible manner, treat others with respect and work hard to achieve their goals. It is the coach’s responsibility to assess the character of each recruit and decide if he or she will work well with the other pieces of the team. 

In addition to looking for athletes with good character, coaches want recruits who can articulate their thoughts to others. If a player can’t explain something in a calm setting, then a coach may have doubts about whether the player will be able to effectively communicate his or her ideas about game situations. Athletes who can successfully articulate their thoughts are seen in a more favorable light than an athlete who can’t.

So how do coaches learn about the character of the athletes they are recruiting? It often starts with the high school coach who knows his or her players on a different level. For that reason, the collegiate coach or scout will reach out to the high school coaches directly to learn more about their recruits.

High school coaches have been able to see the character of their players in a team setting and can speak intelligently about them. They have been there when the lights and cameras are off and nobody else is watching. College coaches and recruiters greatly value a high school coach’s insight because the types of decisions made by a player at the high school level can continue at the collegiate level.

Part of an athlete’s character can also be seen in his or her social media presence. With social media dominating a lot of people’s lives, it is important to understand the impact it can have and how it can be viewed as an extension of one’s character. 

“Think twice, post once,” as Akin put it.

While this statement might sound a little cliché, it is definitely something that should be taken to heart. Realize that when someone posts, likes or shares something on the internet, it is associated with them and reflective of their thoughts. Akin has witnessed firsthand how an athlete’s social media usage has adversely affected a coach’s decision during the recruiting process and he does not want it to continue to happen.

Thinking twice before posting can save one from making a mistake that he or she may regret later. If you are questioning whether or not you should post something, then the answer is you probably shouldn’t.

Having good character can benefit athletes on the field of play and build trust between them and their coaches and teammates. An athlete’s natural skill will play a huge factor in determining their playing time, but being a trustworthy teammate certainly doesn’t hurt their chances.

By showing up to practice on time and putting in extra effort, athletes can gain trustworthiness with their coaches. As Akin puts it, “When there’s a trust factor there in those relationships, it really helps.” When a coach trusts an athlete to execute a game plan, the minutes for that athlete tend to go up. 

This is applicable within the recruiting process because coaches are more likely to extend offers to players they can trust. How can collegiate coaches know to trust recruits they aren’t fully familiar with? By talking to their high school coaches to gain a better understanding of them, on and off the field. 

To recap, character matters. What people think of you beyond your athletic talent will play a role in your ability to get recruited. Be conscious of the image you are portraying and be conscious of who you are, both on and off the field, because it can play a huge role in the recruiting process and your overall athletic journey.

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