Character Development and Larry Nassar
Two things happened today and it was sad but opportune – I finalized a coach’s presentation on character development and then by chance, I was having a conversation with a friend who was assaulted by Larry Nassar. Not easy! Some may ask, what do these two things have to do with each other? Athletes at every level trust and respect coaches and their support staff. One, because many are too young to know the difference, and two, because they ‘should’ be able to trust them. They should be able to because that is the one of the biggest roles of a being a coach and a support staff – to model and help build good character. But that is not always happening. As a matter of fact, from what I am seeing and what I hear daily from clients, the opposite is happening. We are skeptical, we see what is happening out there, and the trust factor has diminished.
As a society, what are we going to do about this?
My friend was angry and most of that anger centered around the general public keeping their mouths shut on the topic of Nassar. I realized I was one of those people to some degree. I talk about it in many respects but the conversation could certainly have ore spotlight to build awareness of the wrong behavior, as well as, increase efforts for more education around what is right and what is wrong. What has and is happening in the world of sports is wrong. Kids are being sexually assaulted and verbally and physically abused and it’s not OK. It breaks my heart to listen to all the stories of girls who were assaulted by Nassar and the impact that has had on their lives. What a horrible thing Nassar did to YOU as it was happening and realizing just what’s really happened and the impact of that on the rest of your life.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years talking about how sports have gone array – pay to play, single sport domination, perfectionism, anxiety, getting into college and the list goes on. Sports has become a place to get to, a way of life, and a huge revenue generator and because of this, it has turned ugly. Parents are too involved. Coaches are not coaching for the right reasons and support staff like Nassar can get away with sexually assaulting girls for decades. What has happened to our role models? People in authority have a responsibility as a role model and should never ever take advantage of that in any respect.
Is it any wonder kids struggle with character development and having a decent moral compass? No, not really. Not when this is what they see. How do boys understand right and wrong when our society allows assault and abuse to happen to girls who are under the care of men? This sends an unconscious message that it’s OK to sexually assault, yell, punish, and verbally abuse women.
What can I do to help this?
- I will continue to talk to coaches about developing more conscious coaching habits. I understand that many coaches didn’t learn how to be a coach, what it means, and the responsibility that comes along with it, but there comes a time when they must consciously decide what kind of coach they want to be and why. Now is the time.
- When an athlete is frustrated with their coach, they often discuss it and seek to figure out whether their coach, their coach relationship, and their coaching situation is the right one for them. And parents are often brought into the conversation. I frequently hear from girls that their coaches are mean, angry and abusive. When this comes up, I talk with them about what they need to do to make these situations better – advocate for themselves, listen to the content of what the coach is saying but let go of how they hear what is being said, and focus on their performance. I’d say that in 99% of those situations this has worked but in thinking back to at least one, it didn’t, and the child was feeling verbally abused.
- When these situations arise, it is important to understand what is really happening – are girls feeling abused or are do they just not like their coach. Honestly that can be a hard thing to decipher. It shouldn’t be, but it is. Why? Because there are so many who don’t like their coaches and for good reason. Yelling. Benching. Exercise as punishment. They are doing all the things the research says is bad for developing athletes, bad for developing kids, bad for developing a person. So many of my clients have switched coaches numerous times only for their child to fall into the hands of a similar coach. It appears there are more abusive coaches than non-abusive coaches.
Sadly, there are not a lot of conscious, mastery coaches who are really ‘in it’ for the athletes. Where are the good coaches? They are out there and they are teaching character development. But we need more.
What’s the outcome?
The outcomes as you’ve witnessed in the news, are not good! Tears. Anxiety. Fear. Low confidence. Grief. Sadness. These impacts are felt now and they can continue for the rest of their life – in school, work, motherhood, and being a spouse. My friend, is currently in therapy trying to deal with the effects of what happened more than 10 years ago. She is impacted by it in her personal and professional life. She, along with all the other girls, trusted Nassar and thought that whatever he was doing was protocol.
Character development is key.
Sports and life are hard enough. Girls should be getting the support they need to develop their life skills and lessen the mental challenges associated with sports and growing up. Girls should be able to trust and respect their coach and the support staff to get the support they need without having to deal with the abuse. Support and abuse are very opposite of each other.
Parents should ask more questions. Coaches can get more of the right training. Professional psychologists and mental skills consultants can help guide these conversations. We can all make sure we take a role and the responsibility to develop good character and strong moral core values and ethics so as to prevent and hopefully avoid these instances from happening in the first place.