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Character building has lasting benefits

It's unfortunate that more people didn't take the opportunity last weekend to hear Bruce Brown's message about character building in athletics.

A longtime coach and athletic director and now a nationally acclaimed speaker, Brown has become keenly aware of the importance of doing things the right way in sports.

In conjunction with the Oregon Athletic Directors Association, Brown embarked on a statewide tour during the last week to spread his message. That tour included four sessions, one on Sunday and three on Monday, at West Linn's Rolling Hills Church. However, a surprising number of the seats in the church's sprawling auditorium were left empty.

Brown hardly seemed fazed, though. He was impressed by the enthusiasm and the insight of those who did attend. After Monday's final presentation, he noted that Oregon's athletic directors and coaches are ahead of the rest of the nation in their attempt to improve character education in athletics.

Brown has so many presentations on the topic that it would be hard to schedule enough time to hear all of them. Sunday evening's session focused solely on the parents' role and how they can deal more effectively with their children who play sports.

'What it really could be called is 'what your kid would like to tell you but probably never will,' ' Brown said jokingly.

The material for the presentation comes entirely from thousands of interviews that Brown has conducted with junior high and high school athletes. Brown said he first started asking those questions for a selfish reason: because he wanted to be a better coach and he felt the information he gathered would give him an edge over other coaches. But he quickly realized that the information he was acquiring needed to be shared with others.

'(That information) changed me dramatically as a coach. But it impacted me more as a father,' Brown said.

'So, when I go talk to parents, what I'm really saying is, 'here's 30 years of kids telling me what you can do to help their performance.'

Over the years, Brown has found that parents have become more hands-on in an attempt to steer the athletic careers of their children. Everyone always wants the best for their kids, but Brown said more parents than ever before are steering their kids towards traveling squads and elite club teams.

Many people feel that it's almost a necessity to go that route in order to give kids a chance at success later on. But the pressure to excel also has increased, Brown said.

The speaker noted that athletes go through four stages en route to becoming successful. First, there's the 'joy stage,' where kids are playing simply because it's enjoyable. Then comes the 'technical stage,' he said, where kids learn the skills that are required to play a particular sport.

That is followed by the 'competitive stage' where results and individual performances become important. Then comes the 'mastery stage' where athletes compete at a relatively high level.

Unfortunately, the 'joy stage' has now become almost nonexistent or extremely short-lived in most youth sports, Brown said. They're being crowded out by the technical and competitive stages.

The speaker said that's not necessarily the fault of the parents or the coaches, but rather the teams and programs that put so much emphasis on winning and excelling.

Brown also conducted a session directed specifically at coaches and what they need to do to be better mentors, and how they can get the most out of their players in a positive manner.

Some of Brown's presentations to coaches stemmed from the things he was teaching his players when he coached - things like discipline, confidence, perseverance and always playing hard regardless of the score.

Then, 'somebody once asked me why I was teaching all of those things,' Brown said. 'Well, I was teaching those things because I wanted to beat everybody. I thought if my team was better disciplined, I had a better chance to win.'

Then, Brown realized the principles he was teaching could be applied to everyday life.

'Yeah, those things were helping us win. But even more important than that, kids were coming back five, 10, 15 years later and saying, 'coach, I don't remember any of our scores. But I want to thank you for teaching me to be a selfless person. Because of that, I've become a better dad.'

'This all started out with a selfish ambition of 'let's win.' But it turned into 'let's win in life,' ' Brown said.

The speaker also has a session termed 'First Steps to Great Teams,' where coaches are asked to come up with three to six principles or covenants that define what their team stands for. Brown encourages coaches to involve their players in the process so there's a greater understanding of what everyone is trying to accomplish.

Brown said he has seen a number of high school teams that don't take this process seriously. It seems they're more interested in being cool, the speaker said.

'They're too cool to hustle, too cool to pay attention and too cool to care,' Brown said.

It's not surprising that teams with such attitudes seldom do well in big games.

Instead, teams should be focused on things like always hustling, even in practice, and always encouraging teammates to give their best. Things like constant improvement, great work habits and respect for others are also important ingredients, he said. Coming up with those covenants are the first steps to building a great team.

'And if you're on a great team, you'll never forget it,' Brown said.