March Madness – With Character Comments

“Love never fails. Character never quits. And with patience and persistence, dreams do come true.” –  “Pistol” Pete Maravich, LSU and three NBA teams (Perhaps the greatest creative offensive talent in history

As many of you know, this is March Madness month.  The term is believed to have been created by Henry V. Potter, assistant executive secretary of the Illinois High School Association in 1939—the year of the first NCAA men’s basketball tournament—Oregon beat OSU 46-33.

For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament only eight teams participated.  In 2001, a 65-team tournament format was created.  Credit  television—it put the tournament on the national map.  Now the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams.  The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four.

The NCAA held its first women’s basketball tournament in 1982.  The women’s tournament started with 32 teams, expanding to 64 teams in the 1994 season.  Today, the women’s format echoes the men’s. The women’s final championship game is played the day after the men’s game.

The tournament is a“gamblers paradise.”  According to the American Gaming Association, fans wagered more than $2 billion on March Madness Brackets for the 2015 tournament.  One stat-group estimated that last year American companies lost about $1.9 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers spending company time on betting pool priorities. MM generates big bucks for gamblers, businesses, and athletic programs.

The excitement is on the court watching the talented young women and men give their all for their school.

“A team isn’t a bunch of kids out to win.  A team is something you belong to, something you feel, something you have to earn.”  – Gordon Bombay, The Mighty Ducks

A question generally asked is “does participation in sports build character?”  As I look at it, it’s a “jump ball” or a “tie” game—a debatable issue.  I’m on the “it does” side.  Heywood Hale Broun (American author, sportswriter, commentator) noted: ”Sports do not build character, they reveal it.”

The second question that usually follows is “what do you mean by character?”  This question suggests that those on either side should, at the very least, be on the same page in defining what character is and what it means.

“A person of character,” writes Lickona and Davidson (Smart and Good High Schools-Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success School, Work, and Beyond), “embodies both performance and moral character.”

They note that “performance character” is not the same as performance (an outcome), but has certain qualities needed for the further development of one’s potential toward excellence, such as, effort, diligence, perseverance, and self-discipline.  “Moral character is relational, encompassing such qualities as integrity, justice, caring and respect.”

I have been using this definition.  Character is about behavior, about how one acts. It is about the choices that one makes.  It is about relationships (empathy, compassion, fairness).  It is about virtues (respect, responsibility, honesty) that inform the choices one makes.  Character, in sports, is about providing student-athletes opportunities to study, clarify, reflect, decide, practice and act on such virtues as respect, responsibility, perseverance, honesty, empathy, grit, discipline, loyalty, perseverance, teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership.  For student-athletes it is about sacrifice, commitment, and competition.

The game winner:  “Good character on and off the field or court should be nurtured; bad character should be corrected.”

Many believe that the purpose of sports in schools, at all levels, should be to help participants learn the lessons of good character.

My “Three-pointer”:

1) “The best way to promote what is best about sports with young athletes is to engage in these kinds of practical activities that encourage sportsmanship and other virtues, so that the old adage that “sports build character” is not just a cliché, but an accurate description of what happens on the field.”  – Craig Clifford and Randolph Feezell, Sports and Character

2) “Well-organized sport character education can provide powerful contexts for the teaching and learning of good moral habits.  For character education programs to succeed, athletes need both thinking and reasoning programs, role models, a supportive environment, and the strong moral/philosophical commitment of community members, parents, coaches, teachers, students, boosters, and the media.”  – Jennifer Beller, ERICDIGEST, ORG.-ED477729 – 2002

3) “A sport experience can build character, but only if the environment is structured, and a stated and planned goal is to develop character. This kind of environment must include all individuals (coaches, administrations, parents, participants, etc.) who are stakeholders in the sport setting.”    – Joseph Doty, Journal of College and Character

Let the games begin and the low seeds win!

Overtime: Ten years ago my colleague CJ Moloney and I created a course titled “Character and Athletics” which is offered every semester.  In the course, students examine their personal character development through:

  • experiences in athletics;
  • investigating and critiquing programs that are designed to enhance the character of athletes;
  • discussing/debating historical and current issues that promote or negate character development and ethical behaviors;
  • and, exploring the role of athletics as a catalyst for social justice.

Then we developed a Character and Athletics Course offered by USD’s Professional and Continuing Education.  The course was designed for K-12 teachers, coaches, camp counselors and other athletic leaders interested in cultivating an ethical athletic culture focused on positive leadership, community building, and respect for diversity.  For more information: Professional and Continuing Education Character and Athletics

Ed DeRoche, Director, Character Education Resource Center, University of San Diego
March 2019 Blog

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