3 Easy Ways to Understand Your Athletes Better

By Stephanie Zonars

Credit Image: � Imago via ZUMA Press

I’ve become a raving fan of Brett Ledbetter and his book What Drives Winning.

The title isn’t framed as a question, but it really is a question.  What drives winning?

Not to spoil it for you, but his answer is…(drumroll please): CHARACTER.

If you focus on building character, the winning will take care of itself.

The book is chock full of ideas about how to help athletes grow in character. I love how he walks the reader through his own conversations with athletes and the exercises he uses with them.

In my last blog I wrote about the importance of athletes attending meetings ready to take handwritten notes.

This post builds on that by suggesting some of Brett’s exercises that use writing as a way to aid athletes (and all of us) in self-discovery.

1. Write a letter to your sport.

Ask your athletes to write a letter to their sport as if it’s a person, describing the impact—good or bad—that it’s had on their life.

The idea is to have them distance themselves from their sport by seeing it as another person. For many athletes, their sport becomes their identity, which leads to a variety of challenges.

If they allow you or an assistant coach to see their letter, you’ll gain insight into their relationship with their sport and how to continue helping them separate who they are (identity) from what they do (sport).

Although I don’t play ball anymore, here’s a letter I wrote the other day:

Dear Basketball, 

You have been so good to me. I had no idea when I fell in love with you as a young girl what you had in store. 

The road was rocky at first. I loved the process of practicing and improving, but before I knew it my identity became too wrapped up in you. That led us to a love/hate relationship—when I performed well I loved the affirmation people gave me because of you. But when I performed poorly, I hated how low I felt because of you.

This went on for years, and finally began to change when I stopped worshiping you like a god. I turned my back on you for awhile to figure things out, and when I replaced you with the One True God, our relationship began to change for the better.

I found opportunities that exceeded my wildest imagination!

Worldwide travel. Lifelong friendships. Incredible experiences. The chance to use my unique gifts within the sport I loved for a purpose much greater than myself. 

So now, looking back, I say thank you.

For all the good and hard experiences that helped shape who I am today. For all the friends. For all the opportunities to grow and mature. 

You still bring me a lot of joy, and for that I’m grateful! 



2. Write a thank you note to pressure.

Athletes today feel extreme pressure from parents, coaches, fans and even themselves. While social media exposure can be a big bonus, it can also create a much larger cauldron of pressure.

One way to help your athletes learn to handle the pressure is to write a thank you note to it.

This will help them see pressure as a friend. As an ingredient in the process of their growth and development.

3. Write down how you want to be remembered.

Brett uses questions with athletes to prove a point:

  • Who led the NCAA in scoring in your sport three years ago?
  • Who was your favorite teacher growing up?
  • Why?

My guess is that like most, you don’t know the answer to the first question and can answer the second and third in about 3 seconds.

Why do we remember our favorite teachers?

Brett found that the most common answers were:

  1. They made learning fun
  2. They challenged me
  3. They were supportive
  4. They were helpful.
  5. They got to know me.

People forget stats but they remember who you are as a person. [Tweet That!]

Growing in character is helping athletes not only understand, but live out this truth:

Person > Player

Asking athletes to articulate how they want to be remembered as a person will give you insight into what’s most important to them.

Then you can use that information to show them how to use their sport to help them become the person they want to become.

For more on this concept, check out this video from the What Drives Winning Conference.

Helping your athletes grow in character isn’t rocket science, but it does take intention! I’d love to hear what you and your athletes discover when you use these exercises.


3 Easy Ways to Understand Your Athletes Better appeared first on Life Beyond Sport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at LifeBeyondSport.com.

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