Possessing and teaching character

It’s often said that sport builds character, but participation alone doesn’t build it, character must be taught. How do you know if you possess character, how can you teach character?

As a coach of any kind, we’re also responsible for developing character in those we interact with. We’re in the privileged position that people come to us to learn something, and like it or not, you’re a role model. As a leader, your behaviour is scrutinised and duplicated. Your attitude and approach is reflected in your students/athletes. It’s true you can often tell which coach students train with by the way they conduct themselves. To teach character, it seems you must first possess character.

Possessing Character

What qualities would you expect from someone with ‘character’? Integrity, respect, responsibility, credibility, sportsmanship, honesty, humility, empathy? It may be difficult to define what character is, but you certainly know it when you see it. For me, it’s always doing the best you can with what you have available (time, knowledge, skill etc.), even when no-one is looking.

Those with character behave in a certain way. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I use appropriate language, especially in front of children?
How do I treat women and children?
Am I a positive role model?
Do I apologise if I make a mistake?
Is being right more important then getting the desired result?

… Do you show up in smelly, unwashed training kit?
… Do you put your training equipment away afterwards?

Just a few thoughts there, but consider that character is the example you show to everyone, every session, every minute.

Teaching Character

To teach character you must first demonstrate it yourself, be a role model. Then you must provide the environment to both test and develop character. I feel that a degree of hardship creates the desired environment perfectly – and Muay Thai training fits the bill.

I’ll share with you a tale my Mum relayed to me of when my Dad was looking after a young nephew, John.

My Dad took the toddler to a local play area. Little John placed two hands on the seat of a swing and swung it away. My Dad dived in, catching the seat before it hit John in the face on it’s return, explaining, “That will hit you in the face…”

John, looked at my Dad, grabbed the seat and repeated the experiment. Again my Dad warned of the outcome. This process repeated a total of three times, then on the fourth swing, my Dad stood back and watched. I think John had stopped crying by the time they’d walked home, sporting a fat-lip. “It was character-building,” My Dad explained with a smile, “He wasn’t going to be seriously hurt and needed to learn.”

No wonder I’ve turned out the way I have! Joking aside, I feel that my Dad provided a ‘safe’ environment to both test and develop character. You can’t force others to do what you want, just set an example and let them learn in their own way – even if it’s the hard way.

I feel a degree of hardship helps develop respect, humility and empathy – qualities that are extremely valuable and hard to acquire. Character is much more than a list of behaviours, it’s not a way to act, it’s a way of being. Provide a challenging environment and set a good example, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by those of character.

Don Heatrick

Founder of Heatrick Strength and Conditioning

Don Heatrick is a family man from the UK, former mechanical design engineer, European Muay Thai silver medallist, former pro Thai boxer (ranked 4th in UK while aged 40-years), a Muay Thai coach, podcast host, and the go-to expert on Muay Thai performance training with over 25 years of coaching experience.

Don helps ambitious fighters and coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai.

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