(Editor’s note: This is an ongoing series focused on the mental aspect of athletics as reported by Danny Desin, M.S., www.desinsportpsych.com. To listen to the latest audio version of Danny Desin's discussion about the mental side of sports, please click here. )
“Sport doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
John Wooden provided us with those powerful words and they couldn’t mean more than they do right now. In a moment where sport has been discontinued, do athletes still have the same character traits? The answer is yes, they absolutely do. Our strengths still exist and they have an impact on everything that we do, whether the competition is happening or not. So I’d like athletes (and non-athletes alike) to take this time we have to do a character assessment and determine what you bring to the table.
A focus on strengths comes straight from Positive Psychology. This is the idea that instead of focusing on weaknesses and struggles of people and trying to get them from a negative back to a zero, we should be focused on bolstering our strengths, as well. Sometimes when people hear the word “psychology” they automatically go to the negative and think that they will be analyzed or broken down. That’s why I sometimes use the term “mental performance coach” or something of that sort. The emphasis is on excellence, not just on a deficit.
Sport Psychology has strong roots in Positive Psychology because of that emphasis. The tools that have been given to you so far (purpose statement, goal-setting) have been focused on enhancing your well-being and relating that directly to the sports that you play. I often tell athletes that I don’t want to just hear from them when things aren’t going well, I want to hear about the good times also. Talking about building skills and becoming a better athlete helps confidence and motivation levels. If a team loses a game, goes back to practice, and works only on the things that they did not do well, they will not have a high level of success. Well-rounded teams and well-rounded players know what they naturally do well and they can take advantage of those areas.
While keeping this emphasis on strengths in mind, ask yourself these questions: What are you good at? What characteristics do you have that you would like to build on? It may not be something that you’ve considered before, but there’s no better time for reflection.
One easy way to find your character strengths is through the VIA Character Survey, which can be found here. This is a free survey that will ask questions about you and determine which of the 24 character traits are your highest. (Just a quick note, you will be required to create an account.) You can also do this in a more informal way by writing down those positive characteristics that you hold as an athlete and as a person, but I definitely would suggest the survey.
When you’ve finished, you can then take those strengths and relate them to what your purpose is for playing, what you will be doing now, and what you will be doing when sports come back. What does this mean about your role on the team, for example? If leadership is one of your top traits, do what you can in this time of social distancing to be a leader. If providing good perspective is one of your top traits, reach out to someone that’s having a tough time.
What this exercise will do, at the very least, is heighten awareness about the traits that we still have and should continue to have during this unique situation. Athletes and performers are still people when they are on the playing surface, but their competition reveals characteristics that may not otherwise be seen. Let’s look at those traits and improve on them while we have the time.
About Danny Desin: Danny Desin has been around the Billings sports community all of his life — as a spectator, player, and coach. Desin received a Bachelors of Science in Psychology from MSU Billings and played college basketball for both Montana State University and MSU-Billings. Has has graduate level education at both Boise State University and California Southern University, where he finished a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Sport Psychology. He is a member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC).