There is an age-old question about whether sports build character or reveals it. The answer is “usually, neither.”

Baseball and Softball contributes to building character in Little Leaguers® when coaches, parents, and other mentors focus on character education. Participating in Little League® tends to reveal character through the ways children accept success and failure in the normal course of a game and season.

It’s difficult for anyone other than the player and coaches to know whether they gave the game their all … whether that base-running mistake revealed a character flaw (such as lack of effort) or a positive character trait (the willingness to aggressively pursue success even at the risk of failure).

Tips for how Little League® coaches can build character and self-esteem:

Character is forged in the crucible of challenge. Coaches must challenge players to improve their skills while those players also hone the character traits that allow them to improve their skills.

For example, on the surface, coaches may want their players to bunt better. The savvy, character-education-focused coach also will teach players a character trait the players need – say, discipline – in order for them to improve their bunting. Coaches should not just give bunting instruction, but also should deliver discipline instruction, explaining to the players that beyond improving their bunting skills (useless away from the field), they are improving their discipline (critical on and off the field for the rest of their lives).

Without a scenario where players face challenge and gain an opportunity to learn and grow, children can’t learn how to fail, which also means they can’t learn how to excel. They may achieve some success along the way anyway, but that does not necessarily mean they are learning HOW to succeed on the field, or off.

Challenge, and directed education in the character traits needed to meet challenge, provides a real-time, real-world experience that proves to players that they have what it takes to succeed.

That process leads to self-esteem. As the very words “self-esteem” connote and denote, the esteem comes from the self. Beyond whatever self-esteem people feel just from being basically good human beings, the source of self-esteem in an athletic challenge stems from the player striving as hard as possible to meet the challenge. Coaches can help with self-esteem during the challenge by offering truthful, specific praise. That can help players who may feel down on themselves for not yet fully achieving their goals.

One of the greatest gifts a coach can give players is belief in them. That tends to translate to players believing in themselves, which can fuel success, which builds self-esteem in a virtuous cycle, and which rewards players for the character necessary to succeed, so that they also remain intent on further refining their character.

Story submitted by David Jacobson, Positive Coaching Alliance