|'M IN THE midst of working on what's know in journalism parlance as a "football tab," which means almost all I've done the past six weeks is call coaches, go to practices, talk to players, write stories, beg for schedules and rosters, and try to get some sleep in the process.|
Every team has at least one leader, and in my numerous interviews this summer about these kind of players, I've been reminded what high school athletes value most in their leaders -- actions.
I can't count how many stories I've written about "quiet leaders," those guys who "lead by example," as the coaches always say. There are plenty of vocal leaders, but their words are only as effective as their example. Most high school kids are new to leadership, so they are often unsure of what to say and when to say it. It's when they get to college or the pros that they learn how to communicate verbally.
It's a cliché, but it's still true: Actions speak much louder than words. This is especially true when it comes to teenagers, whose psyches can be fragile. They tend to trust only what they see, especially these days, what with talking heads from MTV to CNN to ESPN filling their heads with information and ideologies that are often contradictory or self-destructive.
(You may be thinking, ESPN is bad for our kids? Well, in a subliminal sort of way. It goes overboard in promoting individualism and empty hype. Not so subliminally, it broadcasts poker.) Talk is everywhere, and if I may tout another cliché, it is very cheap. That means it has little or no value in and of itself.
Instruction and admonition are necessary things for teenagers, but they must always be aware that consequences -- the kind of actions they don't want to see -- are imminent if an authority's words are not heeded. A football player, for example, won't always hustle until the whistle blows if he knows his coach won't make him run laps or endure some other such punishment.
Sure, the coach may yell at him, but words unbacked by action lose their power and basically go unheard. When this happens, a player, perhaps only subconsciously, recognizes that his coach is not committed to his growth and development as a player or person. The player loses respect for his coach and may even consider him a hypocrite.
Actions are the lifeblood of our words. Teenagers, small children even, know this instinctively. A coach can inspire players with a rousing halftime speech, but that usually is because the players believe in their coach, and they know he means what he says. Another coach could deliver the same exact speech, but if he doesn't have his players' respect, they won't be inspired.
It's little wonder to me when I see solid people who came from athletic backgrounds. I've met many a man and woman who credit a coach for giving them direction in life. Their high school athletic experience consisted of more than film sessions, practices and playbooks; that experience was enriched by the relationship they had with that special coach whose words and deeds were always in harmony.
I become more aware every day in my job how important such harmony is, not only to athletes, but to everyone. Disillusionment is caused by one's perceptions being shattered. A husband's words of affection for his wife, no matter how sincere he is, mean nothing if he's unfaithful. An apology is worthless if it isn't followed by restitution and then a visible change of behavior by the offending party.
This is a big problem in the spiritual realm. Many people have been driven from our churches by the congregants. A church that has infighting, or that doesn't reach down to the struggling, or that spouts wishy-washy theology, or that preaches tenderness but spews vitriol at its opponents in the so-called culture war -- these kind of churches give folks a good excuse to reject Christ and His promise of salvation.
This happens when Christ's example is not followed. He spoke much wisdom, but He backed up every bit of it. His actions are what drew people to Him; it was His words more than anything that turned others against Him. His healing was always accompanied by words -- such as "go and sin no more" -- because he wanted to make sure people understood the context of His works. It works the other way, too -- right action gives context and meaning to our words. Again, harmony is essential.
Otherwise, all you get is discord. That leads to chaos -- on the football field, in the home, and in the soul.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a sports journalist in Tupelo, Mississippi.
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