The method for learning principles of good character varies for each person. A child may pursue science, music or writing, depending on her interest level. Each of these subjects provides opportunities for learning perseverance, commitment and discipline, but perhaps playing a sport more than any other activity gives a child the tools she needs to understand human relationships and a model for positive behavior in society. As a character-builder, a sport tests the link between principles and action in a safe setting that sets the stage for a child's decisions throughout her lifetime.
The principles of good character include honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, fidelity, integrity, fairness, self-control and prudence, according to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit-based higher educational institution. These principles become characteristics when people practice them, which is the role sports play. A sport provides a setting for children, and adults, to practice principles that help them develop good character in a fun and controlled environment.
A sport is a fun activity, but in the United States competition is an often insidious influence that shifts the emphasis from playing the game to winning. A child may feel pressured to perform to develop high social standing among peers or parents. The job of maintaining healthy focus on learning, understanding and enjoyment ultimately lies with the supervising coach and parents.
Coach and Parent Roles
An adult cannot expect a child to understand the complexities of moral choices because he does not yet possess the ability to recognize ethical dilemmas and the potential decisions relevant to resolving them. A coach or a parent is charged with the responsibility of monitoring behavior, spotting dilemmas and facilitating positive outcomes. She also must ensure the players understand the expectations and reinforce and develop the presiding culture in a positive and consistent way.
A teen who participates in sports in high school reduces her risk for taking illegal drugs and attempting suicide, according to a 2005 study at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York. The researchers concluded that because suicide attempts often accompany social marginalization, the involvement and belonging sports provide helps teenagers learn how to become a member of a community following principles of good character.
- Slate: The Rules of the Game
- Josephson Center for Sports Ethics: The T.E.A.M. Approach to Sportsmanship
- Santa Clara University -- Markkula Center for Applied Ethics; Ethics and Virtue; Manuel Velasquez, et al.
- International Review for the Sociology of Sport; High School Athletic Participation and Adolescent Suicide; Don Sabo, et al.