From the Mouth of a Champion

Many of you probably know of Geno Auriemma, the University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach, but in case you don’t, let me give you some quick background.  The UConn women have become the standard of excellence in college basketball.  They’re currently riding a 111-game winning streak – they haven’t lost a single game in almost three years.  (The longest previous winning streak in the history of either mens’ or women’s college basketball before this one lasted 91 games.  Auriemma’s UConn women accomplished that feat, too.) 

UConn’s teams have won 11 national championships during Auriemma’s coaching tenue, including the last four in a row.  They’ll be the heavy favorite to win number five this weekend.  Oh yeah, Auriemma also coaches the U.S. Women’s National Team and has won gold in the last two summer Olympics.  Whether you’re a women’s basketball fan or not, it’s hard to argue that the man isn’t one of the great coaches in the history of college sports.

In a press conference prior to last weekend’s tournament games, Coach Auriemma made some comments that went viral while discussing what he looks for in potential recruits:

Here in the newsletter, we regularly emphasize the importance of what we’ve called the Hidden Talents – those qualities possessed by the champion athlete:

                -Loving the Game

                -Giving His Best

                -Overcoming Adversity

                -Seeking Improvement

                -Getting Coached

                -Being a Teammate

                -Taking Risks

                -Having a Positive Attitude

We’ve called them talents because that’s what they are – they’re skills and abilities that have been developed over time.  Like any talent, they aren’t just magically bestowed on some people and not on others.  Those who have them have them intentionally; they’ve been earned.  Any talent from that list can be cultivated through a process of teaching, emphasizing, learning, trying, failing, correcting, persevering, and growing. 

We’ve called them hidden because, despite all that today’s youth sports parent invests in their young athlete,  the value and intentional development of these talents are typically overlooked.  Among all the stuff parents are doing to help their kids on the athletic field, few parents are doing this most important work.

These talents, if developed, are what will move your son closer to his full potential as an athlete.  It’s not really rocket science.  Just take a minute to compare who your son is or could be with any one of the Hidden Talents developed, compared to who he is without.  Who do you think is closer to reaching his full potential:  Your son who you’ve helped develop a love for the game or your son who hasn’t?  Your son who’s developed the ability to overcome adversity or your son who hasn’t?  The answer, in each area, is simple.  And so is this reality: as a parent, if you’re intentional about making it happen, then it probably will.  If you’re not intentional about making it happen, then it probably won’t.

These talents are also the separators that set your son apart from those he’s competing with and against.  Here’s where I hope Geno Auriemma’s words – straight from the mouth of a champion – can encourage and challenge you today, to accept the responsibility for helping your son get better in these areas.  I especially want to focus on what he says near the end of the clip:

“I try, when we go recruiting, to identify those kids who still have a tremendous interest in being great teammates.  We’re not always successful.  Believe me, I’ve had my share of guys that were really hard to coach for that reason, and you can trace it back generally to the parents, without question.  You can trace it back to the parents.”

When you’re recruiting at the highest level of college basketball – like Geno Auriemma is – then everyone can play.  The disparity between basketball skill level is probably pretty marginal among most of the players he goes to watch.  So what separates one from the other?  You heard it from him.  “I try to identify those kids who still have a tremendous interest in being great teammates.”  Here is validation, from someone at the very pinnacle of athletic success, who understand the importance of that Hidden Talent.  He’s looking to reward the athlete who has it.

And honestly, I bet Coach Auriemma, like any champion coach, would say the same thing about every other talent from our list.  I try to identify those kids who still have a tremendous interest in giving their best.  I try to identify those kids who still have a tremendous interest in seeking improvement.  I try to identify those kids who still have a tremendous interest in getting coached.  When I say that these talents are the separators, this is what I mean.

So understand, dad, that what you choose to emphasize is what your son will learn to value.  Coach Auriemma said it: “you can trace it back generally to the parents, without question.”  In the same way he said coaching those players who weren’t good teammates was traceable to the parents, so are those players who have developed that talent.  That means if you’re doing it right today – if you’re seeing what’s really important and you’re working to develop the qualities in your athlete that really matter – then you should be encouraged.  They will separate your son.  People who “get it” will recognize the talents you’ve developed in that boy.  And those talents, you can bet, will be traced back to his parents.

On the other hand, if you’re not emphasizing the development of those qualities in your son, then you’ve got to accept the fact that you’re son won’t reach his full potential as an athlete, and that you’re part of the reason why.  You’ve also got to accept that in competition with and against other athletes for something – let’s say for instance, like a college scholarship, your son won’t be standing out to a coach like Geno Auriemma.   So either way, I guess it’s important for each of us today to stop and consider… What is it about my son, the athlete and man, that will one day be traced back to me?


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