If I could pinpoint one thing that people often miss in sports, it would be character, and how we build it in context. Character is what makes an individual unique, an athlete unique and any team of people unique. What’s not seen are the experiences that build it.
As a society, we think we know how to define and blanket terms, often exemplified by how we put labels on not only things, but people. In reality, we don’t have any common ground definitions of anything. We think character shows up in the tweets we “like” on twitter, the people we follow on Instagram, or for athletes, how we ‘only battle physically.’ The truth is, there is an even bigger mental battle. Character shows up in empathy, trust, honesty, compassion, integrity, cooperation, responsibility, respect, optimism, encouragement, inclusiveness and caring, to name only a handful. At this point you’re probably (definitely) wondering where am I going with this. Well, if you follow women’s basketball at Stanford these days, you may notice that our vibe has shifted a bit. You may notice that we are more energized. You may notice that we are more ready to take on anyone and any challenge that comes with them. But that doesn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen because we built more muscle.
People know that this team is special. People know that the Warriors are special. But like them, we’re not special because we’re the most talented, although we have a few candidates for that, as do the Warriors. We’ve built character, and the character that athletes develop is what makes them special, and is something we all can learn from. The character we build is transparent, not the masked characters most of us hide behind on a day to day basis. Allow me to elaborate.
In basketball, a missed shot hard off of the rim or backboard, has been nicknamed “a brick.” If you shoot a lot of “bricks,” the common joke is that you are trying to “build a brick house,” but aside from the joke, there is some truth. When we are little, first learning how to play a sport, a majority of the shots we shoot are bricks, or more specifically, a lot of quote-unquote failed attempts. This is where character comes in. It shows itself to empty bleachers. Throw it back to fifth grade math class when you “have to show your work for full credit.” It doesn’t work that way as you get older; people tend to only see the correct, or incorrect, answer. Most important, if the answer is incorrect, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of work behind it, and that doesn’t mean you won’t get the answer right next time. In this way, many people see things opaquely, and blanketed, and this year, this team has learned to look a little deeper.
Character comes in after we’ve missed nine shots and made the 10th, but everyone only sees that 10th. The point is that we tried 10 times. Character is not just how we present ourselves out on the court, field or even in interactions of post game interviews after a loss. Character is cumulatively built, and for our team this year, it has been our biggest work in progress. You learn that you need to make your 12 free throws in a row in the end of practice, and not give up after missing at 10. It all shows up when our passions become transparent. We are still learning about one another, how to play with one another, how to lose, how to make the most of circumstances. Our coaches like to tell us that it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. To me, right now, this statement couldn’t be more true. We’ve lost a lot of games, we’ve bricked a lot of shots, we’ve made many, many mistakes. Where our character may not be obvious is how we have grown, with a half-built house. It takes a lot of bricks to build a house, our house, and the roof goes on in the end of March in Columbus.
Contact Mikaela Brewer at mbrewer8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.