The Strength of Kindness

When people find us on social media (@coach4kindness) we are often asked, why kindness? The answer is simple: why not?

Enough people were already coaching for what they might call “toughness”, and we’ve seen countless coaches teaching their players what it takes to “be a man” – and while that’s all well and good, it felt like a saturated market.

We asked ourselves, if we could only coach for one thing, could only give one skill to our players, what would it be? Kindness? Not necessarily, but it seems like a solid place to start.

Especially since there are hidden strengths to kindness that many don’t immediately realize.

Consider a more traditional and highly effective skill: resilience. People seem to be on board with coaching for resilience. Psychologist and UC Berkeley professor Rick Hanson, PhD., defines resilience as the ability to cope with adversity and push through challenges in the pursuit of opportunity. That’s certainly a quality we should share with our young people. It’s knocking on the door of “Grit”, which famed Penn professor Angela Duckworth defines as “passion and perseverance for long term goals” – grit has routinely been linked to longitudinal success.

Fine, so let’s teach for grit and resilience.

But first, kindness.

Kindness provides the inner strength to cultivate those other qualities. If your core is one of anger, driven solely by the desire to beat your villainized opponent, then it is a shallow and unsteady one. What can you build on a bedrock of hate? A shaky castle, at best.

Sports teach life lessons? that’s a myth. Sports offer a platform for teachers and coaches to create cultures which instill life lessons – those lessons don’t appear out of nowhere.

But if you cultivate a strong core consisting of purpose, gratitude, self-reliance, and kindness, then you have a solid foundation to build on. Think about it – to be resilient, to continue on during difficult times, you’ll often have to serve as your own best asset. To paraphrase Professor Hanson, it is in difficult moments when you will fall back on internalized experiences of well-being, those built inner strengths which in turn make you more resilient. Without those inner kindnesses, the psychological ground will shake.

If you are finicky and quick to anger, then in times of trouble you will find more trouble, waiting helplessly for an external force to change your state. If only I had more money… if my idiot boss would just give me that promotion…

But if you have developed a habit of cultivating kindness, then you can draw from positive inner strengths, pick yourself up, and charge forward. In those difficult moments, kindness and gratitude and self-reliance might not feel good, but they will surely help you get to the other side of the challenge in a healthier, more efficient way.

Some disagree. We recently observed a coach directing his athletes to “play with hate in your hearts” [sic]. It was an effective strategy, on one level, since the athletes were eating up this us-versus-them tirade. Sadly, there’s no substance to that energy. The edges of human performance are achieved when fueled by purpose, not hate and invented narratives of revenge.

If you believe that 16-year-old kids need to hate the kids from the next town in order to beat them in a game, then you’re misguided.

If you are one of those coaches, please take a moment to consider what you’re saying. Would you want your own son or daughter to be taught to hate by their teachers and coaches? And if you’re not willing to take a moment to reconsider your stance, it’s time to reconsider your career.

Let me be totally clear: everyone does not deserve at trophy. When you lose a game, you shouldn’t sulk and be coddled and have your mom serve you pancakes in bed, you should get back to work. You should be tough. Toughness is an absolute. Coaching for kindness doesn’t mean you should ignore coaching for other qualities, where appropriate.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t bring passion and energy to what we do, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t tap into the competitive nature of our more animal selves. We should. It’s actually pretty fun.

What I am suggesting is that these qualities are more interrelated than we might think.

And even animals can be kind.

grizzly low five

Grizzlies low-fiving.

Coaches would be well-served to realize that it is possible, necessary even, to be both tough and kind. To be both competitive and caring.

The teams we work with have achieved plenty of quantifiable success (conference, state, and national championships). Believe me, we’re not sacrificing a high standard of performance. The desire to perform at a high level fuels us.

And on our best days, we are teaching skills that transfer to success in all areas of life.

Some lean on the idea that sports teach life lessons. That’s a myth. Sports offer a platform for teachers and coaches to create cultures which instill life lessons – those lessons don’t appear out of nowhere. So coach for what’s important. Teach qualities that transfer to other areas of life.

Hate doesn’t work in a marriage, in the board room, or in any other aspect of life, so why would we give that to our students and players?

Try kindness. Let us know what you think.

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