No matter where you’re coaching, or what your role, you can break every athlete you work with into three very distinct categories.
The proactive athlete knows what they need to do for success and immediately goes about working on these things.
From the moment they are taught a new skill, are introduced to a strength & conditioning program, learn a new tactic, or anything else that can make them better, it immediately becomes a priority for them to excel in that.
The reactive athlete can be exposed to the exact same things, but they won’t get serious about it until something goes wrong.
Perhaps they get cut from a team, or their playing time goes down. Maybe they experience an injury that could have been prevented by a smart approach to training, or greater commitment. The event serves as a wake up call and they begin to take a more proactive approach in the future.
The inactive athlete is just like the reactive athlete, except they do not change when things go wrong. The blame coaches, referees, bad luck, being ‘cursed’, or pretty much anything other than taking a long, hard look in the mirror and seeing what they did wrong.
Having coached athletes for 20 years I’ve seen a great number of kids fall into each category. 99.9% of them were absolutely wonderful kids no matter what their approach.
The reality, though, is that the proactive ones were and still are far, far more successful in the long run.
And they are also the rarest.
Without naming names, almost every Division I college, Olympic or pro athlete I’ve ever coached eventually became a proactive type. And what was most interesting is that when any of them faced a setback, they tended to recover a lot quicker and came back even more determined to improve.
In addition, I can tell you that right now we are working with a small number of proactive kids that are improving by leaps and bounds over everyone else, and they are quickly becoming standout players in their sports.
With reactive athletes, they can go either way.
Some have an injury scare that lights a fire in them to work harder and they see the opportunities they have as more precious, something that isn’t a guarantee. It is unfortunate that they needed a down moment to see the light, but the transformation can be astounding. In lots of cases we’ve seen reactive athletes flip a switch and become more proactive moving forward.
Just as often, though, the reactive athlete goes right back to their old habits once the problem is resolved. They complete rehab and train a little bit to get back on the field, or they get their playing time back. They waste a powerful life lesson and won’t step up their efforts again until the next big challenge comes along.
The inactive athlete, of course, never transforms because they never see the problem until perhaps many years later. They are the kids who come back in their 20’s and say “I wish I had taken it all more seriously.” Again, this does not make them bad kids at all, but wasted talent is always disappointing.
If you believe, as I do, that youth sports are more about the lessons learned than the scoreboard, then this is a critical lesson.
Because it is not about making an all-star team, winning a championship, or even earning a scholarship and getting drafted. It is about building the positive habits necessary to do those things the right way.
The point of sports and sports training programs is that we are teaching kids the best way to become successful in their lives. And learning to take a proactive approach to success is going to drastically increase their chances of success in everything they do in adulthood.
For some, they may need a somewhat catastrophic event to jolt them from being reactive to becoming more proactive. For others, they just know what they want right away and will do what it takes from Day One.
But it is one of our bigger jobs as coaches to inspire kids to take a more proactive approach, to set their priorities more towards the things that will get them to their goals, and to let our athletes know that they have the power to control their own destiny.