Sports Education

Sports Education

Developing player maturity

In February this year, a federal judge ruled that former Ohio state running back Maurice Clarett was eligible for the NFL (National Football League) draft, and that the league’s rule stating a player must be out of high school three years before being drafted was a violation of anti-trust laws. This ruling could clear the way for teenage football stars to follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in other sports such as baseball, basketball, ice hockey and soccer.

In handing down the ruling, US district judge Shira Scheindlin suggested that the NFL find less restrictive alternatives to the three-year rule, such as testing each player’s physical and psychological maturity. "In such a scenario, no player would be automatically excluded from the market and each team could decide what level of risk it is willing to tolerate," she wrote in her judgement.

I agree wholeheartedly with Judge Scheindlin — maturity, not age, should be the vital attribute to determine the qualification of any athlete aspiring to play professional sports. This is the best way forward despite the pervasive fear that if pro teams adopt maturity as a standard, they might not have enough athletes left to field one team, let alone a whole league!

Therefore in the light of recent, too-numerous-to-be-mentioned examples of immaturity on the part of too-numerous-to-be-mentioned professional athletes, I would like to propose that professional sports teams consider administering a mandatory annual maturity test for athletes to pass in order to get on and stay on their teams. Here are a few critical questions to test and assess maturity.

• Are you a strong individual able to think for yourself, or do you tend to let people (coaches, managers, friends, etc) direct you? Do you have a curious and questioning mind?

• Can you control your impulses, both on and off the playing field?

• Can you delay gratification? Do you have to have something as soon as you see it, or can you put desire off?

• Do you know how to manage your negative emotions, such as anger, anxiety, and insecurity?

• Are you self-aware? Do you have a good grasp of your identity, strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, etc?

• Do you know how to make sound decisions — to list the pros and cons and weigh the consequences of a choice?

• In crunch situations, can you accept responsibility for yourself and your actions?

• Do you accept responsibility for others? For example, do you understand that like it or not, you are a role model, and that children look up to you and follow your example?

• Do you realise that frequenting strip clubs, getting arrested for drunken driving, gambling on sports, etc does hurt people other than yourself?

• Do you honour your commitments — to your team, your family, etc?

• Do you have a strong sense of community? Is what goes on in the world outside of sport important to you, and do you want to do your bit to improve the world?

• Do you have integrity? For instance, if you were guaranteed that you could cheat and no one would ever know, would you do it?

• Do you consciously work to learn from your mistakes? How do you go about doing this?

• Do you have other interests or hobbies apart from sports? Do you make an effort to develop these other interests and hobbies?

• Do you enjoy the ‘journey’ of sport (learning new things, meeting new people, etc), or are you only focused on the destination (winning)?

• Do you have a post-sports career/life plan? Are you taking steps to implement that plan (i.e, are you saving/investing your money, pursuing an education qualification, etc)?

Consistent success in adult life is a combined result of hard work, leadership qualities and maturity to accept what life throws at you. Sports is a great medium to learn about challenge and response and develop the maturity required to face them. As a parent myself, I always advise people to start working on developing the maturity of their child/ children as early as possible.

If your children are into sports, I suggest you go over these questions with them whether or not they are contemplating careers as sports professionals. Maturity is a quality that can be consciously developed in aspiring sportspersons from a young age. And rest assured it will serve them well no matter what they do in life. It’s never too soon (or too late) to start growing up.

(Dr. George Selleck is a California-based sports psychologist and advisor to Sportz Village, Bangalore)