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Monday, June 13, 2011

The youth sports lesson in the Mavs win over the Miami Heat

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh took advantage of their free agent status last summer and signed with their friend Dwayne Wade and the Miami Heat, most of us probably assumed it was the beginning of a ”dynasty”.

That may still come to pass, but for now, many sports fans are reveling in the fact that an industrious, hard-working, team-oriented group of players have just earned an NBA championship, rather than the star-studded Heat.

No doubt there is also an “anti-Miami” sentiment as well—fans, perhaps fairly, feeling that justice was done because the Mavericks won the title, not the team built on the perceived selfish whims of a few individual stars.

For me, the point of emphasis is more that players often want to go somewhere to “win”, which on the surface, sounds reasonable.

But in many cases, what it really says to the public, and to young fans is, “I don’t think enough of my current teammates to stay here and help them, and my current team/franchise, get better…”

I sometimes wonder what happened to the idea of leadership in professional sports. Oh, there are some tremendous leaders, for sure, and athletes who set a fine example for our young people. I’ve posted about some of those individuals here in the past.

But many seem to believe that the grass is greener elsewhere. That said, why not stay and help make your current organization better?

LeBron James, a remarkable talent to be sure, was just as close to a title in Cleveland as he is now, without all the other “superstars” around him. Had he stayed, who knows, Cleveland might have remained a fine team and contended in the same way the Heat did in the just-concluded season.

Now, he has to deal with everyone wanting the ball at the same time (always a challenge, it seems, in basketball) in a sea of “stars”.

It may be a long summer of discontent in Miami, despite the many millions each of the former free agents is earning, because they didn’t get what they claim they wanted most of all: a championship.

No, the grass is not always greener…

So from my perspective, the message for youth coaches and young athletes is: don’t look around and judge your teammates. Make the best of your situation. Be a good teammate. Think about what it means to be a team player. If you’re a “star”, help those around you to become better players, rather than criticize or belittle them to their face or behind their back. Accept the challenge of making your current team better. Show real character.

You may just find that that is one of the definitions of true leadership, and more than just attaining more “wins”, you will earn what most of us seek but have to truly earn: the respect of others.

And certain "pros" may just learn something from your example…