help them help you
In last week’s newsletter, we talked about one of the underrated talents of the champion athlete: the ability to accept blame. Accepting blame is about taking responsibility for what goes wrong. It takes a strong, secure, confident athlete to accept that burden and then move on with a commitment to making it right. It’s a talent that a champion athlete has had taught and developed. He understands what it means and the value it has to himself and to others. This week, I want to focus on another talent possessed by a great teammate: the ability to deflect credit.
We’re all working to help our sons become strong, confident, secure athletes and men. No one hopes their son becomes fragile, soft, or insecure. Weak-minded athletes feel easily defined by outcomes and results – by their own failure or success. That’s why they’re needy. When things go poorly, they desperately need to issue responsibility someplace else – even responsibility that is rightfully theirs. In the same way, when things go well, weak-minded athletes desperately need the acknowledgement and praise that comes with it – even acknowledgement and praise that isn’t rightfully theirs.
As we said last week, it takes a confident, secure, tough-minded athlete to willingly accept his share of the blame when things go wrong. This is also the kind of athlete who can willingly deflect credit away from himself and onto others when things go right. The champion athlete has come to understand the value of deflecting credit. He understands that no one achieves success alone – someone else has always played a part in the accomplishment, and that sharing the success is the best formula for more success. Selflessness is the key to being a great teammate, and nothing is more selfless than saying, “Thanks for the acknowledgement, but the credit actually belongs to him over there.”
Strength and confidence allow him to accept the blame he’s due – that same strength and confidence that also allows him to deflect the credit he’s due. He understands the value of this skill as a way to uplift his less talented or less confident teammates, to make them better and to spur them on – all of them, together as teammates– in their pursuit of success.
Imagine you are Tom, a teammate of the star player. He made the game-winning shot in last night’s rivalry game, and his name will undoubtedly dominate the newspaper headlines this morning. It was an incredible shot he made, but you know something about that shot that most others might not. You know that without your contribution, his moment in the spotlight wouldn’t have been possible. You were the guy who set the screen, the one that got him open for the final shot, and you know that without doing your job, the outcome of this game – and the name appearing in the headlines this morning – would likely be different.
When you open the paper, chances are you’ll find the star player saying what most players say – something mostly focused on themselves and their big moment. But what if you opened the paper and saw something different. What if it said something like… “I’m glad I made the shot, and I appreciate all the attention. But the credit really belongs to my teammates. Without a great screen from Tom and a perfect pass by Joe, the shot would’ve never been possible. Those guys really deserve the credit.”
Whoa, that was different. What effect would deflecting that credit towards you have on you – his teammate – moving forward? The next time the star player needs a screen set for him, how will you go about doing it? Bitterly? Resentfully? Spitefully obligated to do what you know is important but will never be recognized? Of course not! When the star player needs a screen set for him, you’ll probably want to do it for him! You’ll look forward to the chance to get him open. You won’t resent his success; you’ll revel in it. You’ll probably set him an even better screen next time, so he’ll be even more open to make the game-winner.
See, a champion athlete understands that when no one cares who gets the credit – or better yet, when he really cares that others get the credit – then it makes everyone better. If I’m the star, I need teammates who want me to do well, who will want to give me a perfect pass or want to set me a great screen. When I intentionally make it a priority to value who they are, and what contributions they make to my success? I help make them better, and then they help make me better.
I truly believe that deflecting credit is a talent – a skill that we can teach our sons and help them learn and develop over time. It’s probably not something that comes naturally for anyone – to intentionally ricochet praise away from ourselves, especially when we deserve it. But developing this skill will help move your son closer to his full potential as an athlete, and someday as a man. So how do you go about helping your son develop this ability? There are a few things you can do…
First, you’ve got to see the value in your son’s teammates before you can ever expect him to do the same. As is always the case, what you choose to emphasize is what your son will learn to value. When your son has success, your perspective must allow you to see the contributions his teammates made to that success. If you can’t see them and value them, and you can’t make it evident to your son that you see them and value them, then he won’t either. At the same time, help him understand the important role he plays in the success of others. When he helps the star, he needs to know that his contributions matter. That way, when his name’s in the headlines, he’ll have a clearer understanding of the part others have played, too.
Next, remind your son of the opportunities that exist in his life to deflect some credit. Has he been the star of today’s game? Do you know that everyone’s gonna be patting him on the back after his performance and trying to tell him how great he did? If you know it’s coming, then maybe you can remind him that this is a great opportunity to work on improving this valuable talent. Of course you should allow him to enjoy his moment sometimes, too. He doesn’t have to deflect all the credit, all the time. But if he can never deflect any of the credit, ever? Then he might be too fragile, soft, or insecure.
Finally, as always, use your own powerful example to show your son how it’s done. You can do all the explaining and encouraging you want, but if all your son ever sees you do is selfishly hoard every piece of credit that ever comes your way, then despite what you say, you’ll show him what you really value. If, on the other hand, you are someone who’s confident, secure, and tough-minded enough to share the credit with the people who help you succeed? Now you’re acting like a champion, and showing your son how to be a champion, too. Look for opportunities, maybe at home or at work, to intentionally say the words, ““Thanks for the acknowledgement, but the credit actually belongs to him/her over there.”
Yes, developing this skill will help your son move closer to his full potential as an athlete. But please recognize that your son will carry with him the ability to deflect credit well beyond his experiences on the playing field. You’re setting your boy up to be a great teammate in manhood, too, when it really matters. What kind of a husband, for instance, will your son be if he’s constantly looking for opportunities to credit his wife and acknowledge her contributions? What kind of professional career might your son build for himself if those working with, around, or under him feel valued and appreciated, and want to work hard to help him succeed? That’s a man who’s confident and secure. A man who makes others better, so they can make him better. A man headed for success.