The following is a true story, as told to Chuck Wilson. Only the name of the student-athlete has been changed.
Ricky was one of the two best players on his high school baseball team. Just a sophomore, he had become the starting shortstop and the team’s closer. He finished the season as a standout in both roles.
Poised to have a big junior year, Ricky was thinking he might be able to earn a baseball scholarship to college. But, days away from the start of the baseball season, Ricky made a decision that cost him. He was at a party where alcohol was being consumed. The police showed up and Ricky was one of those caught drinking.
The consequences were considerable.
School policy called for a 10-game suspension and once-per-week counseling sessions for 6-weeks. During that time, Ricky would be allowed to attend practice, but only with the coach’s approval.
Here he was, about to enter his junior season as the team’s starting shortstop, top relief pitcher, and team captain. Instead, Ricky was faced with the embarrassment of being suspended. He had let his teammates down, damaged his reputation, and likely ended his chances of receiving an athletic scholarship.
Another Decision For Ricky
The coach sat down with Ricky and they talked for a long time. They discussed the series of choices Ricky made that resulted in the suspension. They talked about the way those choices reflected on Ricky, the team, and the school.
Ricky was apologetic and remorseful for his poor decision. He knew he would have to sit out the 10-games. But, he didn’t want his season to be over. He asked for a second chance. He wanted to earn his way back onto the team.
The coach told Ricky that he believed in him, but the second chance would come with conditions. Provided that his schoolwork was in order, Ricky would be allowed to come to practice. But, he would be at the end of the line in everything the team did. He would be expected to do whatever he was asked to do without complaint. And if, in any way, he was a distraction or negative influence on his teammates, he wouldn’t just be out for the 10-games. He would be done for the entire season.
Ricky agreed to the terms. He later said that it meant a lot to him to hear his coach say ‘I believe in you’.
How Would Ricky Respond?
The coach didn’t make it easy for Ricky. Instead of getting the bulk of his position’s batting practice time, Ricky got little time in the cage. He no longer was one of the first to get batting practice, he was dead last, batting after the freshman. Any extra BP had to come after practice officially ended.
The season before, Ricky had been of the top players on the team. A leader. Someone the other players looked up to. He was now in the role of cheerleader, helping in any way he was asked.
The coach felt Ricky was a good kid who had made a mistake. He hoped Ricky would prove him right.
And, Ricky did.
Determined to show everyone that he was committed to the team, Ricky did whatever was asked of him. He was at every practice and all of the team’s games, even the away games. That wasn’t easy considering that he wasn’t allowed to ride on the team bus while on suspension.
Through it all, Ricky was a quiet presence, picking his spots to provide one-on-one encouragement to his teammates. Whatever humiliation he may have felt, he kept to himself. He focused on being a good teammate, but purposely chose to maintain a low-profile. He felt guilty that he wasn’t out on the field with the rest of the team.
The coach was impressed with the maturity Ricky exhibited. Players often display leadership while they are sidelined with an injury. It is considerably more challenging to be a positive influence while serving a suspension.
Back On the Team
After sitting out the 10-games, Ricky returned to the team and was welcomed back by his teammates. They had seen what he was willing to do to play again.
Ricky played fairly well the rest of the season, though not to the level he had his sophomore year. Still, he had won back the respect of the team. That meant a lot to him.
Just before the start of his senior year, teammates voted Ricky team captain. He went on to have an excellent season, and was named to his conference All-Star team. When it came time for his senior class essay, Ricky chose to write about that painful junior year — his choices, the consequences, and what he learned from the experience.
The Path We Choose After a Mistake
Ricky messed up. He made a poor decision. Once he made it, it was over. He couldn’t take it back. The only question was how would he respond? Ricky had a choice to make. He could have decided to quit the team. Blame others for what happened. Claim he didn’t care about playing anymore.
But, he didn’t do that.
Ricky chose to face the adversity head-on. He didn’t make excuses. He took responsibility for his mistake. He owned it. And, he did his best to make amends. He swallowed his pride to show his coach and his teammates that while he had made an error in judgment, he was someone they could rely on. That he was a person they could trust.
By accepting responsibility for his actions, and responding in a positive way, Ricky won the respect of a lot of people in his life. Most importantly, Ricky felt good about it.
How We Respond is Up To Us
Bad things happen. Sometimes, it’s due to mistakes we’ve made. Other times, it is through no fault of our own. We simply can not control everything that happens to us in life. What we can determine is the way in which we respond.
Not that it’s always an easy choice.
What Ricky did took courage. Not the running-into-a-burning-house-to-save-a-life form of courage. But instead, the kind that it takes to choose the wise, but more difficult path, when faced with adversity.
Experiences that strengthen our character are valuable just for that reason. They provide us the positive reinforcement needed to persevere through tough times.
Photo Credit: SETShots via Flickr
Founder & Executive Director
Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.