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Character matters, Part 3

In this third look at character, let’s turn to a less serious topic in which it is essential and tested. Yet another forum for teaching character is an activity that is usually thought to be a solo sport--golf. Although a round of golf can be played alone, its rules and ethic hinge on both to be honest with one-self and others. It’s not considered to be a team sport, but one of its most watched professional matches is the Rider Cup in which a US team competes against those outside this country.

The ethic and etiquette of golf, in addition to being built on self-policing, fosters consideration of others within ones group and consideration for those playing ahead and who will play after you. Often you play with two or three others or in foursome, and sometimes in a league with many other teams. In a real sense when in a foursome, you are in a small group that has norms—norms such as how you decide who will lead off, perhaps by to whom a flipped tee points. The don’t talk norm is important when any player is addressing the ball. Order of play is another established rule when on the course and green, as are replacing divots and ball marks and not stepping on another’s line. Most of all, you want to play with those who can be trusted. I heard an interview in which Jack Welch, former long-time CEO of General Electric, told golf commentator David Faherty that he fired a manager with whom he was playing golf because he saw him cheat. Welch said he thought if he would cheat in golf, he couldn’t trust what he would do in business. So in a very real sense, golf is about character. Golf, like team work, tests attitude and character.

Golf is the one professional sport whose tournaments each raise millions for charities. And perhaps more importantly, it’s a sport that teaches character with its First Tee program.
The First Tee was begun by the World Golf Foundation in 1997 as a youth development effort and has grown to 700 programs that have introduced golf to more than five million youngsters. It works with 4,300 elementary schools. We have a campaign to reach 10 million kids by 2017. The First Tee teaches life skills and character education—Nine Core Values and Nine Healthy Habits.
1. Honesty - the quality or state of being truthful; not deceptive
Golf is unique from other sports in that players regularly call penalties on themselves and report their own score.

2. Integrity - strict adherence to a standard of value or conduct; personal honesty and independence. Golf is a game of etiquette and composure. Players are responsible for their actions and personal conduct on the golf course even at times when others may not be looking.

3. Sportsmanship – observing the rules of play and winning or losing with grace. Players must know and abide by the rules of golf and be able to conduct themselves in a kind and respectful manner toward others even in a competitive game.

4. Respect - to feel or show deferential regard for; esteem. In golf it is important to show respect for oneself, playing partners, fellow competitors, the golf course, and for the honor and traditions of the game.

5. Confidence – reliance or trust. A feeling of self-assurance
Confidence plays a key role in the level of play that one achieves. Players can increase confidence in their abilities by being positive and focusing on something they are doing well regardless of the outcome.

6. Responsibility - accounting for one’s actions; dependable.
Players are responsible for their actions on the golf course. It is up to them to keep score, repair divots, rake bunkers, repair ball marks on the green, and keep up with the pace of play.

7. Perseverance - to persist in an idea, purpose or task despite obstacles. To succeed in golf, players must continue through bad breaks and their own mistakes, while learning from past experiences.

8. Courtesy - considerate behavior toward others; a polite remark or gesture. A round of golf should begin and end with a handshake between fellow competitors. Players also should be still and quiet while others are preparing and performing a shot. Judgment –

9. Judgment - the ability to make a decision or form an opinion; a decision reached after consideration. Using good judgment is very important in golf. It comes into play when deciding on strategy, club selection, when to play safe and when to take a chance, the type of shot players consider executing, as well as making healthy choices on and off the golf course.

In addition to these Nine Core Values, young players are taught The Nine Healthy Habits: Energy, Play, Safety, Vision, Mind, Family, Friends, School, and Community. <>

The First Tee has been researched over several years. University of Minnesota’s Maureen R. Weiss, Ph.D. led a study titled the “2005-2008 Longitudinal Effects of The First Tee Life Skills Programs on Positive Youth Development.” For this four-year study, three fourths of the youth studied stuck with the program. That’s significant because the average dropout rate is 50% for other youth organizations. More than three out of four youth, in personal interviews, provided specific examples and stories of how The First Tee nine values applied to life skills-- 57% of youth surveyed across three years credited The First Tee for improving their meeting and greetings skills, and 52% credited the program for their ability to appreciate diversity. More than half gained confidence in their golfing skills, and more importantly, this independent study found that “In all four years, school was unanimously identified as a setting in which participants transferred golf skills to life skills. Job/college, friends and out-of-school activities also showed an increase in life skills transfer.” After three consecutive years of participation in The First Tee, 73% reported high confidence in their ability to do well academically and 82% felt confident in their social skills with peers. (The “2005-2008 Longitudinal Effects of The First Tee Life Skills Programs on Positive Youth Development” study was led by University of Minnesota’s Maureen R. Weiss, Ph.D. )

Is character more systematically prescribed by any other institution than is golf?

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