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Coach's Corner - Self-Aware

By Scott Rosberg

Coach Scott Rosberg, Coach's Corner

Over the last 10-15 years, I have heard the term “self-aware” a lot more than I ever used to. I won’t get into a whole sociological debate on why we suddenly are dealing with the idea of being self-aware. However, I do want to look at how the word has come to be part of our athletic landscape and what it means for our sports.

The Oxford Dictionary defines self-aware as “having conscious knowledge of one's own character and feelings.” That is fitting with the way I have heard it used.

Most often the people who I have been hearing use the word self-aware were using it to illustrate a comparison between two or more athletes. The point being made was that some players lack self-awareness, which ultimately affects their team’s performance, while the self-aware players are able to positively impact their own and their team’s performance. But let’s look a little more closely at the concept and why it has become important in the sports world.

If athletes have a “conscious knowledge of (their) own character and feelings,” they know who they are. They are comfortable with themselves, their skills, and what they bring to the team. They know what they are capable of, and they know how best to use their capabilities. They also know the right way to behave for the various settings in which they find themselves.

In the athletic arena, self-aware players know their strengths and weaknesses within their sport. They know what they are capable of doing, and they then do those things. They may try to stretch themselves and their limits (as any good athlete is always trying to do), but generally speaking, when it comes to performing in competitions, they seek to maximize their strengths while limiting the impact their weaknesses may have on their performance.

They also understand how their own abilities impact others on their team and how others impact them. They work within the construct of the team to be the most successful they can be in helping the team be the most successful it can be. They also handle the behavioral aspects of being part of a team the best way they know how. While everyone is not a great teammate in the exact same way, self-aware athletes work to be great teammates in the ways that they know best.

Two Types of Athletes Lacking Self-Awareness

The kinds of athletes who lack self-awareness will generally fall into one of two categories. One category would be a person who is oblivious to his or her character, feelings, and capabilities as they impact their teams. The other category would be the person who is self-centered or self-absorbed to the point where their whole focus is on what they themselves get out of the experience, rather than what they can bring to the team.


For the oblivious athlete, the second part of the word self-aware is the problem. It seems that they are not aware of what they do or how they come off to other people while endeavoring to do what they do. They move through their team experience with a focus of mainly just playing and competing as members on the team trying to execute their skills. They give little thought to their impact on others or on the overall team experience. They invest little into the finer points of the game or the team.

They may even be unaware of their own faults and limitations. Hence, they might not work on their deficiencies, because they may not even realize they have them. In their minds, as long as they are trying to perform their best and trying to execute their skills, that is all they need to bring to the team experience. They are oblivious how all of the other aspects that they may or may not bring to the team; character, effort, teachable spirit, mental toughness, team-first attitude, etc. affects the team and various members of the team.

They are not necessarily bad teammates or bad people. They are just oblivious to the bigger picture items that being a member of a team entails. So they lack self-awareness which negatively impacts their overall performance and their ability to impact the team’s performance in the best way possible.


The other way that players can be the opposite of self-aware athletes is to be self-centered or self-absorbed. These players may actually have self-awareness. They may actually know very well what their skills are and how well they are capable of performing those skills. In fact, more likely than not, they are very well attuned to their capabilities.

However, their understanding of their own capabilities fuels their own individual desires instead of fueling their ability to help their teams in the best way possible. They see their own goals as primary, and their team’s goals as secondary. Because they are absorbed more in what they receive from the experience or what other people should see them do or provide for them in their team experience, they are unaware of the negative impact they have on their team. Their focus is on themselves first, and they rarely move that focus off themselves for very long. Therefore, they lack a self-awareness as to the impact that they are having on their teams.

These players are often highly skilled. They have reached a level of individual success, so they are in the spotlight. But as their skill level develops and the attention they garner increases, they focus more and more on what they do and what they bring to the experience themselves, not on what they can bring to the entire experience for everyone. Their skill level brings them success, so they continue to focus on their own skills and what their own skills can do for them instead of for the team.

This does not mean that they don’t want to win, or that they don’t want to have a great team experience. It just means that for them, winning and a great team experience are all about what they do in that experience, not what the entire team does. These players often try to do more than they are capable of. They may be the players who try to “take over” games, often to the detriment of the team.

They are skilled players, so they are confident in their abilities. However, too often, they are overconfident in their own abilities, and they don’t trust the abilities of their teammates. So, they get out of their lane and try to do things that really don’t fit either their own skill sets or the needs of the team in any given moment.

Communicate & Work with Them

It is imperative that coaches and team leaders work with both the oblivious and self-centered types of players to help them see how they are affecting their teams. Coaches must consistently stress the importance of putting the team first in their decisions. Coaches should not quell these players’ own individual desires, but they should teach them the importance of putting the team’s goals ahead of their own goals. Then they need to show them HOW to do that with their actions.

By establishing team standards, values, and goals, coaches can start all players down a team-first path. Then by discussing those standards, values, and goals regularly, the coach will keep the team culture in front of the players much more. In practice, coaches can stress the selfless aspects of play during drills or scrimmages. When players exhibit those aspects, specific verbal praise of the actions that showed that selflessness will help illustrate how it is performed. Whenever one of these oblivious or self-centered players demonstrates a self-aware or selfless act, coaches must praise the heck out of it, so the players know what actions are in line with the goals for this team experience.

Conversely, when players demonstrate behavior or actions that run contrary to the self-aware and selfless team culture, coaches must address them on it and hold them accountable for it. This might be merely pointing out how that specific action or behavior is not in line with the team's goals or is not what is best for the team. If the player continues to perform that way, coaches may have to institute some form of reprimand or sanctions for the contrary behaviors.

However, if coaches start the season (or the pre-season) by creating the culture and the team buy-in to the culture that says “WE is more important than ME,” and then they work throughout the season to live that way, there is a much greater chance that the players who lack self-awareness will come around and get on board with the team concept.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will happen. However, it is guaranteed that if nothing is done to try to create a culture of selflessness and self-awareness, the types of players who lack self-awareness will be allowed to flourish. If that happens, you drastically reduce the chance of creating the team culture that you are seeking to create. Be intentional and teach your players the value of being self-aware contributors to your team.

** In the next column, I will shift this concept of athletes being Self-Aware to a concept that is just as, if not more, important to a team sport experience and culture. I will talk about an idea that, in my opinion, takes the concept of self-aware and builds upon it. I will talk about what I call being Other-Aware.

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