Catapults Growth of Young, Collegiate and Pro Athletes
by Revolutionizing Role of Parents and Coaches
Former NFL tight end Damian Vaughn has spent many years contemplating the meaning of success and how it can be used toward a greater purpose. His passion is helping top-tier athletes tap into their greater potential as role models and inspirations rather than just as sports heroes. The drive to play a sport well is important, he believes, but far more important is learning to accessing the well of motivation that lies within each of us and harnessing it for more profound results.
In Damian’s own case, the desire to be the best player he could be had both a down side and an up side. To his enormous credit, he demonstrated superlative effort and stamina as a young athlete working his way to the top. On the other hand, he believes it was this determined bent toward overachieving that ultimately resulted in career-ending injuries. Today, one reason he has devoted his post-sports career to helping athletes recognize their potential is with the hope of helping others avoid the pitfalls into which he stumbled.
As Damian sees it, parents and coaches need to help children strike a balance between working hard to develop athletic abilities while also keeping sight of the other areas of potential in their futures. He recalls an incident that took place when he stayed with friends in Florida last year. While sleeping in the room of his hosts’ teenage son, he spotted a poster on the boy’s wall that posed the question “Why do I play football?” Also on the poster was the boy’s answer: something along the lines of “so that I can get more girls and be popular and people will respect me.” Though Damian admits he felt the same way as a fourteen-year-old high school player, he found it alarming to see the sentiment so nakedly expressed.
Wanting to impress girls or be popular is an extrinsic motivation, he says – as is having a goal to be an All Conference player, go to the championship game, or be a leader in your position among your peers and your league. By contrast, “when you’re intrinsically motivated, your focus becomes much more about presence and awareness, being fully present in everything that you’re doing.”
A parent of a young son and daughter himself, Damian believes many parents make the mistake of micromanaging their young athletes’ games. “When you see parents getting overly aggressive with their kids’ coaches, they’re not allowing their kids to really shine and develop for themselves,” he says.
On the other hand, parents who are able to look for teaching moments in children’s sports can do a great deal of good by modeling resilience. “For example, if a kid is not getting the playing time that he wants, he sometimes tells himself ‘My coach doesn’t like me’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’ As a parent, you can teach your kids to stay true to their passion regardless of what the results appear to be. It’s so critical at every single moment to recognize that you’re either contributing to positive growth or moving in the opposite direction.”
These lessons played out in his own upbringing. As a youth, Damian says he was less athletically gifted than some of his teammates on the high school squad in Orrville, Ohio. But the drive to prove he could play Division 1A football led him to Miami University in Ohio to play as a walk-on rather than accept a football scholarship at a smaller school. “So my dad said, ‘I’ll pay for this one year, and if you don’t get a scholarship then you’re on your own.’”
Through ceaseless effort and tenacity, Damian won that sophomore year football scholarship. “I just worked so hard for it,” he says. “But my motivations became increasingly more extrinsic. I worked and I worked and I worked and I showed up in such great condition and with such strong energy that they gave me the scholarship. But then my motivations became focused on being better than this guy and that guy, and I was always comparing. I got in my own way through my whole college career.” Even though he had the triumph of being the first player from Miami University to be drafted by the NFL in ten years, he says that “it was a huge learning experience for me, to just reconfirm what works and what doesn’t.”
Damian played as a tight end for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, then went on to the Barcelona Dragons in NFL Europe. Although his stats were good, injuries plagued him throughout his career, cutting his pro years short.
But he has always believes that the most important learning opportunities lie within moments of adversity, and injuries were the kind of adversity that he looks to for a greater message. “We can all develop an amazingly powerful relationship with adversity,” he says. “The fascinating thing is to figure out what lesson it brings us.”
In Damian’s case, the lessons he learned from both his triumphs and his adversities would serve as a launching point for his subsequent career as founder of The Vaughn Center in Phoenix, Arizona, which helps athletes focus on their minds and bodies through meditation.
It is in that role that he hopes to effect genuine change in the world of sports. “What you miss when you’re not playing anymore is the feeling of being the hero. But once athletes realize they can leverage that same kind of leadership for a higher purpose, their careers after sports can be truly amazing.” Damian says. “The transition from a sports career should be a stepping stone to ever greater achievement and impact.”
With unremitting focus on how athletes can extend their fame on the field to help make the world a better place, Damian Vaughn embodies the far-reaching goals of the Insightful Player® campaign.
Instant replay of Damian’s guiding principles for parents and coaches:
- Educate your kids about the importance of being a role model and reinforce their learning process. Commit to being a shining example in what you do and in how you approach life.
- Use concrete questions to help kids think introspectively about their greater purpose beyond playing a sport well or winning a game.
- As a parent or a coach, help your young athlete strive for balance in his or her life.
- Help young athletes to cultivate their intrinsic motivation – making success its own reward rather than a means to impress others.
- Demonstrate to young people the importance of being present in what you do; articulate to them the ways in which you focus on the importance of your current goals rather than being too attached to what you’ve already done or too concerned about what you hope to do.
- As a parent or coach, use losing as a learning opportunity rather than a reason for blame.
- Encourage kids to stay true to their passions, regardless of external measures of success.
- Facilitate discussions with kids about how they can leverage their innate gifts: not just talents in sports or other pursuits but gifts such as leadership and empathy.
The Insightful Player® series is brought to you by Coach Chrissy Carew, Hall of Fame Master Certified Personal and Business Coach and Author of INSIGHTFUL PLAYER: Football Pros Lead A Bold Movement of Hope. Chrissy has been deeply inspired by her father, the late Coach Walter Carew, Sr. Her father is in several Halls of Fame as a high school football coach and baseball coach (as well as high school and college athlete). He used sports to help kids build strong character and teach them valuable life skills. The Insightful Player® initiative was created to help make our world a much better place by inspiring youth. To contact Chrissy Carew visit http://www.insightfulplayer.com or call 603-897-0610.
More stories you might like