Article Details


Building Character in Your Skaters

Carol Rossignol, 8/19/2010


September/October 2007

Building Character in Your Skaters


In CHARACTER COUNTS! Michael Josephson wrote:  “As children go back to school, think about what they will return to. Sadly, cheating, plagiarism, bullying and countless other forms of bad behavior are rampant in public and private schools.

   Recent ethical lapses in every segment of society prove Teddy Roosevelt’s observation: ‘To educate a person in the mind but not the morals is to educate a menace to society.’ The business leaders, politicians and athletes who are widening the hole in the moral ozone don’t lack IQ points; they lack a moral compass.

   Believing their “plate is already too full,” many schools give little more than lip service to building character. Some even think schools should stay away from teaching values.”



s a professional skating coach, it is important not only to impart technical skating skills in your athletes, but to teach them values so they understand and know right from wrong, good versus evil.  (No wonder the Harry Potter books are so popular with children and young adults alike!)  If schools are not doing this and parents don’t have time, then the task becomes up to the coach. 

    It is our responsibility as coaches to teach character to our students.  After every failed test I had in my skating career my coach would say, “That’s what builds character.  Learn from your mistakes.” 

    Building character is more complicated than teaching a double Axel or a back inside three-turn. It involves the heart as well as the head. The goal is to make good thoughts and conduct a matter of habit. I want my skaters to know what’s right, to want what’s good, and to do what’s good.

    Most successful and respected coaches spend time trying to instill virtues like honesty, respectfulness, responsibility, fairness, and kindness in their athletes.  These virtues are especially important now as athletes are continuously tempted to use performance enhancing drugs.  Because so many skating coaches instill these virtues, figure skating has been one of the most “clean” sports.  Revisit lessons from your coaches and think back to some of the positive lessons you learned.  Let these lessons inspire you in order to provide a positive and character-building experience for your skaters.

    Effective character-building is captured in the acronym T.E.A.M. - Teach, Enforce, Advocate and Model.

    We teach character by promoting the values and developing the ethical virtues that make up a good moral person: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and good citizenship. We have to be sure our students understand what each of these traits looks like.

    We entrench these values by enforcing them, and by being sure we back up our rhetoric with appropriate consequences. Remember, what you allow, you encourage.

Advocating values means we passionately and relentlessly state our commitment to good character so our students have no doubt what we want and expect from them both on the ice and off.

    Finally, and most crucial, we have to teach positive values by example. We have to model the virtues we want to see in our skaters. We teach values by the way we deal with pressures, frustrations and fatigue, and every other everyday action, especially in what we say and do when we think no one is looking.

If you deal with others (parents, coaches, officials, management, skaters, etc.) ethically, then more than likely you will have ethical students that will be able to develop into good coaches and good citizens. 

    “Becoming a person of character is a lifelong quest to be better” says Michael Josephson.  The following is a person of character:


A person of character values honesty and integrity and pays whatever price is needed to be worthy of trust, earn the pride of family and friends and have self-respect.


A person of character plays fair even when others don’t and values no achievement unless it was attained with honor.


A person of character has strong convictions, yet avoids self-righteousness.


A person of character believes in the inherent dignity of all people and treats everyone with respect, even those whose ideas and ideologies evoke strong disagreement.


A person of character deals with criticism constructively and is self-confident enough to take good advice, to admit and learn from mistakes, to feel and express genuine remorse, and to apologize graciously.


A person of character knows what’s important, sacrifices now for later, is in control of attitudes and actions, overcomes negative impulses, and makes the best of every situation.


A person of character willingly faces fears and tackles unpleasant tasks.


A person of character is consistently and self-consciously kind and empathetic, giving generously without concern for reward.


A person of character feels and expresses gratitude freely and frequently.


A person of character is not defeated by failure or dissuaded by disappointment.


A person of character seeks true happiness in living a life of purpose and meaning, placing a higher value on significance than success.


Quote:  “Integrity, respect, compassion, and fairness become obstacles to people who think winning is everything.”                   

-- Michael Josephson



Michael is a former law professor and business man who founded the Josephson Institute of Ethics based in southern California.  The work of the Institute is to emphasize the importance of character and to educate people about ways to live more ethically.