When I was growing up, I wasn’t just a fan of the Cubs and the Indiana sports teams. I was also a big fan of the local high school basketball teams. At first, I was a die hard Athenian fan, going to watch my cousin Darren Haas, Matt McCarty, and other local legends. I would pretend to be those guys as I played on the basketball goals in my basement. I knew all the players, the stats, and the upcoming schedule.
After Darren graduated, my allegiance shifted to Southmont, as we lived in the South district. I was there for the first sectional title in ’94. I once again knew all of the players and stats, and I started dreaming about putting on that uniform myself one day.
One night, my friends and I were at the bowling alley in town, and we saw a few Southmont basketball players. To us, they were like celebrities. I remember shouting “Travis Bowen and AJ Melvin! You guys are awesome!” And I kid you not: Years later, when I was a player myself, a similar thing happened to me. A few kids saw myself and my teammate Nate McGaughey out in public and they got super excited and asked us about the season. “Mom! That’s Tyler Smith and Nate McGaughey from Southmont basketball!” Memories came flooding back, and I couldn’t help but smile.
I’m not saying every kid is as obsessed with basketball as I was. What I’m saying is this: If you are a high school athlete, you are a role model. People are watching you. Kids are watching you. You may not think so. And you may not even see examples of it. But they are. So the question is: What story are you telling?
Kids love to imitate what they see and who they watch. What example are you setting with your attitude, your character, and your ability to be a teammate? It’s not just on the court or the field either. What are you posting online? How do you act in public? How do you treat others?
The “normal” thing to do for sports fans is to yell at officials, degrade the opponents, question the coaches, and praise or criticize your own team based on the results. I think the main reason for this is because this is what kids have grown up seeing at sporting events. But that doesn’t have to be your response or example. What if they start seeing more high school athletes that are still competing their tails off, but they’re also respectful and display good character? That example will mean more and will make more of a difference than winning a big game ever will.
The late John Wooden once said: “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating. Youngsters need good models more than they need critics.”
My intention is not to give high school athletes more pressure than they already have. My intent is to simply encourage you to be mindful about your platform. Practice, play, and act like young eyes are fixed on you. It’s not a burden. It’s a gift.
Tyler Smith covers the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Hoosiers for IndySportsLegends and is a frequent contributor to the Journal Review and is the sports director at New Hope Christian Church.
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