Character Matters: LaChina Robinson on instilling it in young athletes
By Greg Bach
Youth sports can be a powerful stage for teaching young athletes character.
Or, in the case of LaChina Robinson, revealing it.
Robinson was a four-year starter on the Wake Forest women’s basketball team and is currently a television basketball analyst, where she has provided insights on ESPN, Fox Sports and NBA-TV.
But it was at the age of 14, while competing in an AAU basketball tournament with a coveted trip to the nationals at stake, that her extraordinary character was on full display.
And serves as an incredibly powerful reminder of what coaches and parents should be striving to instill in their young athletes.
A BIG GAME…A BIGGER CHARACTER-DEFINING MOMENT
So here’s the story: Robinson’s team was clinging to a one-point lead in the closing seconds, with that berth in the nationals awaiting the winner.
“It came down to the last possession and me and another young lady were going for the rebound under my opponent’s basket,” Robinson explains. “Really all I had to do was secure the rebound but I accidentally tipped the ball into their basket and they won. We ended up not going to nationals and obviously I was devastated.”
Following the game, a couple of teams that had advanced approached her and asked if she would like to join their team to play in the nationals. After all, adding a talented 6-foot-4 player would be a big boost to any team hoping to win at the national level.
And it would have given Robinson a chance to showcase her talent in front of countless college coaches.
“It was really in that moment that I realized how important it was to be accountable,” she says. “So I turned them down. I wanted to be accountable for the role that I played in my team not making it and also to show loyalty to my team. Going to nationals was a big deal because you got to play in front of more Division I coaches and me and my teammates were denied that because of something that I felt that I could have controlled. So that’s a moment that I will never forget.”
What an incredibly powerful and impressive stance taken by a teenager who wanted to be playing at nationals as much as anyone.
How many kids these days have that kind of character?
And perhaps the bigger question is, as coaches and parents of young athletes, and as administrators of youth sports programs, what are we doing to instill it in our young athletes?
CHARACTER MATTERS – TEACHING IT TO PLAYERS
Character mattered to Robinson in her youth, and it’s deeply important to the popular television analyst today, as well.
“It’s something I’m really passionate about because I feel like we push these athletes so much on the court and in the classroom, but that character component is what is often left out,” Robinson says. “And I think it’s really about being intentional as a coach and making time, whether it’s bringing in a speaker or talking about character and values – because those are the things that will hold true now and even when your sport is over. Your values and what you stand for are who you are.”
So an entire youth sports practice doesn’t have to focus on the skills of the sport. Coaches can take advantage of their time together to talk to players about things that will define them as people throughout their life, too.
“I think coaches can spend more time focusing on values,” Robinson says. “How to make good decisions, what does your character look like and what do you want to stand for beyond what you are doing on the court? So I think it’s really just about being intentional and using some of that time you have with these athletes to talk about character and the importance of good character, because that’s something that I think we’ve maybe lost sight of.”
INSPIRING YOUNG GIRLS
Volunteer coaches wield a lot of influence, so exercising patience and doling out encouragement every chance you get can be real difference makers in a youngster’s life.
“I think it’s that same thing that helped me – don’t give up on them,” Robinson says. “We need to push these women to stay engaged in sports while encouraging them to embrace their unique qualities.”
And one quality that we can all strive to instill or strengthen in young athletes is character.
LaChina Robinson has it.
And let’s make sure we’re teaching it to young athletes who we’re raising or coaching, too.
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance