Got Character?

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.6, August 2004,

Along with upcoming game plans and defensive assignments for the next contest, every team meeting of the Pleasant Valley (Calif.) High School boys’ basketball team includes a rundown of recent acts of character.

"Anything that’s come up, I try to reinforce with them in a positive way," says Head Coach Randy Gilzean. "‘Somebody helped somebody else up off the floor. Somebody went to a teammate and said, ‘You missed a shot but you’ll get it next time.’ Things like that."

This positive reinforcement is a key component of the sportsmanship and character-development drive throughout the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) initiative known as Pursuing Victory With Honor. PVWH grew out of the 1999 Arizona Sports Summit, where 50 leading figures from college and Olympic sports and the media convened to draft a plan for building character through sports. Later that year, the CIF adopted the 16 principles of Pursuing Victory With Honor, and member leagues and schools have been implementing them ever since.

It’s worked, says Gilzean. Also serving as the Chico school’s athletic director, he’s on the committee that picks the sportsmanship award winners at the state basketball championships and he credits PVWH with a turnaround in behavior among players. "Four years ago, I’d have trouble at a contest picking a good sport," Gilzean says. "Now, it’s hard to choose just one. I think the program has had a tremendous effect on attitude and behavior of all athletes in our state."

The key, Gilzean says, is not assuming student-athletes know what is acceptable and what is not. "Too many times we say we want them to exhibit good citizenship and good sportsmanship, but we don’t tell them exactly what that is," he explains. "The principles have laid down what the expectations are ahead of time instead of dealing with it after the fact.

"It’s a matter of reinforcing the positive and making it important enough to discuss it," he continues. "As times have changed and we see more trash talking and poor sportsmanship by some of our pro athletes, we have to spend time saying that that’s not acceptable. Young guys are very impressionable, and unless we correct them and say, ‘No, that’s not what’s supposed to happen,’ they don’t know differently. It has to be addressed and discussed openly with them."

The PVWH principles go home with student-athletes in parents’ packets and are discussed by coaches at parents’ meetings at the start of each season, Gilzean says. Many league schools also post them on printed banners or paint them on gym walls. Like many schools, Pleasant Valley also reads sportsmanship-reinforcement messages on the public-address system before home contests.

But the key is taking the time to talk about them every day. Gilzean structures his daily talks by having a "word of the day." He maintains a list, and he brings one word out while the players warm up.

"One of the words I use is ‘hurdles,’" Gilzean says. "I’ll say, ‘There are always going to be hurdles in your life. The difference is that in a race, the hurdles are all spread nicely and you can get a real rhythm. In life, the hurdles jump up and get you at different times, and you have to learn to deal with them.’"

Many "words of the day" deal with sportsmanship, but others involve the very conduct of the game. "I spend a lot of time talking about physical play versus cheap play," he says. "There’s a big difference there. And there are other things like that in basketball—such as drawing the other team in the lane on a free throw, which I don’t agree with.

"The word I use a lot is ‘character,’" Gilzean continues. "One definition of that is how you act when no one’s watching. I tell them winning is important, and if it weren’t, we wouldn’t have a scoreboard. But a tainted win has no value. You’ve got to know that you won outright."

The Pursuing Victory With Honor principles can be seen at