Leadership in Athletics: Transcendence of Character in Sports

Coach Urban Meyer describes it as ‘Solving the Mystery’; that sense of enlightenment and mastery when an athlete achieves true appreciation for their teammates. It is that critical point when athletes shed that self-centered, egotistical nature and start competing for their teammates as well as living for the greater good. Solving the mystery is a breakthrough moment for athletes and teams.

Solving the mystery requires transcendence. An athlete has to exceed usual boundaries and extend beyond the limits of the ordinary experience to build true loyalty and allegiance to their teammates. An athlete has to be able to break through all of the noise and narratives to realize that they have to give in order to receive. This level of loyalty is not common and is only found in elite leaders.

The beautiful thing about transcendence is that it just isn’t for the athlete – but more importantly for the coach, the business owner, the highly motivated employee and whoever else aspires to be an elite leader of character who impacts others around them.

We’ll use athletes as a means of illustrating our points. You can still apply it to your own life; we’ll share an example from ours. As Anthony recalls:

My 12-year-old son is a good baseball player with some potential. Over the past year, I have found that we have a difference in opinion of my #1 non-negotiable – EFFORT. I realized his perceived effort is 90-100 percent of his capability, and I felt that it was more like 60 to 70 percent. That’s a large difference and could lead to some heated conversations. However, this is my son and I would and will coach him just like I would coach any of my former athletes, so I must be intentional and find a way for him to transcend this 2019 notion of participation, good is good enough, “everyone wins” complacent mindset that I have seen along my journey now that I am away from high-level athletics.

Athletes can solve the mystery through transcendence by focusing on these four things:

Appreciation – An athlete has to truly appreciate their teammates. They have to learn how to admire the value of their teammates and the strength of the team.

Drive – An athlete has to have the passion, vigor, and perseverance to be able to break through the ordinary and get to the extraordinary. They have to have the self-discipline to be able to make choices for the team instead of themselves.

Courage – An athlete has to have the personal courage and confidence to be able to put their teammates before themselves. They have to have the courage to face adversity and not be pulled back into the average and ordinary.

Optimism – Athletes have to be able to see the positive despite challenges. They have to instill hope into the team. Shared optimism is a strong bond among inspired teammates.

You work for your teammate.  You train for your teammate. You strive to be the best version of yourself for your teammate. That is what team sports, and life in many ways, are all about.

Give up your time to work with them, inspire them in a way that works for them, NOT YOU! Remain optimistic and creative in the process to keep them engaged and moving one step closer to their maximum potential.

Anthony offered a final personal example:

I lacked transcendence coming out of Ohio State and into the NFL. My perception was that I am a tough, physical middle linebacker. However, in the NFL it is not about what YOU think — but the perspective of the coaches and GMs. Sure, being a two-down linebacker is fine, but what about special teams? I lacked transcendence in being able to understand that if I lost 15lbs and worked on the skills necessary to be an elite special teams contributor, I would have had a greater opportunity to showcase my linebackers skills.

Learn transcendence and you’ll be able to better showcase your own talents — and be a better teammate, no matter what kind of goal you’re going after. Teams perform better when team members have the humility to put others and the greater good before themselves.




Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.