This phrase used to mean going from junior high to high school, on to college and, for one in a million, to the professional ranks. But no more. Now, “taking it to the next level” means that the individual or team has become so skilled that they dominate their opponents on a consistent basis. When you “take it to the next level,” you just flat out dominate the other teams or players in your own school or conference.
This reminds me of something humorous that happened a few years ago. A very good high school basketball player had received a scholarship to a small college and not too long after this his father said, “He is going to take them to the next level.” When I shared this comment with a friend, we both smiled and then agreed that his first chore was to make the team.
Now, I didn’t say this to belittle the father, but rather to point out that “taking it to the next level” has become a working part of the sporting vocabulary. It is also partly responsible for some of the scandals on the part of coaches and players that are happening far too often in America today.
If you are a sports fan I don’t have to waste your time telling you what is going on. The scandals involving players and coaches, even murder that is taking place at some of our major universities, is just plain sickening. Since I have never been one to “throw the baby out with the bathwater” there is some good news to report as well.
In response to a column that I had written some time back, I got a letter from Rob Miller, director of development for the NAIA based in Olathe, Kansas, just outside the Kansas City area. Rob also included a whole packet of information detailing the organization’s “Champions of Character” initiative.
In case you are not familiar with the NAIA, this stands for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. This organization, founded in 1937, is a not-for-profit association of more than 300 four-year colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada. The NAIA is an intercollegiate governing body which administers 23 championships encompassing 13 different sports. The purpose of the NAIA is to promote the education and development of students through intercollegiate athletic participation. The average enrollment of an NAIA member institution is 1,878 students. Some 81 percent of its schools are private institutions and 66 percent are denominationally affiliated.
As I read over the information in the packet that Rob Miller sent to me, I realized that these people were not just paying “lip service” to developing character in the lives of their student athletes. They are dead serious and I am even going to suggest that Divisions I & II of the NCAA could take a page out of their book when it comes to their “Champions of Character.” For future reference in your thinking, here are some things you should know about this program.
The “Champions of Character” initiative is based on five core values: respect, integrity, responsibility, servant leadership and sportsmanship. Through its tradition of using sports informally as a vehicle of character development, the NAIA supports awareness, education and community involvement to promote character and integrity at every level of competition. Student athletes, coaches, administrators and spectators are challenged to take responsibility for their behavior both on and off the court. The emphasis for member schools is on hiring and training coaches who can model and teach character, as well as physical skills.
Already underway on many of the NAIA’s 300-plus campuses, the community outreach portion of the program will be further developed in high school and youth organizations around the country. The epicenter of the program will be the new Character in Sports Center in their new headquarters in Olathe. The goal of this program is to have it become a national model in youth sports character development. In view of the current social conditions in many parts of our nation, something like this “Champions of Character” initiative is long overdue.
To be sure, I am really encouraged by what the NAIA is in the process of doing. To quote something from their literature, “We are proud to be able to offer an alternative direction in the world of sports. We encourage everyone involved with athletics at any level to stand with the NAIA and the ‘Champions of Character’ initiative and join us for the change in the culture of sports.”
Thanks Rob. This is what I call “taking character to the next level.”
(Editor’s Note: Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. He may be contacted at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway AR 72034.)