Watching Our Boy Become a Man

May 5, 2014 by Mitch Wheeler

So, I get an invitation to connect with a Seth Wheeler on LinkedIn the other day, and I’m thinking, “Seth Wheeler? How do I know that name?”

It takes a few seconds for me to realize it’s my son who is asking me to connect. Now I’m thinking, “Who is this child of mine?” Seth was the last person the family thought would ever have a LinkedIn profile.

But after years of watching Seth play sports and with him nearing college graduation, my wife and I have to remind ourselves the boy has become a man. And I believe because he was a student-athlete, Seth is miles ahead of his peers who didn’t have the same experience.

Coaches make a lot of promises when they recruit players, but I think they miss an opportunity to recruit parents if they fail to talk about the advantages a student-athlete has over Average Joe Student in preparing a college kid for life as an adult in the real world.

“Give me your son,” a coach might say, “and I will give you back a man who will be ready to interview for a job immediately after college.” It’s safe to say I speak for every parent when I say that statement is music to our collective ears.

Student-athletes have a tremendous advantage over their peers on campus in several key areas, but here are two I’d like to focus on:

Discipline: The discipline factor is built into your freshman year as an athlete. Getting up early to lift weights or being on time to practices and study halls gives the athlete structure early in their college careers. Those who don’t have it won’t succeed in their sport and most likely won’t remain on campus. Self-control is a hard lesson to learn when experiencing the first taste of freedom from mom and dad. Athletes have virtually no choice but to be disciplined and responsible from day one.

Competition: Athletes are competitors. Winning and losing against opponents teaches valuable lessons, but the competition with your own teammates could be more important in the long run. Athletes compete internally for playing time, for roster spots, for opportunities. How you handle that situation says a lot about who you are as a person. Do you help someone at the expense of maybe hurting your chances of winning playing time? Do you congratulate a teammate even though you may not like him as a person? Who of us hasn’t had to work with people we don’t like? Working together for the greater good of a team or a project trumps our personal agendas.

I coached Seth in baseball through his most formative years. He’s never been the best athlete. He’s had to work and scrap for everything he’s achieved. After playing baseball for two years at a junior college, Seth earned the chance to be a catcher for the University of Central Missouri – a successful NCAA Division II program. He was voted a team captain, has been recognized as the most valuable teammate and was a three-time academic all-conference performer. He will graduate this month and has set himself up to enter the work world.

For years, I wondered if he heard anything I said to him while I was his coach. Turns out, he did. I always saw Seth as a coach. Reading his LinkedIn profile, I discovered his motivation wasn’t just about teaching the Xs and Os anymore. His focus has shifted to helping boys become men – great husbands, great dads, great businessmen and contributors to their communities and universities.

It almost brought tears to my eyes.

He gets it.