No. 418


If you are a person who views, attends or follows sporting events, then you no doubt have heard the term ãTaking it to the next levelä hundreds or perhaps thousands of times over the past several years. This term used to mean going from Jr. High to High School, on to college and, for one in a million, to the professional ranks. But no more. Now, ãTaking it to the next levelä means that the individual or team has become so skilled that they dominate their opponents on a consistent basis. When you ãTake it to the next levelä 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, ãHe is going to take them to the next level.ä 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 didnât say this to belittle the father, but rather to point out that ãTaking it the next levelä 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 donât 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 Îthrow the baby out with the bathwaterâ 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 organizations ãChampions of Characterä 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 a NAIA member institution is 1878 students. 81% of schools are private institutions and 66% 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 ãlip serviceä to developing character in the lives of their student athletes. They are dead serious and I am even going to suggest that the Divisions I & II of the NCAA could take a page out of their book when it comes to their ãChampions of Character.ä For future reference in your thinking, here are some things you should know about this program.

The ãChampions of Characterä 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 NAIAâs 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 ãChampions of Characterä 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, ãWe are proud to be able to offer an alternative direction in the world of sport. 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 sport.ä Thanks Rob, this is what I call ãtaking character to the next level.ä (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)