Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Image: Perception Is Reality

IMAGE - A mental picture or impression of something. A mental conception held in common by members of a group and symbolic of a basic attitude and orientation. A popular conception of a person.

PERCEPTION – A result of being regarded as such and becoming aware of through the senses; especially visual observation. A mental image.

REALITY – The quality or state of being: fixed, permanent, or immovable things; not artificial, fraudulent, or illusory; being precisely what the name implies; occurring or existing in actuality; having objective independent existence.

Have you ever run across a staff or faculty member on your campus that has misjudged the character of one of your players based on the way he dressed? Or because he wore earrings? Or too much jewelry? Or his pants hanging off his butt? Or your player was cursing in public or class? Or he has an unusual hair style? Has any of this happened to you on a road trip?

I think we have all encountered something like this at one time or another. Those of you coaching at high schools with a dress code, some of these issues have been solved (or at least I would think so). There is, especially at the collegiate level, a large disconnect between athletics and the rest of the campus. The images our players portray are a large reason for this.

I recently tweeted about the “fishbowl” our players live in. Because they have the privilege of playing basketball, they are going to be under even more scrutiny from the public. Our players are leading VERY public lives even at the high school levels.

With the passing of Coach Wooden this summer, we’ve heard volumes about how he not only taught the game of basketball, but he also taught valuable lessons about the game of life. To this end, one of the greatest things we can teach our players is this: Perception is reality.

Our players are constantly being observed by those around them. What others become aware of through those observations becomes their reality. You could have the greatest young man in the world playing for you, but if he is wearing earrings with his pants hanging off his butt and cursing in the cafeteria his classmates and teachers are going to perceive him as a thug. That is now the general public’s real view of this young man.

Is this right? Is it fair to judge a book by its cover? Absolutely not, but that is the world in which we live in. It is extremely important to impress upon our players this message. Once they leave school and begin creating a life for themselves, they are going to have a firm understanding of this concept. If they want to win over a prospective employer, they are not going to be able to waltz into a job interview with their pants hanging off their butt. It just doesn’t work that way and they will end up either jobless or working jobs they don't desire.

This can become part your team’s culture. Like Doc River’s says, “You must fight for your culture EVERY day.” If you stand for positive image portrayal, and in my opinion you should be, you need to teach, model and enforce it every day.

The following is a great excerpt speaking to the fact that perception is reality and the life in a fishbowl from the 2000-2001 Oklahoma Sooner’s basketball handbook:

The Sooner Image
Although we are not trying to stereotype our players, we believe there are certain fundamental concepts to which each individual must subscribe.

As a basketball player you will be in the public eye more than athletes in other sports. You will be emulated by youth and your actions both on and off the court will be evaluated either positively or negatively by the general public. Recognizing and accepting this fact, we must make certain rules and regulations that reflect more the “generation gap” than acceptance from your peer group! As a representative of our team, you will be expected to exemplify conduct both on and off the court that does not lend itself to outside criticism during the season and to a lesser extent in the off-season.
Remember you are a student first and an athlete second. A minimum performance in the classroom will reflect on you personally and on your teammates generally. It takes only one so-called star doing poor class work to label a whole team as academically inferior.

We expect our players to have pride in themselves, their teammates, and their school. We will strive at all times to be good citizens and gentlemen.

We would hope to develop a squad morale and esprit de corps with self-respect and respect for one another that enables us to work together for our common goals and objectives.


  1. Is it fair to judge a book by it's cover? Maybe...the only way I have of judging something at first sight is by its cover - and the cover tells me a lot about the book (I mean person). So while there may be more to discover once I look inside the book (person) the cover is still my first indication of what that book (person) will be - so I think it is fair, especially if it will be the only impression I have. Good post - it's all about culture (p.s.- how are things in Dallas?)

  2. Don - Great thoughts! Looks can be deceiving, but a first impression is a lasting one. I probably should have stated the question, "Should it be fair to judge by appearance?" I like how you put it in terms of what the cover looks like will either attract or detract others. In terms of culture, this is just a mere piece of the puzzle. I really like how Doc Rivers talks about fighting for his culture and what the team stands for.

    And, things here in Dallas are great! I am enjoying the UD athletic department. As with most schools I've been at, the disconnect is prevalent, but it is my goal to bridge the gap. I miss having the close relationship with faculty and staff so I hope to rectify that by the end of the school year. That's got to be part of MY culture!