Developing Character at Home and on the Court

This article is an excerpt taken from the mini-series Education in Virtue and is part of the education materials published by Lumen Ecclesiae Press and used by over 500 schools around the world.

Coach Sandy Brondello – Head Coach Phoenix Mercury

My name is Sandy Brondello and I am a mother of two beautiful children: my son Brody is 9 and my daughter Jada is 6, and they both attend St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix. I am a wife to my husband Olaf Lange, and I am also the coach of the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA.

I grew up in Australia, and I was the youngest of 4 children. My mother worked extremely hard. I did not quite realize the teaching points that my mother handed down while I was growing up, but as I got older, I became aware of what I learned from her. How do I know good from bad? How do I know compassion? How do I know honesty? How do I know to always tell the truth?

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That comes from experiences I had as a child.

Children, starting at a young age, learn from their experiences. A lot of their time is spent in school, so if parents and teachers can build on that together, we can help our children be successful, happy and virtuous. Virtue means moral excellence, goodness, and righteousness. It means having good character. That is the ultimate goal. But it is constant work.

When I look to put the team together with my general manager, we’re looking at talent, but we are also looking to find the right fit. In the end, we look for people with high character. We do not want to bring in players that may have off-court activities that do not match the personality and character of the team. We think that is important since basketball is a team sport. You require chemistry, and need players to be on the same page, to hold themselves accountable, and to come ready to work every single day without requiring the coach to demand that effort.

Now, that doesn’t mean we will not bring in someone we think is lacking character, because everyone can change. If we can surround an individual with great team culture, everyone can change; it is not about who they are, it is about circumstance and environment. God’s intention sees good in everybody, and I like to see everyone in that way too. I always believe that the lesson of the experience is positive even though it may seem negative at the time. Without negative experiences or learning curves, we would never grow to be the person God intends us to be.

There are times I think God put adversity in my life to help me be the person that he intends me to be. But you don’t know that at the time. I always say things happen for a reason because God has put it in my life so that I can learn from it and use it to help me in the future.

I was a four-time Olympian, and as much as I have achieved in sports is matched by the amount I have learned from and been shaped into the person I am today by sports. It is not always easy, and even though I was at the top of my sport, it wasn’t always easy.

For example, during my very last Olympics, I had some injuries I had to deal with. I wasn’t playing as much as I had in the other Olympics, and I had the realization that I was going to retire. I thought, “God is preparing me for what comes next,” and that was to coach.

I have had moments when I realized I was the star of my team, getting all the attention. I have had times when I played a role the team needed. I have also been a player that has not played much at all. This lets me relate to every player. I think that has helped me become a better coach, and I see it as a great learning experience. While being injured, I would think, “Maybe this is God’s way of strengthening some other part of me that needed it, and the only way He could get my attention was to take me away from what I loved.” I am grateful for that because it helped me become the best person that I can be.

That does not mean I am perfect; it means I face adversity but am willing to grow from that adversity. Through all of this, I have firmly realized that adversity defines character. It is not always going to be easy, and that is what I always try and teach my children and my teams. It is not going to be how you want it to be all the time, but if you can practice the virtue of perseverance, that will define your character. As a result, you will be happier being true to who you want to be and who God wants you to be.

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