The Character Development Inventory: A Tool for Discovery and Growth

        Over the past couple of months or so, I have had the great opportunity to design and implement an off-season mental conditioning program with the high school baseball team I am a part of.  As I mentioned in the last post on "Focus," I have been very hesitant to write specifically about what we are doing.  There are multiple reasons for my hesitation.  Mainly, I am not big on self-promotion.  I do not care at all if other people know what we are doing.  My only interest is that the players in the program invest in what we do.  That being said, one of my goals within the sport psychology profession is to help as many people as possible.  When I say help, I mean it in the true sense of the word.  My hope is to make an impact by helping all those involved in sports to perform to the best of their abilities and to enjoy the sporting experience.  To do so, I think it is of the utmost importance that we move past a surface level understanding of sport psychology (breaths, routines, and false bravado) and into the world of really understanding who we are.  For those reasons, I have decided to write a little bit about one of the tools we used early in the program.

        When our head coach mentioned to me that he would like me to start working with the players in our program on the mental side of the game, I could not have been more jacked up.  This would be a great opportunity to get experience discussing some of the concepts I have had the chance to learn about over the last few years.  That is not to say I haven't done so before, but this would be the most purposeful practice I've had to date.  More importantly, it would be the chance to introduce and revisit concepts with our entire program with hopes of providing value and a chance for them to improve.  What our head coach and I did in our conversation about the off-season program was to identify areas we thought the players could benefit from.  For me, this is huge.  Coaches who are looking to improve the mental side of the athletes they coach need to have the conversation of what exactly they are hoping to improve.  You know your players!  For us, we identified four areas for improvement.  We wanted to: 1. Help players know themselves better as a player and person, 2. Build mental toughness, 3. Increase knowledge of mental skills, 4. Establish a team concept/team-building.  I felt good about all of the objectives, but I admit my weakness of the four is the team-building concept.  I am not a "ra ra" type of guy, and that is the preconception I had about what team-building activities are.  I'll talk more about that later.

        The most important objective, in my opinion, was to help players better know themselves as players and people.  In order to help accomplish that, I turned to a tool called the Character Development Inventory (CDI).  The CDI was developed by Geoff Miller and is written about in his book Intangibles.  As I have written about in previous posts, G has had a big impact on me.  He has been more than generous with his time and advice going all the way back to when I first started researching schools.  G's CDI is a great, free tool that asks players to reflect on who they are.  The CDI is 95 statements and has three sections:  Personal Identity, Mental Toughness, and Baseball IQ.  Within each section are subcategories like Integrity, Confidence, and Ability to Apply Instruction.  The categories and subcategories all are intangibles, and one of the ideas of the CDI is to make those intangibles measurable through identifying statements.  Each subcategory has five statements for players to rate how much each statement applies to them on a scale of 1-10 (1 = not at all, 10 = perfectly).  Each player was given a CDI packet and asked to complete it before our next session.

        Players were placed into groups for the session using the CDI.  We have 7th-12th grade all together for conditioning, and I put them into groups with the idea of mixing grade levels as much as possible.  This would provide older players the chance to be in a leadership role and encourage all players to interact with some guys they may not normally talk much with.  Prior to the interaction, players filled out a scoring planner for the CDI that asks for average scores in each of the subcategories.  The planner also has players denote their three greatest strengths and three areas for improvement based on the scores.  The players then filled out a worksheet asking for more reflection on one of the strengths and one of the weaknesses.  The scoring of the CDI's took a lot longer than I anticipated.  In hindsight, I would have either had the players do this part of the activity outside of our work together or just planned to dedicate an entire group session to scoring the CDI's and the accompanying worksheet.  Regardless, after both sheets were completed it was time for what I found to be a great experience for all of the players and coaches.

        The players were asked to discuss their CDI results with their groups.  There were two parts to the discussion.  First, players talked about a strength.  Each player spoke about what a strength, what they specifically do that shows the quality, what it says about them as a player/person, and how they can help the team because of the strength.  For me, talking about our strengths is an incredibly underutilized concept in sports.  We don't do it very often.  If anything, talking about how good one is can be considered as a negative.  On the flip side, we all agree confidence is one of the most important factors in the success of a player.  Well, if that is the case, players should be encouraged to acknowledge how they are good sometimes!  At the high school level this is immeasurably important.  Players are at such a transitional phase, and the wide range of ages of the players we have (12-18) means opportunities for growth throughout the entire time as part of the baseball program.  Guys were then asked to discuss one of their areas for improvement.  Players spoke about what the area for improvement was, how exactly they struggle with the area, who the player they said exemplifies the quality (part of the worksheet), and what the area for improvement says about them as a player/person.  The group then discussed specific ways for the player to improve.  I walked around during the discussions, and it was very cool to hear the older players giving outstanding advice to younger guys.  Hearing guys being comfortable with an overall uncomfortable topic was great to see as well, and all of the credit for that belongs to the players for being active participants.

        Finally, we talked about the CDI's as a group.  I asked for a few guys to step up and talk with us all about what they may realize about themselves after completing the CDI that they did not realize before.  A few did, and it was very impressive to hear them discuss these concepts so freely with a large group of teammates.  One of the coolest stories came from one of our seniors Andrew Crook.  Andrew is a guy I have coached since he was twelve years old so I know him pretty well.  If I were to ever write a book, I could probably fill a chapter on Andrew, his family, and our years together.  He is extremely smart and has a first rate work ethic.  Andrew has developed great perspective on baseball and what it means in his life.  Andrew's also been labeled in the past, by himself included, as a perfectionist.  He is a true student of the game and in particular of hitting.  In addition, Andrew has embraced understanding the mental side of the game.  Every talk we have ever had about a facet of the mental game has been viewed as an opportunity to grow, and Andrew has certainly done that.  He is a guy who understands himself very well.  This was Andrew's third time filling out a CDI because of playing with me during the summer and then also completing it last year.  Andrew spoke about prior the experience he hadn't realized that a couple of characteristics that were originally weaknesses for him had turned into strengths.  Learning from failure was one of the characteristics Andrew mentioned.  In the past, because he had expected so much of himself, Andrew struggled with this concept.  Emotion would cloud his rational thinking about an at-bat.  This is no longer the case.  All the credit goes to Andrew for that improvement, and it was awesome for everyone to hear about.

        All in all, this CDI experience could not have gone better.  There are so many positives to list from the experience that it is very difficult to pick only a few.  One obvious positive is the self-awareness the tool asks for.  Being honest with ourselves is one of the hardest tasks we have as humans, but the CDI helps you do so in a non-threatening way.  A second positive was the opportunity for older guys to take on a leadership role in the discussions and coach each other on ways to improve.  The opportunity for younger guys to hear from older players who were in their shoes so recently was extremely valuable as well.  The discussions also created a great bonding experience for our entire program.  Some of the guys talked about some very personal issues about baseball and life, and it was all done with great respect among all.  I said before that I am not a "ra ra," team-building type of guy.  The CDI, and really the entire off-season mental conditioning experience, helped me to realize I do not have to be a cheerleader for team-building to occur.  It can happen organically.  Finally, the CDI can be a tremendous learning experience for coaches too.  I learn something about players I never knew every time we complete it.  While one on one meetings with each player would undoubtedly lead to even more learning, this experience could not have gone better.  In conclusion, I highly recommend utilizing G's Character Development Inventory with your team or yourself.  Odds are you will find ways it is valuable that you do not expect.  I know I do every time I use it!

Side Note: All of the resources are free too so I am not trying to sell you anything except a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow!

All of the tools for the experience can be found on Geoff Miller's The Winning Mind in Baseball blog and are linked directly here: Character Development Inventory Materials


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