By Bo Hanson – 4x Olympian, Coaching Consultant & Director of Athlete Assessments

In June 2012, NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson retired. The legacy he left with the San Diego Chargers demonstrates the reputation every athlete should aim for at the end of their career.

In the hyped up world of NFL football, talented players are in every team and every play, in every game. So what sets one talented player apart from every other?  To briefly summarize an impressive career, it was not Tomlinson’s extraordinary ability which defined him and has set him apart. In a recent tribute, it was said “Tomlinson was great, but the team wasn’t”. This was in the early days when Tomlinson had joined the Chargers and they won only 17 games in his first three years. However, despite big money offers from other teams, Tomlinson was truly loyal to the Chargers and even more so, to San Diego city, staying with the Chargers for nine seasons. As said in another article on his retirement:

“He valued his relationships with the people in San Diego, and he chose to stay. He wanted to play for a winner, but thought it would be more rewarding to turn San Diego into that winner.”

In today’s world of sport, many athletes chase the best dollar offer. In the NFL, the difference could be several million dollars by the time you retire, but at what point does money not become your prime motivation for playing, staying with a team or leaving?  Tomlinson’s behavior exemplifies the level of athlete engagement all teams should strive for. The Charger’s had something money could not buy. We can only suggest what that special something was, suffice to say, for Tomlinson, it was worth more than money could buy. In the model of Athlete Engagement there are 14 specific drivers which all contribute to enabling you to keep your players on your team. Money is a driver, but every bit of research into motivation and retention of employees, suggests money is not the most important factor. You can read more about how to create and measure engagement in our articles on Bonding Athletes to their Coach Team and Organization and Do Your Athletes Care?

Essentially the more engaged an athlete is, the more they are likely to stay, make positive comments about their team and organization and strive to be their best for their coach, team and organization. In these instances, stronger relationships have been found to be the most critical factor in creating engaged athletes this always leads to better performance, as was the case with the Chargers. Tomlinson set an example for others in the team on what it means to be loyal and totally engaged in your role within the team and wider community.

Tomlinson’s loyalty not only benefited the team, it also highlights the importance of an athlete’s reputation upon retirement. How many athletes even consider this when they are playing?  At the end of your sporting career, your reputation is the most important currency you have. Tomlinson’s commitment and reputation allowed him to retire as a Charger and his stellar reputation gives him greater opportunities in the years to come. Perhaps from the perspective of the Chargers, he has given them a gift for future players to emulate his loyalty, obviously to keep him, the Chargers and San Diego must have been doing a lot of things right.

Tomlinson retired as a legend, playing all 16 games, eight years in a row. He excelled in his technical performances and also developed an invaluable relationship with the Charger’s community.

The greatest reflection on his career may be the response to his retirement, one article stating “As he did during his NFL career, Tomlinson left the game with his head held high, and with all the class you’d expect”. Everyone in sport should aim to have such an excellent reputation upon retirement, as it sticks with you long after your sporting career is over.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you may also like to read:  “It’s not all about the Money in the War for Footballers”.

More information on the importance of reputation and athlete engagement read our articles on:

At Athlete Assessments, we’re here to provide you with excellence in service to help you be your best. If there is anything we can assist you with, please Contact Us.

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