I happen to believe that our true character is revealed by how we act when no one is watching. We need to also consider that even when we don’t know it, somebody might be watching you, copying you, wanting to grow up and be just like you.

A year ago, I told the story about taking one of my granddaughters to a soccer game. We stood at the playing of the national anthem and I saw this granddaughter look at the team lined up and slowly copied them — her right hand over her heart and her left arm behind her back.

I snuck a photo which is an all-time favorite. The story was about role models. About how children are looking at others to learn how to behave. About how impressionable children are.

And how important it is for us to set a good example. That is a timeless message. Age doesn’t matter. Somebody, somewhere is looking at you, especially if you are an athlete.

Just last week, another story about the same granddaughter came out. It seems she is now copying the hairstyle of her favorite soccer player. Something about putting bands in her ponytail all the way to the end.

Thankfully, this young lady has embraced the fact that she is indeed a role model. She is now playing soccer in college but knows that her influence can reach all the way home.

We should all be prepared to assume the responsibility that comes with being someone’s role model. It may not be a role that we want and we might not be ready to accept it, but it often belongs to us anyway.

I’ve told the story here before about sitting on the balcony at a basketball game dropping popcorn on people below. A young mother turned to her son and said “don’t grow up to be like them.” I might have been 10 but I remember it to this day.

We are constantly role models for someone. Take smoking. Statistics tell us that if both parents smoke, there is a very high likelihood that their children will smoke too. Often while still teenagers. Is that what you want for your child?

And a sedentary lifestyle. We don’t inherit obesity. We get it from a sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits. If the parents sit in front of the TV for several hours each day and dinner is fast food, that is what the kids learn to do.

When I was a teenager, I had this family friend that I thought was from the coolest family ever. They lived in a house north of Atlanta that had a wilderness playground for a backyard. The dad had model trains. Three brothers, something I always wanted. When I visited, we were always fishing and exploring.

Mark decided in high school that he wanted to be a wildlife biologist. I thought that was pretty cool. Any guesses what my first college major was?

I had another friend that I thought had great taste in music. Guess what I listened to? Yep, whatever he was listening to. Another friend was a great dresser. Guess who I copied?

My point is this: You should always be conscious that somebody might be looking at you to learn how to dress, talk, behave. And it might be your friends. Maybe it is your family. Teenagers, those little kids in your life are going to look at you as their role model much more than they do their parents.

Embrace that role. It will help you make better decisions. If you even think that someone is modeling their behavior after you, it makes it easier to do the right thing all the time. And you never know when little eyes are watching.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email him at joeblackdpt@gmail.com.

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