I had the opportunity to give a talk on a couple of different topics last evening in a small, intimate venue. The first topic centered around my book and the messages within it. The second was centered around the culture of youth sports. Parents asked GREAT questions and brought up great points. I came away thinking that we absolutely need to have more open discussions about these topics that involve the athletes, parents, and coaches. The more understanding there is, the better it is for everyone involved.
One of the ideas that I really tried to get across was letting go of the win at all costs mentality. I think some people initially took it as that we should hand out participation trophies, pat every kid on the back, and give everyone equal playing time- which I am not promoting. What I am promoting is that we give the games back to the kids. That we stop taking away their excitement, passion, and love for sport by turning it into a quest for scholarships and championships that validate the adults involved. There is absolutely accountability from coaches and parents toward the kids, but equally, there is patience, empathy, and understanding that they are still kids. They’re maturing just like all of us were at one point. We encourage them to give maximum effort, be great teammates, and have a great attitude- to pursue their best each day. More often times than not when these standards are upheld, the results are what they should be, and they take care of themselves.
The last point I want to make and one that I talked with a fellow coach about after the presentation is this- development comes at all different ages. The coach I talked with told me that things didn’t really click with him until he was a sophomore in high school- he went on to play collegiate athletics. Things didn’t click with me until I got cut from an AAU team when I was in 8th grade. It wasn’t because I was yelled at every day to work harder or because my parents signed me up for eight hours of structured activity each day after that. The shift happened because the people around me never forced me to do anything. I was allowed to experience and carve my own path. They were patient, encouraged, and supported. Coaches and parents can help guide passion- but no one can instill it into another person. Passion is innate. When we create environments where athletes understand accountability, but they also feel a sense of freedom, it brings out the best in everyone. They then have the opportunity to learn all the valuable lessons that sport teaches, perform at their highest level, and have a ton of fun doing it!