Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Tearse: Youth Sports and Life Lessons

Great coaches can have a transformational effect on players

Youth sports offer so many opportunities for life lessons. Parents and coaches all have a choice which life lessons are experienced. It seems to me  however that too often “life lessons” are learned from negative experiences by players. Short benches, screaming coaches, winning at all cost behaviors by coaches parents and eventually players. Yes life is tough but do 9,10 or even 18 year kids need a steady diet of those life lessons? I think not.
There are other life lessons that can be learned by kids that come from a coaching philosophy that values all team members, provides a sense of belonging, and an approach that is appropriate for the age and skill levels of each team and the players. These coaches would be considered to be transformational coaches. They make sure that kids get the right messages that help them today in sports and later on in life.
I was fortunate to attend a PCA (Positive Coach Alliance)  event last week in Minneapolis for a panel discussion about youth sports. The panel consisted of a former NFL player, an MLB player and current college soccer coach . A sports psychologist that works with  college and professional teams was also on the panel. David Jacobson (great guy) from PCA served as the moderator.
The former athletes and current college coach are  all coaching their young kids in sports. They are now experiencing the parent/coach experience. The related some interesting stories about coaching their kids and shared their toughest about youth sports.
A number of terrific points were brought up by the panel with “life lessons” being one of the benefits of playing on a team and that kids should have the opportunity to play several sports for a variety of reasons. Mentioned were learning to cooperate in a group setting; learning to compete; learning skills, and having fun.
 I would have added the opportunity for kids to be physical in a controlled environment. This is especially important for girls as they do not have many other oultets for physical play outside of sports.
A very important point that came out was that it is critical that the environment that kids play in is designed so that all players have an opportunity to play their best individually and as a team (see my tweets @coachtearse).
This is a simple way of describing a program primarily focused on development rather than having winning as the primary objective. The day-to-day decisions made by coaches who embrace a development approach are far different than the coaches that are focused on winning at all costs.
Great coaches can have a transformational effect on young people at a time in their lives when they are looking for role models and adults to believe in.
With participation in youth sports dropping across the country,  I believe that development oriented programs that lead to improvement for all team members a offers positive life lessons is the best way to retain and attract kids.
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Illustration by Jennifer Marlin