Re-Evaluating the Youth-Sports Experience
Growing up in South Sioux City, Neb., I was lucky to be raised in a community that valued the development of young athletes. From my first sport experiences, I had competent, caring coaches who made sports fun! Going to practice was where I wanted to be. I remember traveling as a young girl in grade school to the girls’ state basketball championships and state track and field championships, way before I was in high school, watching the older kids compete. I could not wait until it was my turn. Little did I know, I had this incredible gift and love for sport that would later allow me to attend college on a scholarship and pay my way to see and compete throughout the world.
All of that happened because I was lucky to have amazing coaches who were athlete-centered. My coaches allowed us to be kids, encouraged us to play multiple sports, and were patient enough to let us develop on our own time. Unfortunately, today this is not the “norm.” In today’s youth-sports environment, there is so much pressure and expectation on our kids to be the next great phenom. It seems like it is no longer “okay” or “convenient” for kids to learn and grow on their own time. We’re in a rush to get them to where we — parents, coaches and leaders — think they need to be athletically, which is really just us serving our own ego’s needs.
This is NOT what is best for our young athletes. It is also NOT the best scientifically studied and proven way for long-term athlete development and success.
I now realize how blessed I was in my life to have great coaches, and I am not surprised by the success that my coaches had with me because of the way that they coached. I had coaches that cared about my development as a young woman AND as an athlete. My coaches taught me and modeled for me the process of success.
They taught me how to deal with disappoint. They taught me how to be mentally tough and resilient. They taught me that my effort mattered. They taught me the importance of showing up for practice every day with a smile on my face, with a positive attitude, and to be ready to work. My coaches loved me unconditionally, supported me, and had an unwavering belief in me.
Because of this, my coaches gave me the opportunity to succeed. My coaches were in coaching for the right reasons. They were there because they wanted to help young people succeed on and off the field.
Unfortunately, today the goal and focus of youth sports seems to be solely on winning. Our kids are saddled with immense pressure not to fail. We all need to take a step back as parents, coaches and leaders to re-evaluate the goals for our young athletes. We need to take a hard look at the environments we are creating for our kids. Each of us plays an intricate role in the development of our young athletes.
The word “compete” means “strive together.” So together we need to re-evaluate the goals and purposes of sports, and use sports as a vehicle to grow and develop our kids … ultimately teaching them how to grow up to be happy, healthy, successful, good people who help make this world a better place.