Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hidden Opportunities in Youth Sports

What opportunities exist for youth sports participants? Fame, fortune, multi-million dollar contracts? No. National teams, college scholarships, a few perks now and then? Sure, for some. If you look for opportunities created by children participating in sports, you’ll be able to make a long list, with the most obvious being developing friendships, learning life skills, and doing something you love. There are less obvious opportunities, one in particular that I want to discuss here.
When someone does something well, it draws attention to them. That attention creates opportunities to do good things for other people without expecting anything in return. That’s a “feel good” habit worth developing. Younger athletes look up to older athletes who excel at their sport. A simple compliment from one of these older athletes can “make the day” of the less experienced athlete. When you “make the day” for a child, you make the day for their parents as well, allowing one simple good deed to go a long way.

What’s great about this hidden opportunity is that excellence is relative. Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder. A seven year old who does a nice straight arm, straight leg cartwheel is excellent in the eyes of the four year old who’s struggling just to get hands and feet placed in the right order for her cartwheel. That same seven year old may look up to a ten year old who does a cartwheel on the high balance beam. The ten year old sees excellence in the level 8 gymnast who does a roundoff on the beam to a layout back flip dismount, and the level 8 looks up to the level 10 who does the same but with a double twist. Because excellence is relative, opportunities are available at all levels of competence.

As our athletes progress, mature, and excel in their sport some will understand that opportunities exist to make a difference to others, with a simple compliment or with a significant contribution of time and effort. Some athletes haven’t given it much thought or don’t realize they are role models and the focus of other’s attention. Other athletes may or may not understand that the opportunities exist, but their personality is not one that is outgoing enough to take advantage of those opportunities, and that’s fine. As coaches and parents we should point out to our athletes and children that when they excel at something and that draws attention to them they have created a chance to do some good. If they want to take advantage of those opportunities, that’s great. If it’s “not their thing,” then that’s okay as well. My guess is most of these athletes are making a difference just with the behaviors they model.

I watch how easily the “little ones” in my gym pick out our top gymnasts and watch them in awe. And, I’ve watched those top gymnasts take a moment to say “nice cartwheel” or “I saw you make your pullover today” to one of the little ones, expecting nothing in return (except the cute smile, of course). And, I’ve had parents tell me how much it meant for their daughter to get that compliment. It’s a simple thing that makes such a big difference. Let’s make sure our athletes and children know these opportunities exist and how easy it is to take advantage of them in a small way or a big way.


Anonymous said...

This is a great article Mark!

wordsmith from nantucket said...

I agree with Anonymous. It's such a great article that this is my 3rd time digging back through your archives to uncover it (it's not the only blogpost you've written that I come back to, btw).