Saturday, October 9, 2010

Great Moments in Youth Sports

Coaches, parents and sports fans probably have a few recollections of sports history made by chlidren. Nadia is a legend and still known by her first name thirty four years after scoring the first perfect ten in Olympic history as a fourteen year old. Although the Olympics are hardly a youth sports activity, Nadia's age at the time of competition would most definitely be considered young. Every year celebrations following a Little League World Series championship game are broadcast throughout the world.

These are great and historic moments on a global level. But, the truly great moments in youth sports are the day to day interactions between child athletes and the significant adults in their lives, parents in particular.

Greatness is determined on a personal level. What's great to a five year old soccer player may be different than what is considered as great by a high school soccer player. Remembering this simple principle can help parents and coaches enrich the sports experience for their children and athletes.

A great moment for our children is one that affects them personally in a positive way. These could be as simple as Grandma and Grandpa showing up for a t-ball game or as detailed as accomplishing the final step in reaching a long-term goal.

Significant adults in a child's life influence that child's perception of good vs. bad, great vs. terrible and important vs. unimportant. Children watch adults and how they react to situations. They give value to a happening in large part based on the reactions it draws from adults.

Consider these two scenarios. Suzy scores a goal and looks over to see her Mom jump out of her lawn chair clapping and cheering. Sally scores a goal and while running toward the sideline with her arms up in celebration, sees her Mom sitting in her lawn chair reading a book. Each girl scored a goal, but what will each bring away from the experience?

Adults have the ability to make every moment a great moment. Good performances are easy to celebrate. Average performances are sprinkled with moments of greatness, find them and celebrate them. A poor performance can lead to a great moment when parents show their children unconditional love. If a hug is the family tradition following a good game, it should follow a bad game as well. Be consistent with actions that say "how you play does not affect how I feel about you."

Coaches, parents and teammates' parents are role models and their behavior, more than their words, will affect the children on a team. Adults should think before they react with the first goal being to do no harm, in other words, watch your mouth. This should be quickly followed by providing positive experiences for the children involved. These experiences could be as simple as "good catch Johnny" or as involved as a sustained life lesson such as reinforcing persistence or improved self-discipline.

Children will learn from our non-reactions as well as our reactions. How would you like your child to react to what appears to be a bad call by an official? Consistently model the behavior you would like to see and your child will likely choose the same behavior. In the case of a perceived bad call, a non-reaction may be the best reaction.

Many great moments in youth sports happen naturally, but every moment can be a great one if handled properly by the adults involved. No one expects parents and coaches to be perfect, but it is reasonable to expect them to give every effort possible to make the most of all situations.

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