If fair-play, competition, and teamwork are the three pillars of youth sports education, then have I got a seldom-discussed list for you.
What else are your kids learning when they grab their racquet and head to the tennis court? What interesting tidbits of teenage knowledge will they learn hanging out with their teammates after swim practice?
And just what’s going through their heads when they feel the heat from their hockey coach?
Not every young athlete is going to make the big-time, and even if they do, there’s a few things they should learn along the way if they want to be well-adjusted and all-round good person.
1. Respect for Authority
For most youth athletes their coaches are going to be one of the few influences in their lives besides their parents. Teachers are another, but you have to go to school - you don’t have to play sports.
For better or worse, the coach is in charge of the team, and it’s important to learn how to take direction from someone who knows a lot more than you do.
2. Questioning Authority
It’s ok to disagree. A few years back, I remember questioning a player’s decision to hold on to a puck for far too long on a powerplay. The player was a raw rookie, and he took the heat like a champ when he was told what he should have done.
The problem was that he was given conflicting messages. The other dude I used to coach with who bailed on me and ran away to Hungary had actually told him earlier to hold on to the puck. The player brought it up calmly after the game and he was absolutely right.
3. How Not To Behave
Alright, this is the good stuff. When your kids are really young, before they go to school, you’re their only influence.
When they’re preteens and teenagers playing sports?
Let’s just say there’s a lot of influences in a young adult’s life, most of which stem from the habits, personalities, and behaviour of their peers.
Every kid is going to be surrounded by friends who make poor decisions. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know what it’s like to be the dad of a kid who screws up, but I do know a lot of you are close friends with the parents of your kids’ friends. Communication solves everything. If your child has a friend who makes a mistake, talk about it.
That’s easy to do, right? Again, this is coming from a guy with no kids.
4. How to Cook, Clean, & Manage Your Time
In other words, how to do life. Youth sports are both a pathway to character development as well as a gateway to the next stage: adulthood. Sure, improving one’s overhand smash might not directly teach an athlete the virtues of adding frozen vegetables to spice up Mr. Noodles (a key college survival technique), but being good at sports requires smart, healthy choices.
You might have to make yourself dinner at some point.
You might have to organize your own ride to the rink.
You might have to do your homework a couple days in advance if you want to have time for a pre-game nap.
But hey, taking care of yourself is just a choice made by each individual athlete who wants to excel in their chosen sport.