Through team sports, children learn cooperation, how their responsibilities mesh with those of others to produce results, and how to strive for improvement together. The individual and collaborative skills learned in youth sports are very much aligned with what the 21st century workplace will require of our children. These three rules will ensure a great experience for you and your children.
Rule #1: It’s About Having Fun
After all, it is a game. Have fun! It ceases to be fun for kids when parents lecture, coach from the stands, or when parents or coaches take it too seriously. This leads directly to:
Rule #2: It’s Not the Pros
Professional sports are big business, with the goals to win, entertain, and make money.
In youth sports, winning is surely a goal. But more important than that, the focus should be a well-rounded education and teaching children the values that will help them learn to lead happy, productive, ethical lives.
I very much believe in the principles espoused by the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), an organization that has worked to improve our nation’s culture of youth sports. The PCA aims to “transform youth sports so that sports can transform youth.” Their first principle is that coaches need to be “Double-Goal” coaches. High-quality coaches want to win, but have a second, more important goal to use the sports experience to help young people learn life lessons and positive character traits.
Rule #3: Respect
Youth sports have the ability to teach in both positive and negative ways. Many professional (and sometimes even college) athletes have acted in ways we would not want our children to imitate. To help ensure positive outcomes, we must teach good sportsmanship, which really means teaching respect.
Respect the Rules
Avoid sending messages about bending the rules to win. Know that rules exist both to constrain and protect us. Respect both the letter and the spirit of the rules.
Respect the Officials
Officials at every level miss calls – it’s part of the game and should be part of the educational experience. Honor the game by honoring the people who make it possible to play. Even when we or our children disagree with a call, we must show respect to the official who made the call. Few situations present greater opportunities for young people to show dignity and maturity – or the opposite.
Respect the Coaches
Coaches give their time and effort for little or no compensation. They do it because they are committed to helping students grow through the experience of sports. Don’t question or contradict your child’s coach from the sidelines or stands, or even at home in front of your child. If you have a problem with a coach, speak to that coach privately, and never during or right after a game. Those high-emotion times can cause people to say and do things that will be counter-productive.
Respect Your Team and Teammates
All members of the team, even those who are not the big scorers, are important to the learning experience (and to the re-defined sense of winning). Each deserves the support of all, and none deserves to be embarrassed by comments or criticism born of frustration.
Respect the Opposition
A worthy opponent is a gift that forces us to play to our highest potential. We ought to try our hardest to win, but not at the expense of our integrity. Never promote your team by demeaning an opponent. Jeers and taunts have no place in youth sports.
Respect the Game
Sports can provide outstanding learning experiences for children of all ages. The spirit of winning defined above, fueled by honest competition, courteous relations, and graceful acceptance of the results can be a powerful teacher in ways that touch all aspects of healthy development and preparation for active citizenship and participation in the economic life of our community.