I’ve talked a lot about coaching youth athletics over the past few weeks. I believe that youth sports help build character by putting the athletes (and coaches) in unique positions and great coaches use these situations to teach lessons the participants can apply to everyday life.
Just last year, I wrote an editorial in the Journal about the negative behavior from some little league baseball coaches here in town. What these coaches failed to recognize is when you coach, all eyes are on you, and if even one child catches a glimpse of this bad behavior, it is one child too many. We are preparing our athletes for the real world and we should know what the outcome would be if somebody were to throw their computer across the room over an office competition with a co-worker.
Sportsmanship can be taught in almost every phase of youth sports and can often be used to reinforce things such as respect, self-control, accountability, attitude and perseverance. I put a ton of emphasis on the behavior of participants and lay out my expectations during the first practice. It’s important to remain vigilant throughout the year and speak often of sportsmanship at practice.
When it is game time, put the desired behavior in the spotlight. Much like when athletes execute proper technique or put forth superb effort, I never miss the opportunity to recognize and praise them for showing good sportsmanship throughout the competition.
Sadly, it can more difficult to rein in the sportsmanship of parents than the kids. Be proactive by conveying the team’s commitment to sportsmanship prior to the first competition. If parents still have a lapse in judgment, demonstrate courage and address the issue immediately. This isn’t a chance to reprimand the parent; it’s an opportunity to help them see how others perceive their behavior and the impact of their actions. This is also a time to reinforce your expectations and convey consequences in the event that it happens again.
Weeks ago, I completed a course with the Positive Coaching Alliance. I wish that the heads of our local youth organizations would make this a required course within their organization as I would highly recommend this to any coach or parent in Lee’s Summit. The program, created by Jim Thompson, has a goal of transforming athletics in a way that allows young athletes to get the most out of youth sports.
One of the many great messages his program uses is the concept of honoring the game. To illustrate this, Thompson uses a simple acronym of ROOTS to identify five key groups team members should respect while participating: R-Rules, O-Officials, O-Opponents, T-Teammates and S-Self. As a coach, we can use the ROOTS idea to create positive examples on many different levels throughout the season. Whether it’s congratulating our opponent for a great match or moving on when an umpire makes a questionable call, we control the sportsmanship culture of our team and by being the example on the field, players can take our actions with them as they apply it to their everyday life.
Youth sports are practice for life in the real world. As a coach, embrace this philosophy and put sportsmanship above winning. Educate all of your team members on proper conduct, model the behavior and hold your team accountable. After all, these are the actions of a winning coach.