Sports and Youth

Ahhhh… youth sports… the best place to find one generation ruining sports for the next. The only place you’ll find parents slugging it out over whether or not the teenage umpire made the right call at home plate. The number one place to find parents living out their unfulfilled dreams through their children. Too bad we don’t get this fired up about our kids education…

But really, this isn’t what youth sports is. These are outliers and rare occurrences. Most games are actually much more boring than this… I know because I’ve been to about 167123,123431245,21354 tee ball games…

Youth Sports is so much more than any of that though. Youth sports is one of the best opportunities to teach your children a number of highly valuable life lessons. You see while they’re at school, your child’s life lessons are coming from the world. From their teachers, from their classmates, and from their experiences that you’re not a part of. And these are good as well but you really don’t have any say if your kid learns to pick his nose in kindergarten or comes home from 2nd grade and asks what a ‘vagina’ is because he heard some other kid say it at recess….

That’s just life and you just have to get over it. But sports, and specifically youth sports, provides a huge opportunity for you to actually get in and get involved with your child’s growth. Not as an athlete but as a strong, resilient, highly motivated individual. No I’m talking about screaming at your kid from the sideline because he dropped a pass on 4th and 3. That’s not it. Don’t be that person…

What I’m talking about is teaching your children how to grow on their own and how to handle adversity. These two key points are infinitely valuable in living a happy, successful life. Let’s take a look at why each of these two points is valuable in it’s own regard.

Let’s First talk about adversity as I feel it’s more valuable and beneficial to our mental health in the long run. Facing Adversity is the ability to over-come incredible challenges that are presented to us by life. I say incredible because most the time, we don’t truly face adversity. Having a tough day at work is not adversity. Getting bullied everyday at school is. Adversity is facing something that has no clear cut answer or solution. Adversity is a challenge that makes others question if it’s even possible to over-come.

Youth sports provides one of the best training grounds to teach your children how to deal with and over-come adversity. When they lose, when they strike out, when they make a mistake, when they try hard but still lose… each of these moments, in our children’s eyes, is adversity. And because it’s on a level that is relatable to our children it’s the perfect opportunity to start teaching them how to deal with that.

So how do we actually do that? How do we teach them to handle and over-come this adversity? It’s two-fold, or as I like to say, it’s Good Cop, Bad Cop. We first need to provide positive reinforcement. At that first moment of failure no kid, teenager, adult, or person wants to hear any criticism. So first things first, let’s get our mindset in a positive place. I do this by just following up with my kids and saying, “Hey good try buddy.” That’s it… it’s that simple. And it can be more than that but it honestly doesn’t take much to set the right tone.

Now one of two things happens after this. Your child accepts the failure and moves on OR they hang on to it, they don’t let go of it, and they dwell on it. They pout or throw a fit. They cry or complain… and this is where it gets tough but it’s also where you have to be the Bad Cop.

photo cred: Kelly Sikkema

This is where you have to come in and say, “look, we’ve still got a lot of game to play. We’ve got other opportunities and a chance to try again. We are NOT going to sit here and dwell on this.” And as children they may or may not respond to this. We have to remember we’re dealing with children that can’t always make themselves make the right choice. Shit as adults how many times do we make the right choice?

So keeping it in mind that we are dealing with someone who is, by nature, very immature we then have to help them make the decision for themselves. If they are still dwelling, still pouting, still throwing a fit because they struck out or because they lost. Now is the time to remove them from the situation. Literally, pick them up, tell coach BRB, and go sit in the car. Let them vent, throw down, cry, whatever they’ve got to do. And when they’re ready, when they’ve gathered themselves back up. Ask them, “Are you ready to go back out and try again?”

If you repeat this process. If you stick to it and stay on it, your child will learn how to deal with adversity. They will start to learn that just because something bad happens doesn’t mean life is over. It doesn’t mean I have to let 10 seconds of my day ruin the other 24 hours. It also teaches them to first respond to adversity with positivity. This is what your teaching your child. You’re teaching them the process to over-coming adversity. Positivity first. And if that’s not good enough, take a break from the situation and when you’re ready, go try again.

The Second opportunity you have to teach your children is how to grow on their own. At a young age, this isn’t very realistic so it’s important that as parents we serve as coaches towards this end goal. We do this be coaching our kids up. Once our kids are able to over-come their loses and adversity you can start to teach them how to grow from those moments. All you really need to do to accomplish this is to be involved. It’s so easy to walk up to your child in the dugout and say, “Hey great play on defense buddy you were right there. Next time let’s try to get our glove all the way down into the dirt and stop that ball, okay?”

photo cred: Keith Johnston

And if you repeat this. You do this over and over and over in a positive, growth oriented manner your children will grow. They’ll improve and even better, they’ll learn the process of growth. They’ll learn that it’s really all about hard work and practice. It’s about doing it over and over and over. That’s all it is.

So get your kids into youth sports. Get them out their competing, facing adversity, winning, losing, growing, learning, getting exercise and get yourself involved. Be positive and focus on taking advantage of this short time you’ll get to spend with your kids in Youth Sports.

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