Do not confuse the results with the score.
Youth sports – such a tricky topic. We want our kids to have fun, but at the same time, we really want them to win. Many parents say they disagree, but with 30 years of youth sports coaching and officiating experience behind me, I feel comfortable stating that many of the parents who say that winning isn’t important do not speak the truth.
I’ve seen their behavior. I’ve seen their faces. I’ve heard their voices. Not always directed at me as the coach or referee, but their unhappiness is too often palpable.
Winning does matter. That’s why we keep score. But until the kids are pushing into their teen years, winning doesn’t matter very much.
As parents, how can we reconcile our “want to win” with our desire for our kids to have a great experience?
3 ways to help your kid have a great youth sports experience
1) Always have a co-coach.
In most youth sports leagues, moms and dads are the prime volunteer pool for coaches. With a co-coach, when it’s your child’s turn to act the fool at practice or a game, let the other coach handle it. A constant thread of conversation I’ve always had with parents runs like this: “Whew, my kid is such a smart mouth. I don’t know how you put up with him/her.” My response: “Well, fact is, I don’t put up with it. I’m the coach, not the dad. I have an entirely different relationship with your son /daughter than you do. And when my son behaves at home like your kid does in your home, I feel just like you do.”
2) Focus on effort, not “talent.”
Praise your child plenty for working hard – getting back on defense, making a great pass or save – rather than ‘sports talent.’ Praise for effort and hard work creates resilient kids and athletes who soon learn that they can cope with tough times on and off the field. Praise for ‘talent’ creates kids who learn to look outside themselves for validation. Worse, it creates kids who don’t learn that with hard work, they can overcome obstacles.
3) Do not confuse results with the score.
The score was 1-0, yet the score tells you nothing. Does 1-0 mean it was a battle right down to the wire? Or does 1-0 say that an over-confident and talented team squeaked out a poorly played and lazy win over a hardworking team with much less talent? Does a 30-6 football score tell you that the winners played good football? Or does it tell you that the two teams should not be in the same division?
Instead, focus on the results. Did the kids execute what they learned at practice the past week? Did they pass well? Was the offensive line opening holes for the running backs? Did the kids come off the field at the end of the game excited to have played, or did they shuffle off sideways like beaten dogs, afraid to greet their parents and kicking at the ground in disgust?
Results. They are not the same as the score.
I believe in competition. I believe competition makes us better at nearly everything we do. I believe kids need time to be kids. I believe that kids can strive for athletic excellence without being browbeaten by egotistical has-beens and never-was athlete/parents who want to re-create their youth as coaches.
To those selfless volunteer coaches who get it, I bid you much happiness and success on the field.
I’m rooting for you, rooting hard. Remember, we’re all in this together.