What We Need in Youth Sports More Than Anything Else
(By guest contributor J.P. Nerbun)
You see it everywhere in sports.
Every level, every age, and every sport.
Athletes who have lost the joy and fulfillment they once felt.
Sports parents overwhelmed and confused on how to best support their child.
Coaches discouraged and unappreciated by both athletes and parents.
And everyone is left wondering: Why am I doing this?
Instead of answering that question, our conversations in the locker rooms, coach meetings, the stands, and on social media are about something much different.
You don’t have to listen that hard to hear coaches talk about how today’s athletes are all entitled, lazy and selfish or how today’s parents are a pain in the butt, overbearing, and ungrateful.
And just as dominant a conversation within athletes and parents is how coaches are mostly idiots, unfair, and out of touch.
Few seem interested in taking ownership of their own behaviors, and instead are more intent on blaming others for their problems.
Well it’s time to change the narrative.
We want better athletes
We want better parents
We want better coaches.
But what we need more than anything else is to start working together.
When we start to work together, parents and coaches, we will all start to learn and grow, while creating not just a better experience for the athlete, but for the parents and coaches as well.
Nobody is Perfect
Athlete, parent, and coach.
At some stage you were at least one of these and maybe now you have been all of these.
As an athlete, parent, and a coach you have felt the joy and disappointment of sports.
You have experienced the good side and the bad side of sports.
You understand how sports have a unique ability to bring out our best… and at other times our worst.
Competition can drive us to do some incredible things— good and bad.
As an athlete— sports helped me do some great things…
I learned the value of teamwork, while I developed leadership skills, a strong work ethic, and the self-belief and persistence necessary to be successful.
But I also did some stupid things I am still embarrassed about…
I lost my temper when I didn’t like calls by the referees, I took cheap shots on opponents, talked back to my coach, and gave up some days when things weren’t going my way.
I wasn’t perfect and my list of stupid mistakes goes on.
As a coach I have no doubt that I have done some great things.
Like sacrificing time with my own family to help someone else’s children pursue their passion and interest. I’ve encouraged and walked alongside young people through tough moments— building grit and self-esteem. And in my best moments I have demonstrated leadership qualities and character strengths worthy of emulating.
But I have done some regrettable things as well.
Like yelling at referees, players, and the team over their mistakes, because things weren’t going my way. Sometimes I gave special treatment to the talented players, while ignoring the hardest working players. And no doubt I have blamed parents for my problems instead of taking ownership of my behavior and my team culture.
Just as an athlete—I have been and will continue to be far from a perfect coach. I have no doubt I could write a series of books about all my coaching mistakes through the years.
Now, as a sports parent I will without a doubt do some great things.
I will sacrifice time and money so my children can pursue their interests and passions. And I will cheer them on to give their best and encourage them to persevere through setbacks. Most days I will do a great job of loving them regardless of their performance. I will be supportive and grateful for the coach who sacrifices for my child, even while making decisions I don’t agree with and mistakes I think I would be incapable of making.
But I know I will not be perfect and may make some of the same mistakes I see parents making everyday.
Like embarrassing myself and child by yelling at referees and trying to coach from the stands. I hope I never do, but I may do the unthinkable and contact a coach to unload my frustrations, criticize their coaching, and complain about how my child isn’t being treated fairly. And if I am not very careful there will probably be times that I fall into the trap of finding my own self-worth in the achievement of my children.
Just as an athlete and a coach, I know I will not be perfect and sports will only add to my ever-growing list of parenting mistakes.
Stop Expecting Perfection
Why am I sharing all this?
Because we forget that whether we are an athlete, coach, or parent—we ALL make mistakes.
Sometimes we will be unaware that what we are doing is harmful to us and others.
And other times even when we know better, we will lack the mental toughness to live by our principles and values.
And because none of us are perfect, we should all be able to understand and empathize with others.
Everyone is at a different place in their journey and they are all doing the best they can with what they know.
So instead of calling others out, let’s start calling them up.
Calling others up starts with taking ownership of our own mistakes.
It takes courage to be vulnerable and admit those mistakes.
It takes discipline to learn and grow from our own mistakes.
It takes love to empathize with others and their mistakes.
And it takes belief in others— to know that we can all be better.
Call to Action
Value the people you coach as just that— as people, not athletes. Regardless of where they are at—be intentional about developing character, not just skills.
Value parents—stop seeing them as a problem and start seeing them as a partner. Don’t forget— they are the most important person in a young person’s life.
Value your child for the person they are— not the athlete they are. Love them regardless of how well they play or how hard they work.
Value their coaches as people— who are sacrificing their time and energy for your child. Don’t forget— after parents, a coach can be one of the most influential people in a young person’s life.
What do we need more than better athletes, better coaches, and better parents?
Better working relationships.
So let’s start over.
But where do we start?
By building relationships that see people as people.
Not as lazy athletes.
Not as obnoxious parents.
Not as stupid coaches.
Just people doing the best they can with what they know where they are at.
If you have read one my blogs before, you know that my perspective comes largely from a coach trying to bridge the gap between parents and coaches. We need to work together to provide a transformational experience for our children!
It was really special to write this from the perspective of a sports parent. Please continue to share these articles with coaches and sports parents, so that we can call each other up to be better coaches and better parents.