The 3 Most Important Words in Youth Sports
By Coach Pete Scales, Ph.D., USPTA
There are three words no youth sports coach or parent wants to hear: “Coach, I quit,” or “Mom, I quit.”
Actually, neither you as a parent nor the coach are likely to hear it in that direct of a way. Like dropping out of school, it’s most often not that dramatic. It’s something that builds and builds, and for 70% of kids by the time they’re 13, that long decline just ends with, I quit.
But there are 3 other words that define a youth sports coaching and parenting philosophy that will make it far less likely your child will quit: Compete-Learn-Honor, an approach I created years ago.
For many years, I’ve coached grade-schoolers to college, sometimes in basketball but mostly in tennis, and most high school boys and girls, but the results are the same: When coaches build a Compete-Learn-Honor culture and when parents understand and support that, kids have a better time in their sports, more fun, and they learn more. So, guess what? They get better, too.
I encourage both coaches and parents to redefine success away from winning and losing. Success is simple: Are we improving as players and as people? Are we safe? Are we having fun? That’s what success looks like in youth sports. And using a core approach of Compete-Learn-Honor is how you get there.
I actually teach them in reverse: Honor is the foundation for all Learning and Competitive development.
Honor: By how we behave, are we bringing credit to ourselves, our teammates, coaches, opponents, officials, family, school, community, and the game we play? Are we loving the game more than how we do at it, recognizing that the game is bigger than we are? Are we taking responsibility for how we play, and not making excuses? Are we building everyone up and being a great supportive teammate, or are we tearing people down? Do we give every benefit of the doubt to our opponent, or do we slide on and massage rules and codes of conduct in order to win? Is every player treated as equally valuable and cared about, regardless of their skill level or ranking, or other differences?
Learn: Do the coaches teach us to be open, curious, and humble learners? Does the coach create a culture where it’s emotionally and physically safe to try new skills and not succeed at first? Is everyone treated as a lifelong learner, from coaches and parents to experienced players and those brand new to the game? Is the coach enthusiastic about partnering with parents and helping parents learn why they’re doing what they do, so parents grow in their interest in and appreciation of the game their child is playing?
Compete: This is all about effort and energy: Do we give 100% of everything we have on any given day, at practice, and on game day? That doesn’t mean give the best that we can ever be all the time. That’s not possible even for pros. And it certainly doesn’t mean playing hurt. But if we’re 60% of our best today, do we give 100% of that 60%? Do we enjoy the process, loving the battle and trying to solve the puzzle of a match or game or meet, or do we only have fun if we win?
Winning is not under your child’s control, yours, or your child’s coach’s. It’s a by-product.
Winning isn’t necessary. Giving your all, always learning, and acting with positivity and admirable character is what’s necessary in youth sports.
And ironically, having a Compete-Learn-Honor approach as a coach and a parent will give your child’s teams a better chance of winning, without focusing on winning.
Compete-Learn-Honor are the 3 most important words in youth sports, and they lead to more fun for everyone!
Peter C. Scales, Ph.D., “Coach Pete,” is a developmental psychologist who is internationally known as one of the world’s foremost authorities on positive youth development, and the Senior Fellow for the research nonprofit Search Institute, where he has conducted research in more than 30 countries globally. A U.S. Professional Tennis Association-certified tennis teaching pro, Coach Pete is the long-time JV coach of boys’ and girls’ tennis at Parkway South High School in Manchester, Missouri, a mental strength consultant to college men’s and women’s tennis teams, and author of the award-winning book, Mental and Emotional Training for Tennis: Compete-Learn-Honor (Coaches Choice, 2019; available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Mental-Emotional-Training-Tennis-Scales/dp/1606794477), which the National High School Tennis Coaches Association called “one of the best books ever on the mental game.” His Compete-Learn-Honor approach has been featured in articles and podcasts for many organizations, including the Positive Coaching Alliance, National Alliance for Youth Sports, ParentingAces.com, the United States Tennis Association, ChangingtheGameProject.com, In2pickle.com, and the Tennis Channel Podcast Network. Coach Pete’s advice column on the mental-emotional game, “The Bench,” is being launched this July in Racquet Sports Industry Magazine, the flagship magazine for the industry.