What Mr. Rogers Can Teach Us About Youth Sports
What Mr. Rogers Can Teach Us About Youth Sports. 2022 produced one of the proudest moments of my personal life. My wife and I welcomed our first child in September, and our world has been turned upside down in a good way. I was fortunate to have some time off with my wife and daughter. During that time, between feedings, naps, and cleaning, I took time to catch up on television shows and movies I had in my queue for the past few years. One of the movies that really resonated with me was “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”
It’s a fictional movie based on the true story of a reporter, Tom Junod, who wrote a piece on Mr. Rogers that turned out to be an Esquire cover story in 1998 about heroes. Tom Junod was known for his skepticism in his journalism, and the actor Matthew Rhys did a great job of displaying this throughout the film. Even though the main character was so compelling, seeing Tom Hanks portray Mr. Rogers and hearing him convey some of his major themes really re-invigorated my hope for youth sports in our country.
I have always loved Mr. Roger’s quote, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” However, I saw so many connections between this film and youth sports that I jotted down a couple that resonated.
Mr. Rogers attempts to construct a tent by himself and is unsuccessful. Incredulously, Matthew Rhys’ character asks why Mr. Rogers didn’t have his staff set up the tent beforehand, and Mr. Rogers responds,
“Children need to know that even when adults make plans, sometimes they don’t turn out as they hoped.”
There is so much wisdom in the simplicity and honesty of his answer. What a great lesson for us to model to our children. We can only control so much, whether it’s practicing hard before the first game only to show up to the game at the wrong time or a coach creating a game plan that ends up making zero impact on the enjoyment or performance of the team. It takes a certain level of vulnerability and self-awareness to let ourselves show personal failure. This doesn’t mean we should abide by mediocrity or give passes to people who intentionally skirt responsibility. It does mean we should show grace to our volunteers who kindly donate their time and energy to our teams and leagues.
Realizing that our failures as adults can be valuable life lessons to our children is powerful. We spend so much of our lives trying to protect them from the things in the world, afraid of showing them how much we don’t know, that we miss that that is the lesson.
“That’s why when you’re a parent, you have a new chance to grow.”
When asked ‘What are the biggest mistakes parents make when raising their children?’ Mr. Rogers responded with, “Not to remember their own childhood.” He later finishes his thought, “That’s why when you’re a parent, you have a new chance to grow.”
So, what makes us find so much of our identity in our kids? My armchair psychology says it’s because while growing up, so much of our identity is tied up in extracurriculars. I was “Scott, the runner.” I’m sure there is something similar that you can fill in the blank with. Then suddenly, you’ve left high school or college, and you’re out in the real world and just a worker. For many, there isn’t another big, special moment until the birth of our child/children. Finally, we have purpose again. Now, you are “Mackenzie’s mom or Mackenzie’s Dad.” Our kids become our world.
As adults, we have ownership and responsibility.
As kids, we didn’t care much about winning our Saturday morning game. We cared about the snacks afterward. We cared about catching the fly ball in the outfield or making a successful pass to our friend on the team. We defined our weekends by how much fun we had playing the sport. The adults in our lives always told us we had a “decisive victory” or “a narrow loss.” I’m not naïve to think that there aren’t kids who keep score or don’t like winning, but where do you think they pick up those skills from? Kids also pick up on cheering up teammates after giving up a goal or putting a loss out of their minds after a game. As a former athlete who competed collegiately, I don’t look back on my youth sports experience and count wins and losses, and that was mainly in part due to the coaches I had.
Finding our identity through our children is just one of many ways we can get caught up. When we become coaches, we can become just as guilty, if not worse. What is it about the word tournament or playoffs that can turn a well-meaning coach into a cutthroat skipper out to win the 8U championship? Who is keeping track of those results? Instead of focusing on those fleeting wins, why not take these opportunities to grow ourselves? If we must find an identity in our actions, why not “Scott, the coach known for how much laughter is at each practice?”.
As spring sports begin next month and continue into April, my challenge to you as a parent, guardian, or adult in one of our participants’ lives is to think about the quotes above. If that seems daunting, try remembering your childhood. This can pertain to you as a travel coach or just being a supportive youth sports parent. Let’s focus on the perseverance, empathy, and work ethic these sports moments teach. Let’s keep it fun outside of wins and losses. The kids in these programs have a chance to grow every time they step out on the field or the court. From Mr. Rogers’ words above, let’s remember that we have that chance, too.
When he’s not changing diapers, Scott Spillman is the Executive Director of Mudsock Youth Athletics in Fishers, IN. He grew up playing youth sports in the Mudsock Youth Athletics organization and brought his life full circle by becoming the Executive Director of the same organization in 2017. He has a passion for youth sports and extensive experience in this sector working for Little League Baseball & Softball (Little League World Series) in marketing and operations and at Hamilton County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau recruiting youth sports events to Grand Park and other venues throughout Hamilton County. An avid movie watcher, Scott can be found at his local theater watching Academy Award winners or quoting movies to anyone who will listen.
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