Lack of Clear Goals Creates Opportunity for Bad Outcomes in Youth Sports

In the absence of a clear vision for success, there really is only one obvious metric remaining — winning.  Winning tends to fill the void all on it’s own.  Trust me, you don’t want that.  Many parents, kids, and coaches really (and I mean really) want to win.  They would never say it that way, and honestly they might not even believe that’s what they are communicating, but the experience is very clear.  Win, or we are not having fun.  Win, or we don’t feel we have gotten better.  Win, or we don’t feel like we’ve gotten our moneys worth.  Just win.

I’m not saying winning isn’t important (or fun) because it is.  But winning as the primary/only measure of success, especially in youth sports, will burn you.

In order to counteract this perspective, it is important to develop and define a clear picture of success — then talk about it all the time.  Make sure your kids hear it.  Make sure your parents hear it.  And make sure all coaches hear it.

When I first started coaching, I just wanted to share the game I love, teach fundamentals, and see if I could help my kids get better.  Unfortunately, that’s not very specific.  There are lots of obvious gaps, and those gaps are quickly filled by others beliefs, hopes, dreams, or fears.

As you get started, focus on few key “age appropriate” goals.  For example, in our 5th grade there are a few main goals.

  1. Teach how to play on a team, and play as a team.
  2. Teach Effort and Attitude above all else.
  3. Help kids fall in love with the game.

These few examples act as anchors in how we coach.  These help us resist the urge to make awfully stupid, short term decisions when kids make mistakes — robbing them of a chance to learn and experiment.  “Safe to fail” experiences are critical.  The kid who makes the mistake, more than anyone else in the gym, knows they’ve made a mistake.  My job is is to make that mistake safe…to make it OK.  It’s all part of the learning process.  If I can do that, the kids rapidly adjust and figure out better ways.  If they figure it out on their own, they feel competent.  When they feel competent, they are open to more learning.  If they’re learning, they improve and continue to feel engaged.

Interesting note — if they improve rapidly, they also tend to WIN.  Weird, right?  But I digress…



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