The Work Hards

There is a strange insult on youth athletic fields these days.

“Don’t be such a Work Hard” is a slam that is meant to mock the hardest working players at practice. In most cases, it’s more a tease than a direct insult, but we all know that “I was just joking” is no joke.

GH_FBALL_2_1“Yeah, he’s a Work Hard” is meant to discourage the sort of aggressive play that requires extra-hard running, physical contact, and mental intensity. It’s a sarcastic swipe at the up-and-comers. Often it comes from the older or starting player who is feeling the pressure of a younger harder working player. It’s a way of saying, “Dude, take it down a notch. It’s just practice. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.” In most cases, the coaches are not aware of it because it is said out of their earshot. 

This attitude of entitlement and laziness has no place in youth sports. It’s an insidious message to young kids that says, “Talent is better than effort. Hard work is just annoying.” It’s an elitist attitude that says, “Hey, back off, this is my position on the team. You aren’t entitled to it. Your extra effort reveals your lack of talent.”  It represents all that youth sports should NOT be about. Continue reading “The Work Hards”

The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

Fun = Connection

Have Fun with Your Child ASAP

Good parenting has an order of operations. Insides come first. A child should feel connected to his or her mom or dad in a profound way, first and foremost. Then, and only then, the child will think about what the parent is communicating.

A strong emotional bond between parent and child is the single most important aspect of raising children; the rest is details.

snowmanKids bond with people who make them smile and laugh. As a parent, you don’t have to be all that funny or crazy, as long as you will share what makes you laugh. If you think something is funny or cool, then in all likelihood, a kid will think so, too. Sharing a laugh is a force multiplier in the war for a child’s heart, especially when there is tension between parent and child.

My sister once grounded her son for several days, but instead of neglecting him or shaming him, she took advantage of his presence around the house. They played games, went bowling, and played practical jokes on each other. This may seem like a strange way to punish a child, but punishment is not the goal. Connection and correction are the goals. It worked nicely for the whole family; the fun and laughter cut through the tension and created a stronger bond, which means her son is less likely to make that kind of trouble again.

There are no guarantees that our children will grow up well, but the inside-out approach is always the better way. Children are far less likely to engage in problem behaviors when they feel deeply loved, known, and respected by their parents. Continue reading “Fun = Connection”

Connect With Your Young Teen

First Connect, Then Guide

celebrateThe best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.

Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”

Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury

So, your teenager is injured and is out for the rest of the season. Of course, his or her initial reaction will be anger, sadness, self-pity, confusion. That is normal, since this is a form of grief – the loss of something beloved.

But after a few days of sulking and trying to come to grips with the loss, a young athlete has a choice to make. Will he or she make the very best of the situation, or not?

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3d rendered illustration of a painful shoulderWhen I was a high school freshman, I was a big shot quarterback, playing up with the older kids on the junior varsity team. In the first game of the year, I played well enough to lead the team to a win, but I broke my collarbone on one of the last plays of the game. That was it for the season. No more football until next year.

After a week of pain and anger at home, I was back at school, feeling better but not able to run, throw, or do anything athletically. It seemed totally pointless to go to practice or games, so I just stopped showing up. I would hang out after school for a little while, then get to my homework early.

After a few days, one of my coaches asked me when I would show up to practice and games. I was surprised. I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, since I can’t play for the rest of the season.”

Coach pushed back a little, “Well, you can come to the games at the very least and still be a part of the team, right?” Continue reading “Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury”

Building a Better Brain

  1. Snooze time
    It is essential that children get the proper amount of rest. Follow the recommendations of your pediatrician – at least eight hours per night. Not only will your kids be more alert and ready to learn, they will have much happier attitudes. Set a bed time for your child and stick to it.
  2. Exercise that brain
    Your child’s brain is like a sponge ready to soak up everything it comes across. Age appropriate games help to stimulate his mind and gain many varied skills. Board games, building blocks, puzzles, checkers and chess are just a few examples of games that also build smarts. Continue reading “Building a Better Brain”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

Somewhere along the line we became a society that preached instant gratification. Like a giant carnival, our slogan became “everybody wins all the time.” We know it’s not true. It’s also a terrible example to set. Losing is every bit as important in human growth as winning. Rewarding your child for doing nothing will teach him just that. Nothing.

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

Maybe your daughter wants to be the next Carrie Underwood. Then you hear her sing. Your son wants to be Evan Longoria. He can’t hit the ball off a tee. There are just some things we aren’t cut out for. It’s best to learn that at an early age. The good news is that they are a champion at something. Guide them towards where their gifts lie.

3.  Have Class

What is one of the most flattering descriptions a person can hear? “He sure has a lot of class.” “She sure was a great sport about it.” Are you teaching your children how to fail with dignity? How a person accepts failure is an easy indicator of the character within. It also almost guarantees future success. Respect is gained outwardly and inwardly. Coach Dungy is prime example of “class.”

4.  Learning From Mistakes

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Who said that? Albert Einstein. Mistakes humble. They can hurt. Yet without them, we are stagnant. Every mistake we make is an educational experience. Every success is built upon a foundation of errors and corrections.

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Kindness Matters

Now and then, the tables are turned, and an everyday kid doing a good deed gets some attention.

Let’s all remember that there are plenty of kids out there growing up and making a difference now.

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Sportsmanship is alive

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It’s such an easy gesture yet it’s rarely seen…the simple act of sportsmanship.

Early in the game played on the lush fields of Westminster Christian Academy in Creve Coeur, Webster Groves lacrosse player Caroline Burk went down with a leg injury.  As coach Josh Palacios  ran to his player, she was already being attended to by Westminster Christians’s Danielle Pfyl.  The two helped Caroline to the sidelines.

These days the act is rarely seen away from the high school playing fields.

Over the course of covering six St. Louis Cardinals games so far this season, this photographer has seen more jawing between pitchers and hitters, both demanding respect.  In one instance the banter almost resulted in a bench clearing confrontation.

They could learn just a little bit from Danielle.

Read the Comments from both players here.  Wonderful stuff.

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Related Post: athletics-is-a-means-to-an-end

Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End

Every parent of an athletic child wonders if their kid has a shot at the big time.  Well, let’s look at some hard facts related to this question. Just 2 percent of varsity high school athletes will play their sport in college, and only 1 percent will get a scholarship to do so.  Let’s take basketball as an example.  Roughly 1 basketball player from all the athletes from 8 high school teams will get a scholarship.  How many high school basketball players make it to the professional level?  0.03% Yes, that is 3 in 10,000 who make an income playing basketball.  Far less will make the big money in the NBA.  And very few of them play for very long.  The truth of the matter is brutal.  9,997 varsity high school players don’t ever make any money playing basketball; 3 do.  Of those three, two will earn about $40,000 a year in a foreign league until younger players replace them in about five years.  1 in 10,000 will gain some fame and fortune playing ball.

So kids may dream of playing pro ball, but it’s a fantasy for all but a very, very, very few who are extraordinarily talented, extremely hardworking, and exceedingly fortunate to avoid injuries and be seen by the right people at the right time.

So, is it foolish to pursue excellence in sports in high school?  Absolutely not!  But it’s essential that student athletes understand that sports is a great teacher, but it’s a lousy employer (because it isn’t hiring).  Athletics is a means, not an end.  It can teach young people valuable lessons and instill noble character traits that are extremely useful in their careers and in their relationships.

But too many kids and parents are burdened with the belief that they can do it.  They will be the next LeBron James, Roger Federer, or Albert Pujols.  I say “burdened” because the overwhelming evidence says that they will not achieve anywhere near that level of success.  And the result is a young life that is very often ultra-competitive, over-scheduled, and hyper-stressed.   Burnout is common.  Injuries can be severe (torn ACL’s and rotator cuffs among preteens are not unusual now).  Resentment often looms ahead.

Stephen Durant is an expert in youth sports, and his book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? has some excellent advice for parents and coaches of great young athletes.

1.  “Emphasize the development of virtue and character over scoreboard outcome. The development of a good character — the ability to control passion, emotion, and behavior — will always stand children in good stead on and off the playing field… Children, at any talent level, can only be truly successful in life if they possess good character.  Becoming an emotionally balanced person of courage, fairness, self-discipline, and strong ability to work as a member of a team, sets up a person for success in any endeavor, in any place” (Durant).

Continue reading “Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End”

Loyalty and Love Personified

John Wooden, the most-successful and most-revered basketball coach of all time, is a role model for so many men — and rightfully so.  To this day, as he approaches 100 years old, his character is so strong that the people around him want to be better because of his example.  Watch this, and you’ll get a glimpse of why he inspires so many people, near and far, with his loyalty and his love.

Let’s not forget that this kind of life is possible — and powerful.

We have a lot to learn from Coach Wooden.  Click here for more.

Poor Sport Dad

My sister has two kids (10 and 13), both of whom are very athletic, and their family truly enjoys participating in and watching youth sports.  We like to swap stories about our kids, and inevitably many of them are about something crazy that has happened in sports.  Here is the latest…

“Last night at Hailey’s basketball game, we were playing a team we’ve beaten 3 times before, and this time they were out for blood. Never mind the obnoxious lady coach teaching her kids to throw elbows and “get ’em!” but there was something even better.  I loved the Dad and his teenage son, sitting right under the basket, who decided that in the second half they would wave their arms and yell and laugh while our girl was shooting a free throw. They did this twice, and then a dad from the same team went over to tell them to stop. They didn’t!  It was hysterical and SAD. After the game one of our very shy moms confronted him. She told him “Good game, your girls deserved to win” and then went on to tell him how inappropriate his behavior was. You could see he was clearly shocked at this confrontation, but sadly he told her “your team has beaten our team 3 times, and we wanted to win.”  These girls are third and fourth graders!”

Here are my thoughts on this scene:

A.  It doesn’t shock me, although it is fairly rare to see someone THAT immature and moronic in the stands of youth sports.

B.  I am so proud of the two parents who confronted him about his terrible behavior.  We need more of them.

C.  The referees, or the tournament director, should have stopped the game to confront him and thrown him out of the gym if he refused to stop.

D.  I feel sorry for the man’s kids.

E.  Like my mom said about my own baseball coach who used to lose his mind on occasions, “Kids can learn from bad examples as well as good ones, if parents talk about these things with their kids.”

In the grand scheme of things, we need to remember that youth sports is a series of kids games with referees and coaches to keep things moving along well.   It’s a game.  And sometimes it takes a jerk in the stands to remind us of that.

Get Out and Play!

Yesterday afternoon was a cold one – a great day to be inside with some hot chocolate.  The wind chill was in the single digits.  Four inches of snow and ice covered the ground.  Inside, we were perfectly warm and dry.

There were five of us (ages 7, 11, 19, 38, 39), standing around in the kitchen eating some chips, crab dip, and cookies for an after-school snack.  We were kicking around ideas of what to do for the next hour before dinner.

Option A:  Watch TV (The Muppet Show on dvd) or internet videos (Super Bowl commercials)

Option B:  Play a video game (Guitar Hero)

Option C:  Play a board game, cards, or BananaGrams

Option D:  Get all bundled up and go sledding.

Sledding seemed like the most fun but would require the most effort by far.  I didn’t really want to mess with finding five sets of hats, gloves, boots, snow pants, and jackets, and the cleanup is always a hassle too.  However, I thought that I really needed some exercise, so we went for it.

It was the best part of the day by far – full of danger, excitement, laughter, and fun exercise.  Yes, it required a lot of preparation, some patience, some fighting against the bitter wind, and some counseling of the 7 year old.  But what an experience!  The picture of three kids mashed together in a big plastic sled, about to shoot down the hill, is worth a hundred times more than any kind of picture of those kids sitting in front of the television.

We all need more of this.

“Life is about being out, and experiencing it!” Tiki Barber

Beyond Beauty and Athletics

Athletic talent is instant karma for the social status of any young man.  In modern American mythology, the quarterback is the hero.

It’s easy for the athletically-gifted boy to be well-respected and popular because he is always among the biggest, fastest, strongest, and most coordinated boys in his grade.  Anytime there is a physical contest, which is pretty much every hour of every day in a boy’s life, he succeeds.  He gets picked first – maybe second – every time.  And that is just the beginning of the fun.  Win or lose, his God-given talent is on stage for all of his peers to see, sometimes garnering instant applause.  Later, he will bask in the glory of hearing others review some great move or play he made.  His friends will enter his bedroom to see a wall full of trophies, ribbons, and medals.  In high school, he will see his name and picture in the local newspaper.  It’s “The Life” for a boy.

For the most elite athlete, he doesn’t feel the NEED to be a good student, have a witty personality, or have great social skills.  In some cases, he doesn’t even need to practice as hard as the others.  He just needs to put on his shoes and go play ball and success happens because he has IT – the gift of athleticism.  So, he gets self-esteem automatically, friends easily, and it can spoil him to the point where he is no longer developing in other important areas.  His peers allow him to coast – and not grow up well.

And so it is with the beautiful girl. Everybody knows who she is. From the earliest age, people stare at her, trying to figure out what makes her so pretty.  What’s her secret?  All of her pictures turn out well because she is naturally photogenic.  Her facial features are perfectly symmetrical with high cheekbones and bright eyes. Her skin is clear and bright. Her hair easily folds into the latest hairstyle, and her figure just gets better each year.  She is Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who needs no decoration or modification.  In modern mythology, the beautiful cheerleader is the goddess who captivates the hero.

She simply smiles politely, and everybody adores her.  She doesn’t have to speak intelligently, get good grades, or have a snappy sense of humor.  Her name is written on binders at school, and all eyes are on her in the halls.  Continue reading “Beyond Beauty and Athletics”

Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models

This week on the car radio, I overheard the most obnoxious sports radio talk show host furiously ranting and raving about how corrupt professional and big college sports have become.  It went something like this: “Don’t let your kids idolize anyone in sports today!  It’s an ugly business, full of greediness, lying, cheating, and everything that is wrong with this world.  There are no role models in sports anymore!”  To me, it was a shocking rant because his livelihood is made from talking about sports, yet there he was betraying his industry with the most extreme language.  He didn’t “pull a punch” or let anyone off the hook.  He explained with the utmost disgust that all professional and big college athletes, coaches, and executives are tainted by the money, the power, and the fame.

It troubled me as I thought of the players from my childhood who were my role models: Cal Ripken Jr., Lou Brock, John Stockton, Roger Staubach, and Walter Payton.  I thought about some of the role models that I have in sports now:  Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Albert Pujols, and others.  Are they in some way corrupt too?  Are they just putting on a show for the public?  Or are they just the extreme minority — one of just a very few people in the sports industry who have stayed grounded in spite of all the corruption around them?  Or is this radio host just off his rocker once again?

Continue reading “Liars, Cheaters, and Role Models”

Just Believe in Yourself

“Just believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

“Pursue your dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

Countless movies, songs, TV shows, and motivational speakers have preached this message.  And countless teachers, coaches, and counselors preach the same message.  Parents teach their children the same.

So, why would any young person ever doubt it?  Most believe it 100% — until they experience enough reality that they realize that it’s a lie that adults tell to make children (and themselves) feel good. It’s just like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy.  It’s something that feels good and right at the time, but eventually, life reveals that it’s just not true.

basketballHow many boys have spent hours each day playing basketball in the driveway because they knew that they could one day play in the NBA?  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of dunking?  I know I tried everything to dunk, only to find that I was just not able, no matter how much I believed, how much I practiced, or how much I learned.  I wasn’t good enough to play in college either.  I wish someone (or several people) had told me something a lot more truthful, such as, “Quit trying to dunk and spend more time shooting because your only chance at playing in college is as a shooting guard.  But don’t count on it, since the odds are extraordinarily stacked against it.  Studying is much better for you than playing so much basketball.”

How many girls have spent endless hours singing in order to make it in the music business.  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of getting the lead part in their high school musical?  How many high school musical leads get a recording contract?  How many girls will be the next Miley Cyrus or Beyonce?  What percentage of American Idol contestants succeed in getting fame?  For millions of girls, it just doesn’t happen — no matter how much they believe in themselves and practice and learn and believe some more.  It’s a fantasy.

It hinders kids to tell them that they can do whatever they put their mind to.  And that’s in addition to the fact that it is a lie.  It may be easy, feel-good advice, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading “Just Believe in Yourself”

Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports

After a weekend out of town at my son’s soccer tournament, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Did you win?”  It was, without question, the single-most popular question of the weekend. Even strangers in the hotel would ask my uniformed son, “Didja win?”  And each time he would sadly reply, “No,” followed by an awkward silence.

For an 11-year-old boy who loves to win, it’s not easy, especially when you lose all three games.  Especially when you drive 5 hours each way to make it happen.
DSC00625
O for 3.
Winless.
Losers.

And yet he and his teammates played so hard and so well. They did all that their coach asked them to do.  They pressured the ball on defense.  They stayed spread out.  In particular, they passed the ball much better than all the other teams.  They put together nice plays and took more shots than the other teams.  They kept playing hard, giving their best – body, mind, and heart – even when knocked down over and over without a foul being called.   Shot after shot would hit the goalposts or just miss the net.  But then they’d give up a breakaway goal to the other team.

Continue reading “Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports”

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