The lessons we don’t see coming are often the ones we never forget.
Grassroots sports today can be as cruel as anything else in life. The root of a lot of the cruelty, I believe, comes from the adults involved, many of which base their success on the performance of their 7-year-old child. Lost are the days where the fundamental nature of team sport was building life skills. We are living in an era where parents place their children in sports based on finances or their own sport of choice, robbing them of the chance to understand the complexity of these choices.
Sport is all about choices and the mistakes or triumphs attached to them. We can all recall moments in our lives that shaped the person we are today. One of the most influential years of my life started when I was fifteen and trying out for a team I knew I was destined to make, or so I thought. My close friend’s father was the coach of the team and during the short week of try-outs he noticed that I wasn’t performing to the best of my ability. At the end of the week he told me I would not be part of the team that season. My best friends made the team and that kind of embarrassment can be pretty crushing especially in those high-school years. It was one of the worst moments of my life at the time but, in retrospect, one of the most defining ones.
I ended up playing for a team coached by a longtime family friend with a less win-oriented mentality and a stronger focus on skill development and having fun in the process. This was a tough adjustment for me at since I had a reputation for being an over-competitive, win-at-all-costs athlete. I didn’t know it at the time but this team was exactly what I needed. At the beginning of the year, I was given the captain’s “C” and went on to have a statistically successful season. But the team failed to win back-to-back games at any point during the year and tallied only a few wins toward the end, a painful experience for a kid who was used to winning. A number of outbursts directed at teammates and friends for not able to execute what, in my mind, were simple tasks ended with me losing the “C” on my jersey and being challenged to win it back.
I was forced to see things from other people’s points of view and recognize that I crossed some lines. I learned to teach and push my teammates rather than point fingers. I learned how to lead and command the respect of my peers instead of inducing a fear of failure. The leadership skills I gained in this one season of hockey started me down a path to success I would have never imagined, all thanks to a coach who recognized I had more to offer and a set of parents who wanted me to learn a very important lesson.
As a coach myself, I have seen far too many parents who feel their child is better suited as the fifteenth member of a team than a leader or star on a lesser team. Take a look back on your life and try to think of a moment where you failed and learned from the experience. My guess is, you worked hard to make sure it didn’t happen again. A lot of our youth aren’t learning the value of fighting their own battles, thinking for themselves, and learning from their mistakes. It has nothing to do with video games or cell phones. It’s about parents who won’t take their children out of the bubble wrap.