On a beautiful September afternoon, I stopped in to watch a few of our Good Athlete Project coaches lead their teams in a tough youth football battle. It was everything one could ask for: energy, autumn atmosphere, support. The two coaches I watched did an amazing job toeing the line between tough and kind. They were motivators, and they were teachers. It was exciting to see.
At halftime, I roamed the grounds to check in on the games taking place at nearby fields. There was another tough battle taking place on the main field. It was good to see football back in action.
Then, out of my periphery, I noticed a coach weighing in his team before the game (this is a standard safety measure in youth football, as heavier players are not allowed to carry the ball). He started to chant and call to his players. At first it sounded good natured enough. But then…
“I will kill you if you don’t give one hundred percent today!”
I laughed uncomfortably. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I thought that sort of approach only happened in movies. Apparently not.
One of the reasons we at the Good Athlete Project continue to do our work is because these moments continue to pop up. Even in high quality environments, rogue coaches forget that they are teachers – molders on young minds – and fall into the over-the-top nonsense that looks more like a bad military movie than a youth football game.
It’s too bad. But it’s why we keep going.
For more on this idea, here’s a quick overview from a previous article that features one of the Advisors to our project, Rick Weissbourd. Full article can be found HERE
From the article, The Coaches We Mean to Be:
Healthy sports cultures teach young people to regulate their emotions in emotion-rich environments. Rick adds that “intense competition can be really good for kids” IF, in keeping with the theme, coaches help young people frame these moments. Intense competition does not include excessive violence and rule breaking. It can include full effort, quick decision making, and the prioritization of team over self. Emotions need to be regulated. That skill can serve as a successful strategy in many other areas of the student’s life.
What is so refreshing about Rick’s perspective is that he acknowledges that feelings of aggression and competition should not be met with shame. It is rarely okay to chastise a child for feeling any sort of way; rather, we have an opportunity to teach young people how to deal with those feelings. That, coaches, can be a life lesson.
He notes that these life lessons are not always conveyed in the ways we assume. Coaches who cultivate us-vs-them or win-at-all-costs cultures often include explicit or implied permissions of violence and rule breaking. Those are the toxic situations which undercut healthy adolescent development. Rather benignly, they create unpleasant experiences in sport and do not allow students to reap the full benefits of the experience.
If those toxic mindsets continue, how they transfer and present themselves in realms other than the field or court can be devastating. “Being a man” in artificial or violent ways, for example, often has a way of terrorizing relationships and unceremoniously ending any chance at social success.
That said, Rick’s mission is aimed not at finger pointing, but at accurate looking. Counterbalancing those violent, toxic cultures, there are “everyone-gets-a-trophy-cultures.” These too can be harmful, since “kids need to learn to cope and deal constructively with underperformance.”
Unfortunately, popular opinions of sport seem to include either 1) win at all costs, or 2) you’re all perfect.
At the Good Athlete Project, the goal for students is to win as a team, with the win serving as the product of healthy adherence to a process of constant improvement.
For more, find us at GoodAthleteProject.com – we look forward to hearing from you!