The Athlete's Choice

Young athletes love to participate in activities that are fun, that allow them to showcase their skills and abilities, and where skill improvement is taught by caring and informed coaches. Unfortunately, the young athletes do not make the decision on who will provide them with the background for future successes on the field and in life.  Parents, coaches, sport organizations, and influential parental friends all play a significant role in sport selection and how the sport education will proceed.  How can youth sport participants navigate this system of development where getting a knowledgeable, energized, and proficient teacher as a coach and a supportive parental group is a game of luck?  

Education…Education…Education…Parents and coaches that enhance knowledge within the field of youth sports have a better opportunity for making better decisions and creating an improved environment for the participant.  Every youth athlete deserves to participate in a positive environment that is built around individual growth and success.  Athletes thrive in environments that feature:

  • Learning and Fun to be the two significant outcome goals.
  • An emphasis placed on personal improvement over winning.
  • Coaches that create personal relationships with athletes and their families.
  • Mistakes as stepping stones towards achievement.
  • Coaches who provide positive reinforcement at an increased ratio compared to constructive criticism.

The earlier an athlete can be placed in this type of environment, the greater the opportunity for the participant to begin to develop a passion for the activity.
Athletes that develop a passion for sport participation at a younger age have fun while participating, spend more time working on their skills away from practice, take time to observe more professional games, and become devoted to the sport of their choice as they grow older.  Healthy and active lifestyles for a lifetime are created in this manner through simply creating a supportive and positive environment around the athlete.  As the athlete is beginning participation, they have no control over what the environment is like in which they are involved.  While most sport administrators, coaches, and parents step forward for positive reasons, they simply do not know how to successfully create the environment that is necessary for success to happen. 

A positive sports environment will look different from all groups involved including the athlete, family, friends, and coach.  Player participation, fun, and activity interest all increase when each group that provides influence on the athlete work in harmony.  A positive sports environment will have options for all levels of participants including beginners, advanced players, and everybody in-between.  Placing the athlete within the appropriate level and team where they have an opportunity for success through hard work and dedication assists in growing the passion.  Match up a quality coach who understands the environment that athletes thrive in and an opportunity for life-long learning through sport appears.  The formula is not complicated, but very often the support groups confuse what the children want with their own personal desires.  It becomes coach and parent centered where achieving success is defined through winning and trophies.  Athletes flourish in an environment where fun and learning are the main reasons for participation.  If it spirals out of control and the group defines success as winning games, players will not be able to deal with the pressure of being in a must win situation at all times.  In this environment, success does not happen unless the game is won.  After watching 1000’s of games over a lifetime, it has become apparent that a team can win or lose the game and development and learning can happen for both teams.  It depends upon what the coach places emphasis upon…development and learning or winning and losing.  Development and learning are what we want…development and learning lead us to become lifetime learners…development and learning allow athletes to accentuate the process over the result.  When the athletes purpose for participation is different than the coaches, parents, and other members of the athlete’s support group, the outcome will be disastrous. 

The consistency and cooperation developed through shared experiences from all influential factors around the athlete leads to the establishment of a positive sports environment.  A positive sports environment is a byproduct of the leadership of the team, group, or organization intentionally determining that positive relationships and actions within athletic endeavors have an effect of creating an increased opportunity for lifetime success for the athlete.  This process does not happen magically and is often overlooked by coaches and organizational leaders.  Only through this intentional positive interaction can the environment be shaped to have such a dramatic impact on the participant.

From the athletes perspective, a positive environment is viewed like this:

  • Has fun learning and developing skills and ability at chosen athletic endeavor.
  • Enthusiastic about attending practice and does not want to leave.
  • Arrives early and throughout practice is upbeat, laughing, and smiling.
  • Enjoys training and often trains on own outside of established practice times.
  • Appreciates spending time with other members of the team and their families on and off the field.
  • Enjoys the flow of practice and learns through participatory opportunities.
  • Gains confidence through positive feedback but understands receiving constructive criticism is an opportunity to learn. 
  • Defines success using goal setting to have a complete understanding of how to win for a day, week, month, season, and lifetime.
  • Takes great pride in stating they are a member of the team or group in which they train and play.

These perspectives on a positive sports environment are only realized when the organizational or team leadership realizes that success is more than winning the game or winning the league championship.  Success is understanding the process to win for a lifetime.  The leadership must educate all groups to ensure an overall positive sports environment is created.

The search for a dynamic coach, mentor, and group leader must start at the beginning of participation.  It is not only something the athlete needs at the age of 15 but they need this at 5…and every year in which they participate in athletics.  Dynamic coaches who care teach lessons that can be used over a lifetime, not simply used next week to win the game.  Set your child up for success by being an active participant in finding the right coach and program for your child.  Effective coaches and leaders are able to create meaningful youth sports experiences in which it is possible for athletes to learn about ideas such as work ethic, teamwork, respect, overcoming adversity, and competitive greatness.  These coaches have the following attributes:

•    Honest/Approachable/Great Communicator
•    Passionate/Fun/Caring
•    Emphasize and create positive relationships
•    Dedicated to the success of the athlete and program
•    Educated in teaching, Alters leadership style for varying situations, Provides effective feedback

Young athletes have limited opportunities to create an environment of success for themselves.  An incredible amount of responsibility is given to the athletes support group that includes the parents, coaches, sport organization, other family members, and parental friends.  When these groups work together as positive influential factors in the life of the athlete, an effective environment is created for the athlete to grow, prosper, develop, and become a lifetime learner.  

As our youth athlete moves on to their next milestones in life such as college or a full time job, what else would we want as we look back on the youth athletic experience but an opportunity to have participated in an excellent organization that shaped the positive growth and development of our most treasured family members?  Scores are long forgotten but meaningful experiences last forever!!!  

Brad Nein