Many youth sports experts I’ve read lately have been emphasizing the idea of “just having fun” in youth sports.
While I agree that children can only grow in their love for the game if they are having fun, there comes a point in their development when “just have fun” falls short.
It is here that we need to have a unique marriage in youth sports: the union of “just have fun” with the concept of commitment.
While “just have fun” teaches kids to enjoy sports, learning about commitment teaches your child a skill that will stick with him or her for life. When your child understands commitment, he or she knows what it means to decide to do something, then give it 100%, holding nothing back. When your child learns commitment, he or she learns to give his or her all to a friendship, task, or ideology. Your child learns that it’s important to finish what she starts, and to keep his promises.
These are the lessons that “just have fun” on its own do not teach your child, but when combined with commitment, the two become a powerful impact on a young athlete.
Lesson #1: Resisting the Urge to Quit
Not quitting takes a lot of life experience that kids don’t have. Most of them struggle to overcome that instinctive in-the-moment urge to quit. It doesn’t just happen in youth sports either. Sometimes you see it when your child is doing school work or playing video games or cleaning her room. Kids tend to give up way too easily.
Imagine if you allowed this impulsive behavior to go unchallenged. Your child would grow up to be an adult that followed the same in-the-moment urge to quit–on his marriage, in her job, against health challenges.
As a sports parent, you can turn those in-the-moment urges to quit into learning opportunities for your child that will last a lifetime.
For instance, what should you do if your child wants to quit during the season?
Let’s back up for a minute and say this: before you sign your child up for a team–or shortly thereafter–it is important that you talk about the commitment it involves so that he or she understands that when he or she signed up, it was for the whole season.
The season may start great, but there may come a time when your child wants to quit. The reason can vary on a scale from ridiculous (the uniform doesn’t fit right) to heart-wrenching (your child feels the coach doesn’t like him). Or maybe your child has figured out that she actually doesn’t like to play this sport.
This is the point when you talk with your child about the reasons for wanting to quit, ask what has changed and remind her of the commitment she made when the season began. In order to use this as a learning experience for your child, remember that the goal is to guide him towards making a decision that helps him understand what commitment is.
I am not going to tell you that it is never okay to let your child quit during a season. Each child’s situation is different. But I will tell you this: don’t let your child make a habit of quitting. Once you let her do it, she will want to do it again, perhaps in another arena: girl scouts, band, school clubs. This is not a habit you want to to encourage.
Lesson #2: Understanding the Value of Time
Teaching kids about commitment also teaches them the value of time. Success does not occur overnight. It is an ongoing process.
Kids are naturally pretty impatient. And today, with all the quick fixes and instant answers, there is less and less opportunity for kids to learn about patience. When your child learns about commitment in youth sports, he is learning patience; he is seeing that time has value and the process is really what causes growth.
Hard work + Time = Success
Hard work for one day will not result in long term success.
Time by itself does not result in long term success.
But when your child commits to the two together–and sees results–a light will go on in that beautiful head. Commitment over time does produce results!
Lesson #3: Accepting the Important of Teamwork
Kids definitely are not born as team players. They are selfish, narcissistic creatures from birth that only learn about working with others as parents teach them.
Helping your child understand the important of being a team player is something he or she can learn at a very young age. And when youth sports comes into the picture, the idea of “teamwork” takes on an entirely new meaning. It is here that your child can see in a very vivid example that a team accomplishes way more than any one person can.
It’s a cold, harsh reality, but it’s important that your child understands that when you are part of a team you lose some semblance of individualism. Your child cannot be out there on the field or court for his advancement only. If that’s the case, he will most likely be disliked by teammates and distrusted by coaches.
Learning commitment to a team, not just to your own individual desires, is a hard lesson for kids to learn.
But if they do not, they will grow up to be adults that run over others to get a job done, and in the process sacrifice the value of work that comes when people work together as a team. They fracture families because they think only of their personal needs and wants and not the wants and needs of a spouse or other family members.
Being committed to team is actually one of the most rewarding and fun aspects of youth sports. The commitment that teammates make to one other builds a bond that sticks with kids far past the season.
Resurrect the C-Word in Youth Sports
Commitment is not a word we toss around a lot these days. But it is a core value that our kids need to learn to be healthy, strong adults, who will make a positive impact on their world. Let’s not throw the C-word aside as we seek to make sports fun. Instead, let’s unite fun and commitment in a way that will give kids a love for sports and commitment.
Back in April, I started a series on 52 Virtues. I got sidetracked with some other projects, but I’m back with virtue #4: Commitment. If you’d like to get caught up, here’s the other three on Assertiveness, Caring, and Cleanliness.