Athletics is not just sport, it’s an experience...

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Why should we consider athletics an experience, not just sport?   

"Athletics are really the foundation of how kids' attitudes are formed and shaped. And that has to work with the coach and the parents." -Herm Edwards (works with the Positive Coaching Alliance- PCA)

I’ve played competitive sports for 40 years - in high school, college, and men's leagues. Participating in sports is one of the greatest joys of my life. I’ve also coached competitive youth sports for seven years; mostly soccer but also basketball and flag football. When we play sports, we are satisfying a deep human need, which is part competition, part ego, part physical exertion, and part relationship.

As a player, a coach, and possibly more importantly, as a parent, I have come to highly value both wins and losses in athletics. It is essential that we teach our kids to compete at a high level and to win when possible, but teaching our kids how to lose is equally important. The best way to teach our kids how to lose, is to be a good example and model for them as parents and adults.

In athletics, winning and losing are both essential in developing the character of our boys and girls. When I coach, I teach all the kids that we are practicing and playing to win because winning is more fun and something we should strive to achieve, however, it is possible to win and not be satisfied and lose and be satisfied.  

It’s NOT possible to lose and be satisfied!

Au contraire mon Ami. I have participated in many losses as a player as well as a coach and parent where I felt satisfied with my team's effort. It is when we don't give up, show respect, and continue to be a good sport throughout the game, and it is when we’re up against a good or superior team, that I have, yes, felt bummed, but still felt satisfied.  A loss in athletics is an opportunity to use a methodology called ELM (effort, learning, and mistakes) found in my favorite resource on positive and successful coaching: Positive Coaching Alliance. Coaches use this framework during practice and games, and parents can use it during games and most importantly, on the ride home.

Parents, coaches and players should ask these 3 questions after each game

  1. How was our effort?  

  2. Did we learn anything?

  3. Did we successfully move on from our own and our teammate's mistakes?

On the flip side, it is possible to win and be dissatisfied. Using ELM as a guide, if the effort was low and/or teammates were critical of each other or the opposite team during a game, one can certainly leave the game dissatisfied after a win. Winning is obviously easier, but teaching kids how to win and how to learn from winning is a real opportunity that is sometimes lost.

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Winning and losing are both an important part of the sports experience. Some like to say that there are only “winners and learners.” Losing stinks, but as adults, we should know that it is ok sometimes, even when the loss is not deserved, or the team didn’t put in the effort, or the ever painful event where the referees were either subpar or showed signs of bias. During my years of playing sports whether at a high competitive level or just for fun, both the losing and winning provided me with a wealth of experience that have deeply influenced my life and the successes I have achieved.

We have lost and will loose again

Please join me in looking at athletics as an experience that is able to teach our kids in both winning and losing, and allow our kids the opportunity to lose with grace and respect. My hope is that during the next game, when your team is losing or your kid isn’t playing up to their potential, just celebrate for a moment the lesson being learned and the elevated character being developed. Just for a moment.

“As water reflects the face, so one's life reflects the heart.” Proverbs 27:19

Drew Little is a tech-founder, entrepreneur, coach, Dad at ICS, blogger and executive life coach.  

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