Parents and coaches have invaluable opportunities to teach and apply real-life lessons within the fun of organized sports. Unfortunately, many of us miss out on the opportunity.
My son plays U7 basketball in our suburban Washington, DC community. (U7 can be kids ranging from 6 – 8 years old)
“How wonderful—what an awesome experience for a dad—to see his son play basketball with his peers,” said no Dad ever!
The time set aside for practice and game play each week are probably the most excruciatingly painful 3 hours of my week. This is actually my son’s 2nd year playing basketball, and last year was just as painful. Unfortunately, a hectic work schedule, a newborn, and a mountain of other excuses get in the way of officially volunteering as a coach. Some would say I have no reason to complain, but alas, I disagree. As a matter of fact, consider this article my way of coaching not only my son, but all of your sons and daughters, and applying some common sense approaches to leading our kids and communities on and off the court.
As I was sitting on the sidelines, muttering many curse words quietly to myself, I thought about what the hell was wrong with me. Why was I so angry? I wasn’t too concerned with how my son was performing—how many steps he took without dribbling—how much air the ball flew through before hitting neither backboard or rim. I find myself most annoyed when parents, teachers, coaches, etc miss prime opportunities to TEACH children—not necessarily the formal lessons of ready, writing, and arithmetic—but invaluable life lessons.
The following three points are common sense, anecdotal themes I gathered from watching the beautiful struggle of U7 basketball.
Sports and any organized activity are an excellent opportunity to teach the concept of discipline. If you leave it to a group of ten 7-8 year-old boys, they will run, fart, slide, and blow spit bubbles for 10-12 hours/day. Sports, and other organized activities gives educators (yes, coaches—you all are educators) the structure to teach children about the discipline and hard work that goes into being an athlete. Unfortunately, there is a dichotomy in how adults coach their young players. Many parents and coaches alike, think that participating in organized activity is ONLY about “having fun”—while others are preparing 7-year old Jimmy for the NBA finals. Coaches miss the opportunity to teach and nurture their players about the importance of having fun AND listening to an adult—at the same time. At this young and impressionable age, coaches must require discipline and structure into their practices and games. Start each practice with 30 jumping jacks and 3 laps around the court and stretching. Teach kids to stop moving or to pay close attention when they hear a whistle. Require consequences for children that do not follow the rules. Make it fun. All students that aren’t listening have to do 10 push-ups. They’ll love it at first—but will quickly understand that it’s much easier to pay attention and listen to coach. Seeing a coach screaming at the top of their lungs to “rebound the damned ball” isn’t going to necessarily help a kid get that rebound. Ultimately, you’re teaching your young players about balance—definitely a transferable skill that will aid them in the classroom.
Teach your players how to lose. Call me callous, but whenever I see a young player crying after a game, I know they are not crying about losing a basketball game—children at that age aren’t as connected to winning and losing as we are—they are crying because they are not used to not getting their way. These are the kids that are never wrong, get treats for trying, “A-plusses for effort,” and have had iPhones since they were 3. I understand that we, as adults, must coddle our children at times, however young people are also surprisingly resilient. Most of the time, children will take cues from the adults in their lives on how to respond to certain situations. If you think on a micro and macro level, life is full of small losses. Most of life is centered on how we bounce back from loss; no matter how big or small. Burning your popcorn is a loss. Someone bumping into you and stepping on your shoe on the train is a loss. Someone cutting you off in traffic is a loss. In my observations, the young people that cry after losing a game are mirroring their parents that raise middle-fingers and yell obscenities towards the cars that cut them off in traffic—the parents that can’t deal with the small losses. It is our responsibilities to teach and show children from an early age that—hey, guess what, Jimmy—life hurts sometimes—sometimes we win—and sometimes (most of the times) we lose. Sometimes, you’re going to get a C- even when you study. Sometimes people will make fun of you, simply because you are different. Teach young people early on to bounce back from their losses.
Parents are the key. The most frustrating aspect of U7 basketball, is undoubtedly the parents. I’ve personally witnessed parents yelling at their 6 and 7 year olds until they are on the verge of tears. I’ve seen fights between parents on opposing teams—and the public berating of referees and coaches. There tends to be a direct correlation between the loud and aggressive parents to the behavior that the young players demonstrate on the field. I can’t help but think about the messages that the young people are receiving from their parents. What behaviors are being reinforced at home and on the field? Without being completely judgmental, I can only hope that parents are just as aggressive and intentional about the students’ educational battles. I hope that parents hold teachers as accountable as they do the referees—that parents hold their students just as responsible for missing assignments as they do when they miss free-throws.
Someone once told me that the way you do ANYTHING is the way you do EVERYTHING. Parents and coaches have invaluable opportunities to teach and apply real-life lessons within the fun of U7 basketball or any other organized sport. Because 6 and 7 year olds don’t have much responsibility and their classroom interaction is shared with 25 others kids, sports and other organized activities can teach students valuable lessons of failure, success, competition, and resilience. We can all use some refreshers.
Photo: Flickr by kthypryn