Coaches Sports Philosophy Network
“Mikayla, do you think you could help the girls focus a bit more during practice when they get all giddy and laughing at everything?” My seemingly innocent question to my twelve-year-old daughter gave me insight into the life of eleven- to twelve-year-old girls as well as the perspective my daughter had of playing for me. She responded, “Dad, I don’t want to be the one who everyone thinks only cares about winning!” This began a five- to ten-minute conversation in the car on what else in life was there besides winning the Manheim Township recreational league U-12 championship. It has been a purifying experience for me to coach girls’ youth recreational soccer the past couple years in shaping again why I coach. This season I inherited the worst team I have ever coached and that includes my son’s U-7 team of a few years ago. I am convinced that U-7 team would beat this U-12 team handily. So after a 5-1 drubbing from the second-worst team in the league in our opener, I have spent the last five weeks seeking to build something positive out of this wonderful sport of soccer to make a positive memory for both my daughter and eighteen other daughters of families in our area. It has been a fun journey that has challenged me in ways few volunteer opportunities ever have, but in the process I have deepened why I coach, how to relate to my daughter, and how to again lead positively.
One of the most influential books I have read is called Mindset by Carol Dweck that describes the way we as parents and coaches (and I have been guilty of this too many times) often mistakenly teach our children to be fixed in their mindset. Questions like “Did you win?” and “Did you score?” have been replaced by “What was today’s biggest challenge?” and “What did you learn today?” I am convinced we are helping children find their worth in the questions we ask, so if winning and goals scored are what we ask about, then that is what children deem we find valuable. However, if our questions probe the effort given, the challenges we embrace, or the new opportunities to improve, we gain a whole new level of understanding the value of competition. My children and I regularly talk about this, and I believe a number of positive results have begun to occur. They include:
We are coaching our children every day. As I sat back this past Sunday afternoon as a coach, and listened to parents screaming non-stop to their children from behind me, I realized that my role again as a parent is crucial in coaching my kids. They are in a delicate stage where the affirmation of their early years is being met with the reality that life is not going to be handed to them and that it is hard and sometimes unfair. I don’t want to find myself validating them because they score or we win; instead I am seeking to find a deeper validation in embracing challenges, working to improve, and playing every game all out. It seems to me embracing that growth mindset reflects the true heart of sport competition. As Dweck reminds us so well, “If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”