Sports offer kids so many learning opportunities that they simply will not get anywhere else. That’s the lesson I learned the last three years while helping coach a Little League All Star team.
Sure, parents and teachers can do their best to teach children the lessons that are learned in sports, but it just won’t be the same.
Through the past few years, I’ve seen kids learn how to deal with disappointment. Through the course of a season, many things do not go a kid’s way. It could be playing time, it could be a call, it could be a game, it could be an at-bat, a pitch — who knows.
Nonetheless, in this culture where many parents try to provide everything their kids want and more, that doesn’t happen on a baseball field. Kids learn pretty quick that not everything is going to be perfect, so they figure out how to deal with that or things unravel in a hurry.
They learn there are many ways to contribute to something like a project or a team. And a good coach does their best to make sure all contributors feel valued. It’s OK for kids to be disappointed because they’re competitive and they want a role they view as more valuable, but the coach needs to do what they can so the kids see value in every role.
It doesn’t take long for a kid to realize they aren’t the best on the team. And that’s fine. In reality, a team is only going to be as strong as its weakest link. That’s the great thing about team sports. Sure, an outstanding pitcher will help for a game, but there will have to be other arms.
And no matter how good a kid hits, the reality is he’s hitting once every time through the lineup. Rarely will three solo home runs win a game.
It isn’t about being the best player on the team, it’s about being the best team to play the game.
Our kids learn there’s a reward for working hard. But they also learn results are not guaranteed. A kid may work as hard as possible and still not be satisfied with the results, but there are times in life where that happens. And it doesn’t make that hard work any less valuable or important.
I know as coaches we stressed the idea to kids that you practice how you play. If you spend time being lazy in practice or messing around, then don’t be surprised when sloppy things happen during a game. And we hope they learn that making the individual choice to “take a play off” isn’t just a choice that hurts the individual, but hurts the team.
Kids have to find out where they fit in. And where they fit on one team may not be the same as where they fit on another team. And that’s OK. What’s important is they embrace the team concept and the idea that what’s best for the team is truly what is best for the individual.
Finally, they learn the process of setting goals, working toward a goal and then dealing with the emotions that come when they reach those goals or fall short of them.
Reaching the goal can be one of the best feelings in a young kid’s life, while falling short of it can feel pretty lousy. But everything that happens from the first day of practice until the final second of the last game — all of that adds up to great stuff.
Life will be full of those experiences and they’ll cut both ways.
Truth be told, it isn’t just the kids who learn from youth sports. There are plenty of lessons packed into them for parents too. And just like the kids, as long as the parents have the right mindset, they’ll be better off from what they learn too.