There has been a great deal of commentary this week about the bullying scandal involving Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito. In yesterday’s online magazine Slate there appears an interesting article titled “When It’s Your Kid In The Locker Room: What Parents and Coaches Can Learn from the NFL Bullying Scandal“. I’d like to share a Camp Director’s perspective about youth sports culture, and what children can and should get out of a team sports experience.
There should be a fundamental difference between professional sports teams and organized sports activities for kids. Professional sports teams have one primary outcome in mind: to win. They make their money by winning, and everything else is a distant second. In organized sports for kids, winning shouldn’t even be in the top three goals. It feels great to win. It is fun to win, and learning to win and lose graciously is a important lesson, to be sure.
But youth sports should be about providing kids with the opportunity to learn valuable life lessons and to develop critical life skills through every game they play. The tragedy is that so many youth coaches don’t seem to understand they are in the skill building business, rather than the winning business. Through youth sports, children can learn critical skills like leadership, teamwork and collaboration, creative problem-solving and communication. They can learn how to motivate others, and can develop stronger social and emotional intelligence.
However, the development of these skills doesn’t happen by accident. The coach must make life skill building a primary outcome of the team’s experience. This takes planning, organization and intentionality. It requires an adult who keeps his/her eyes on the prize and doesn’t get distracted by the lure of winning at the expense of learning.