Character Counts! How to Coach Beyond Skills in Youth Sports

October 8, 2019 growingchamp 0 Comments

Let’s play a game. Think of the first word that comes to mind after these cues:

Batman and….

Sherlock Holmes and…

Bonnie and…

Lucy and…

Peanut butter and…

Scooby-Doo and…

You probably got 100% because dynamic duos are memorable. In most cases, they accomplish together exponentially more than they can alone.

In youth sports coaching, there is a dynamic duo that often gets overlooked but has the ability to create enormous gains when taught as a duo.

It is the development of skills AND character.

In a world so focused on high performance, attention to character development can at times fall through the cracks. However, it is traits like integrity, responsibility, kindness, humility, and positivity (to name a few), that enables an athlete to rise to the top.

Coaches that recognize the power of this dynamic duo can focus on these three specific areas to get the message across that character counts.

Post-Game Conversations

Let’s face it, we all want to win – parents, fans, athletes, and schools alike. And although character in a game is expected, we do at times succumb to the mentality of winning at all costs.

Heat-of-the-moment decisions can reflect a momentary suspension of character, by an athlete. It can happen quickly, and when the end result is a win, it is easy to accept the lapse and instead focus on the victory.

Sports psychologist, Jim Loehr, in his book The Only Way to Win, addresses this issue. He says that too often coaches only talk about the skills utilized in a game. However, when specific questions are asked about behavior and attitude in post-game discussions, coaches send the message that character is as highly valued as specific skill sets.

In addition, athletes need to understand that character-driven choices are just as important during a game as they are before and after one.

Practical Step: Coaches can ask questions like these, during post-game conversations, to get athletes thinking about their character:

  • What was your attitude like on the field – toward opponents and officials
  • Did you win or lose gracefully?
  • Were you patient with your teammates?
  • Did you invest yourself for the team?
Day-to-Day Practice Chatter

Character, like skill, needs to be practiced.

Talking about traits such as, hard work, diligence, honesty, fairness, and punctuality is a great starting point but sports practice is a perfect platform to apply these on a day-to-day basis until they become part of who the athlete is.

Provide your athletes the opportunity to evaluate their own behavior in practice by asking questions like these:

  • Did you mess around in practice or did you invest your energy wisely?
  • How did you handle frustration?
  • Do you act responsibly toward the team equipment and fields/pool/gymnasium/courts etc.?
  • Are you respectful even when the coach is not watching?
  • Do you put in the necessary time during and after practice to learn skill sets?

Practical Steps: Huddle up with the team after practice daily and ask one of the questions above and have each athlete score themselves on how they did. Ask for volunteers to come up with ways to raise their own score. Ask a different question each day.

Beyond the Field

Character displayed during a game is expected – when it is exemplified during day-to-day practices it is fortunate – and when athletes are recognized for their character beyond the field it is inspiring.

Challenge your athletes to think about their attitude outside the limits of their sport. Let them know that they represent the team:

  • At home with their families
  • In school before their teachers and classmates
  • During their jobs impacting their boss and co-workers
  • At social events with friends

Encourage them to act in ways that represent the coach and team well. Simple examples like taking off a hat in the classroom out of respect toward the teacher, being helpful at home in spite of a busy schedule, and being prompt for meetings/class – all speak volumes about their character.

Practical Steps: Take a moment once a week to remind kids why you feel that character matters. Challenge your athletes to random acts of kindness. Allow one or two of them to share stories of current acts that demonstrated kind gestures toward others.

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