Last Place In the Last Race

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I found myself in an unfamiliar place at the end of what turned out to be Maddie’s last high school cross country regional meet. A strange series of events led us to stick around to watch the last finisher in the boys race.  I’d never even witnessed the last finisher in a girls race.

Maddie, a senior now, has been running in varsity races since she was a 6th grader.  At many of those meets, she has found herself in the shadow of a high-finishing big sister.  A running joke developed between Maddie and me over the years that her success would be measured in whether she puked or not after she finished.

“If you don’t puke, you can find a ride home with somebody else.”

Where you finish isn’t as important as how hard you compete and push yourself.  When I was tied up with basketball coaching duties and unable to watch our girls run, a text update from my wife might read, “Maddie isn’t sure what place she finished, but she wants you to know that she puked after the race.”

I wasn’t always there to see every race.  But I know that Maddie always finished well, never near the rear of the pack.  And her mother and I always wanted to get to her as soon as possible after she finished because she truly did push herself to her limit in every race (even when she didn’t puke).  I realized today I didn’t have a clue what it was like for those last finishers.  I’d never stuck around to watch them cross the finish line.

This being Maddie’s last meet, there was a somber mood when she was done running.  We talked, hugged a lot, and maybe even shed some tears.  Her mother reluctantly left to try to catch big sister’s final college soccer game of the season (3 hours away).

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Maddie and two of her biggest fans (her two brother) stuck around with me to watch East Carter’s boys run.  We drifted toward the finish line to cheer for our boys team as they finished.

There was a crowd of approximately 100 people lining both sides of the homestretch, cheering wildly as the top finishers came in.  Once approximately half the runners finished, it was pretty much determined who would qualify for the state meet. The crowd shrunk quickly.

We cheered the last of the East Carter boys as they finished.  I stuck around a moment longer in a reflective mood, thinking of all the years our girls had been running, and knowing this was the last trip.  Looking up, I saw only two runners in the distance remaining on the course.  At this point I noticed that the crowd of more than 100 onlookers had dwindled to only about 6 people besides our family.

And that’s when I witnessed the coolest event of the day.  A runner from Ashland Blazer’s girls team came running back from the finish line, toward the homestretch where the handful of fans were standing.  And she was doing her best to generate excitement and support for a teammate who was still on the course.

“Come on guys, we have to go cheer for David!”

But I didn’t notice anyone following her.  What I did notice was an Ashland runner way off in the distance, far behind the next-to-last place runner.  I turned to my three kids, “we’re gonna cheer for these last two finishers.”

A middle-aged man across the course from me, who may have been walking away stopped in his tracks and asked the girl, “what’s the boy’s name?”

The theme spread quickly among those of us who remained:

Spread out and cheer for David.

Eventually the last two runners passed.

“Good job buddy.”

“Hang in there.”

“Good job David”

“Almost there, finish strong.”

Those last two runners had a nice cheering section as they finished.  They might have finished to silence if not for the actions of the young lady from Asland Blazer.  A great teammate.

The athletes that finish consistently in the front and middle of the pack…….maybe they have the advantages of higher levels of talent, self-motivation, and support/encouragement from parents..

For the athlete that finishes in the rear of the pack, there is the danger of finishing alone and discouraged.  The danger of giving up.

Today, perhaps two runners finished last because that’s exactly where their training and experience placed them.  But maybe, simply by the actions of this young lady preventing them from finishing in silence…….they will be motivated to continue on next season instead of giving up.  And maybe their training and determination will reach a new level.

For the young lady from Ashland, well done!  Thankful that our family was part of your act of encouragement.

I Never Thought It Would End THIS Way

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For anyone who has ever coached youth sports of any kind, from pee-wee to middle school, and even high school sports in some cases………I have a deep question that has been floating in my mind in recent days. Just give me minute to circle around to it.

My youngest daughter wrapped up her high school soccer career tonight.  The days leading up to it flooded me with memories of all her games past, both far and near.  Thoughts of different leagues, cities, coaches, teammates, hotel rooms, victory, defeat.  Reflections of how she changed over the years as a player, a competitor, and a person.  Wondering how and why things have played out exactly as they have.  Thinking about influences both good and bad that could have or would have made things better or worse if they’d been different.

And I started thinking about the kids that I have coached as my kids have grown up, from youth soccer to travel soccer, Upward basketball to middle school basketball.  And I just can’t help wondering……

If all coaches could see into the future, to that very day when a kid puts away the cleats or the hi-tops for the last time and walks away from a game………would they choose to coach individual kids differently than they presently do?

Every kid walks away from their chosen sport someday…….then what?

Effective youth coaching is psychiatry and it is parenting.  Each player is unique, and they have specific needs that team sports can bring them.

Many coaches fail to fill those needs because they falsely assume they are training the next state champs.  They fail to see each child beyond that day when the sports equipment goes in the yard sale or the closet.

Shouldn’t the journey of sports teach these things and more to prepare kids for life beyond sports?

  1.  Standard of excellence
  2.  Work ethic
  3.  To believe in themselves
  4.  To trust others
  5.  The value of encouragement
  6.  To know they aren’t the center of the universe
  7.  To know that success does not come overnight (or in one practice)
  8.  To lose with dignity
  9.  To accept temporary failures without blaming others, and to realize these failures aren’t permanent
  10.  To be pushed to their physical limit, time and time again
  11.  To love and to be loved
  12.  To sacrifice for others
  13.  To respect authority and rules
  14.  Teamwork/unselfishness
  15.  To never give up

These things still matter when the cheering stops.

Maddies last stand

The cheering stopped for Maddie tonight.  Her team lost in the regional semi-finals.  In a game where she and her teammates truly “left it on the field”, the score was tied at the end of 80 minutes of regulation.  Two 5-minute overtimes later, the score was still tied.  Penalty kicks would now decide the match.

Maddie stood over the ball, ready to attempt her shot with her team facing a nearly hopeless 3-1 deficit.

If she missed this shot, the game was over.  The season was over.

Sitting on my knees beside my wife, I simply mumbled, “Maddie needs to be to one to take this shot.”

Not because it could be the game winner………because it would be the shot that would seal the loss if she missed.

I don’t know what kind of reaction or look Kristy gave me, but I went on to say, “Maddie needs to be the one to take this shot, because I know she can handle missing the shot to end the game.  She can handle it.  That’s my daughter!”

And my voice cracked at the enormity of what I was saying in a trailing voice……..”that is OUR daughter”.

She missed.  Game over.  Season over.  High school career over for her and her senior teammates.

Maddie played her heart out.  And I was so proud of her.  But when those words came out of my mouth, “that’s our daughter” it hit me so clearly.  I was not proud of her effort or her performance.

I was proud of who she has become.

She met her mother and me after the game with head held high.  That’s our daughter.

Do your best.  Have fun.  Train and play to win.  In the end it’s just a game.  The end came tonight.  I’m thankful for all those who have prepared her in the right ways to go beyond this “end”.

If you’re coaching your 1st game or your 1000th, take an occasional peek toward the end.  Winning is a by-product of doing all things the right way.  Some lessons can’t be cast aside for the sake of early wins or just because you ARE winning games.

And while your players are dreaming of making that dramatic game-winning shot, you better spend some time preparing their toughness and character……for missing it.

Watching Me Watching You

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If we expect our children to become adults who work hard when nobody is watching, it’s important to take time when they are children, to notice when they are working hard and doing their best.

I spent some time Friday night watching my nine year-old son Kal participating in the Center Shot archery program at our church.  It’s his second year in the program, but he has no other archery experience.  More potential than skill.  What he knows about archery, he has learned through this program (his dad knows zilch).

I always watch him shoot at the target, but sometimes two kids are shooting at the same target.  I can’t always tell which arrows are his from a distance.  So I usually just watch his body language and facial expressions and see how closely he’s listening to instructions.  Sometimes he looks my way in the back of the church gym during the night, but usually not.

I wasn’t paying particularly close attention at one point because he had just finished shooting all of his arrows into the target.  I might have even been distracted by casual conversation with someone seated next to me.  But I looked up just in time to see Kal, looking back at me proudly.  He was pulling his arrows out of the target, but he was saving the best for last.  His hand waited on the arrow that stuck perfectly in the middle of the target.  Kal wasn’t going to pull it out until he was sure his dad had seen it (“look Dad, I did it”).  As soon as we made eye contact and I gave him a thumbs up, he pulled it out and went about his business.

I didn’t carry out any notable “dad feat”.  I just sat in a folding chair.  But it made me think of kids that hit a bullseye and turn around looking for encouragement or approval…….and nobody’s there, time after time.

maddie regional 2015

Today I watched my daughter Maddie run in her regional track meet.  The 800M run is her top event and her best chance to advance to the state meet for the first time (1st & 2nd place qualify).  She came into the meet as the 5th seed in region (I think?).  As a 16 year-old junior, Maddie and I have shared hundreds and hundreds of athletic contests, many of those with me as her coach at youth and middle school levels.

But in high school, I have tried to be a quiet presence of support, hiding in the shadows.  As a father of a teenage girl, the thought enters your mind that your daughter probably won’t even notice anymore if you’re not at her events (and does she even care if you come?).  When Maddie was on the track today, I had no reason to believe she even knew where I was.

I stood by myself at a spot just outside the track, about 75 yards beyond the finish line.  She looked strong as she passed me on the 2nd and final lap.  She moved up from 5th place to a strong 2nd place finish on the lap, finishing 5 seconds better than her season’s best time.

Silently from a distance I watched.  I wondered if she would look my way.  I delighted in the joy in her face, felt a sense of pride in her laughter and sportsmanship among the other runners.  And then she shocked me.  Maddie looked across the track at me like she knew exactly where I was the whole time……grinning at me from ear to ear giving me a big thumbs up (“I did it Dad!!!”).

I know it sounds cliche’ and cheesy but don’t underestimate the value of just being there.  Kids just want to be noticed when they do something good.  They need encouragement to continue on when they think they’re doing poorly.

As our kids grow older, will our kids choose us as parents to share their triumphs with?  Will they give up on something too soon because we weren’t there to help them believe in themselves?

Some kids feel constant pressure to be the best on the court, track, or field.  Kids that are playing to please somebody else are miserable.

But kids that look over their shoulder for support, encouragement, and direction…….and always find it, are something else entirely.

SECURE!

Whatever your kids are doing, just find a way to be there.  They don’t need you to be there to tell them how they can do it better.  They just need you to celebrate when they do it well (or give a a great effort, of course).

Don’t Live and Die By the Scoreboard

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Winning isn’t everything.  But playing to win is.

This post is sort of about sports.  Sort of about UK basketball.  Sort of about life.

Life mirrors sport.  Or does sport mirror life?

Sometimes we need to shy away from the obsession with measuring results.  Pass/Fail?  What’s on the scoreboard?

Effort.  Heart.  Intentions.  Shouldn’t these count for something?

A few years back, I coached a middle school girls basketball team that played their hearts out every game, but always had terrible trouble putting the ball in the basket.  So many times they heard this phrase, “Girls we did so many things well tonight.  Competed hard. Showed tremendous heart.  But unfortunately, this gym has a scoreboard too.  Don’t let our lack of points showing on it trick you into thinking you didn’t play well.”

Judgement in this case needed to be based on effort, not results.  Don’t let results discourage you.  Keep working hard.

Conversely, don’t let wins trick you into thinking your level of play is acceptable.

My wife runs marathons.  I don’t run.  If I challenge her to a one-mile race and she beats me by one yard, who really wins?  Which one of us needs to make changes in their approach to competition?  To allow me to finish close behind her, one or both of these had to happen:

1)  I showed more heart than her and out-competed her.  I raised up to her level.

2)  She didn’t give maximum effort.  Did just enough to win.  She dropped to my level.

Is that acceptable?  Yeah, if you’re satisfied with where you are.  Not if you want to be a champion.

It’s better to lose than to consistently play poorly and win.

Losing necessitates the need for change.  Winning does not.

Why the obsession with results?  Measuring results.  Keeping score.

Sometimes we look the other way when somebody half-way does something.  Sometimes we have no reaction when somebody does something that lacks good judgement.  Our reaction only comes comes when the aftermath of their actions affects us.  Everything is peachy as long as results are good.  But results are overrated as a measuring stick.

But what about intentions?  Effort?  Motivation?

So many times bad results grow from good intentions.  I find myself soothing peoples’ reactions to bad results with the half-joking,

“Well, she meant well.”

But it’s true.  Otherwise, we are measuring ability rather than heart.

When a friend presents a laundry list of all the things that another friend is doing wrong, do we simply agree?  Or do we try to look at the heart and effort of the accused?  “I know they do ____ poorly, but they are trying their best.”

The person who recognizes their faults and works to improve is more admirable than one who can “produce” more with little effort.

The UK basketball program lives under the constant microscope of fans and media.   I suppose my microscopic assessments tend to irritate my fellow fans.  I’m too critical.  I can’t be pleased.  They’re just kids, you know.

What sets me apart?  Most fans watch games looking for a win.  I’m just strange.  I watch games with an eye for players doing things right.  The amount of effort that goes into doing things the right way.

Regular season games are learning opportunities.  The impact of the lesson is diminished when poor effort and execution still results in a win.

It’s better to lose than to play poorly and win.  The scoreboard becomes more important in March.

This holds true as long as your goal is to make steady improvement, day after day, game after game……..in order to win when it really matters.

Last year’s Kentucky team lost 10 regular season games then made an incredible run to the NCAA finals.  A highly regarded team, loaded with ultra-talented freshmen  struggled throughout the season to the point of nearly missing the tournament.

Talent didn’t automatically result in wins.  Performance became so bad that I quit watching for a while, but not because of losses.

As a middle school basketball coach, I’m certainly not an expert on basketball, especially at higher levels.  But I do have a  firm grasp on the scope of fundamental skills and basketball knowledge that are necessary for success in high school.   If you can’t understand and carry out certain things, you don’t play.

Last years freshmen were the equivalent of passing a student through to high school that couldn’t read……….just because they were really good at math.  We had college freshmen who were absent of things that should have been present as high school freshmen.

As long as we’re winning playing zone defense, we don’t even have to learn any of the finer points of man to man defense.

As longs as Rivals has you rated high, there’s no reason to change your mental approach to game and practice.

As long as you can dunk over everybody, there’s no reason for you to learn basic low post footwork.

You get the picture.  Calipari’s team development was set back months due to the absence of fundamentals.  His elite freshmen had been allowed to skip over the finer details of basketball at all earlier levels simply because they produced results.

As a team, they were just beginning to grasp and execute concepts at the beginning of tournament time that should have been taught in their middle school days.

I was mortified at what 5-star recruits had become.  If we were going to get players like this every year, let’s change the model.  If 5-star guys have evolved into fundamentally poor underachievers, let’s get some 3-star guys that have failed enough to learn from it.  Let’s change the model.

Thankfully Cal has changed the model somewhat.  Kids that were headed for the D-league have stuck around for at least another year.  Cal’s fascination with winning a championship with all freshmen is a thing of the past.  And this year’s freshmen class has restored my faith in incoming high profile players.  These kids understand the game.  They compete hard.  They were properly prepared for college basketball.

In tough environments on the road, they understandably play like freshmen.  It’s part of the maturing process.  At home, they get complacent.  They get too comfortable.  They get outscored in the second half by teams that they lead by 20 at halftime.  And sometimes you look up and the opponent has a 34-17 rebounding advantage against our team that’s bigger than every NBA team but one.

Cal speaks one language to the media and public that sends a constant marketing message to incoming recruits.  He speaks another language to his players to make them the best they can be.  And he speaks yet another language to his assistant coaches (this would be the language of brutal truth).

I often speak the language of brutal truth when it comes to UK basketball.  Some people don’t  like to hear it.  If you only look at wins and losses, it seems to be harsh criticism of kids.  But if you listen closely……and watch closely, you’ll realize that I don’t criticize guys who lay it out for their school and their teammates, every second of every game.

When talented guys do this, the score will take care of itself.

Side notes:

*Why the Chris Gettelfinger picture?  Because if you don’t know who he is, don’t even try to argue with me.

*I have been accused of being too harsh in my criticism of the Harrison twins.  Cal has brought them along quite well.  They were grossly overrated coming in and expectations of them were unrealistic.  But they (along with James Young) may have possessed the poorest grasp of basketball fundamentals of anyone to ever wear a UK uniform.  And Andrew has the burden of playing out of position.  He isn’t a point guard and will never play a game in the NBA as a point guard.  His best bet for an NBA career is if his brother is drafted next year and he plays two years at 2-guard.

*If we don’t lose a game before the tournament, I think our chances of being national champs diminishes greatly.

*Lack of playing time for Hawkins and Willis has more to do with recruiting than it does with any other factors.  5-star guys in high school can’t see 5-star guys having to wait for playing time.

*For young high-profile athletes, I think there is too much hero-worshipping and butt-kissing on social media by fans and not enough honest correction and accountability by coaches and parents.  They float in the clouds because we put them there.  And we make excuses for them when the stumble………Jameis Winston is just a kid, you know.  But his actions are most likely a result of his heart & character…….not because he’s just a kid.  It’s ok to expect better.

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Keep Talkin Even When Nobody Seems To Hear

KR 8th grade night

Some things are worth repeating, even when your audience doesn’t seem to care or understand.

Some messages don’t bring immediate results or even draw the attention of your listeners.

But concepts that are modeled and “preached” consistently still stand a chance of becoming a part of someone’s character.

Such is the case when coaching kids in youth sports.

At younger ages, the mom/dad/coach figure gets by with fumbling through teaching the rules of the game and basic fundamental skills.

As players get older, the pressure to win often creates an unhealthy mix between learning and winning (winning now!).  Teaching of fundamentals, good work habits, team-building, and strong character often gets shoved into a corner while practices and instruction are centered on winning now and developing the next superstar.

Coaches at any age have the responsibility to help kids become their best…….at life.  Work ethic, determination, a competitive spirit, accountability.  They all come into play along the way.  And somewhere along the way, coaches have to realize that the kids they’re leading aren’t going to be playing the game much longer.

I’ve been privileged to coach two of my kids in basketball through three years of middle school, most recently my son.  As my son passed through his final middle school season, I became very aware of the future of him and his teammates.  They weren’t all going to be high school basketball players, but they were all going to be high school students soon.

The talks before, during, and after practices and games began to take more of a tone of developing strong character and making good decisions.  Most of these subjects were met with looks of “can we just start practice?” or kids not even listening as they put their shoes on to leave after a game.

A lesson I learned early in coaching was this: If at least one kid is listening, then I will keep saying what is important for them all to hear (but everybody else has to shut up for that one kid to hear).

The man who shared coaching duties with me also shared in leadership philosophies.  So we kept preaching.  And we may have bored some kids to death at times.  But we harped on concepts that applied on and off the court.

-Make good decisions.

-Be a good teammate.

-Decide that nobody will outwork you in practice today.

-Don’t just settle for whatever falls in your lap.  Work hard.  Compete hard.

-Earn the respect of your coaches, opponents, and teammates.

-Success and improvement doesn’t come overnight.  Do your best every day.

-If you don’t like where you’re at or how things are going, do something about it.

-The world doesn’t revolve around you, think of others.

-Never be a blamer or an excuse maker.

– Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.

My son and some of his teammates have moved on to the world of high school basketball now.  I watch as a parent, and not a coach, for the first time since he was a 4th grader.  But the “nervous parent locked in on his own kid” has left me.

I watch all my former players closely now, observing as both a coach and a parent.  Cheering for small triumphs for each one.  Seeing how hard they compete.  Seeing how well they respond to coaching at the next level.  Trying to get a gauge on how well we prepared them for the “nexts” in life.

At a recent JV game, I got an unexpected glimpse at a lesson learned……one of those lessons we were often selling and doubted anybody was buying.

A two-on-none fast break.  Ballhandler approaches basket from the left.  He has a teammate on the right side of the basket, about two steps behind him.  Player with the ball hasn’t scored or even shot in this game (a big lead with minutes left).  In fact, he has scored very few points on the season.  But his open teammate on the right has just scored what may have been his first points of the season minutes earlier (with much celebration from the bench.

Instead of shooting a wide-open layup, he hesitates slightly and shovels the ball to his teammate for 2 more points.  Another small eruption from the home bench and a good response from the crowd.

I watch in silence.  It was my son that gave up the ball.  I looked at my wife without speaking.  He gets it.  My reaction would have been the same for any of the kids that may have made the same play.

I’ve been more excited at sporting events for my kids.  My daughter scored an unlikely acrobatic last minute goal to tie a regional semi-final soccer game……….and I may or may not have screamed like a madman and raced down the sidelines.  My other daughter made a free-throw with no time on the clock to send a game to overtime in a huge upset win……..made greater because I could see that she was a nervous wreck after missing the first one.

But I’ve never been more proud of one of my kids in a sporting event than I was at that moment.  “Son, people notice those things.  It’s not a big deal if you take that shot, but it is a big deal that you didn’t. People will remember what you did.  Those are the things that build teams and make them better.”

It’s not a big deal.  But it is.

“Make good choices.  Be a leader.  Do things to make the people around you better.”

He listened.  I know others did too.

Parents and coaches……keep preaching it.  They may not seem to be listening.  It may not help you win the next game.  But it may show up when you least expect it.

We’re not really raising ballplayers……we’re raising winners.

If it’s worth repeating, keep repeating it.

The Good Coach

will ferrell soccer

In most of life’s situations, it’s fairly easy to see what we SHOULD have done…….

after we’ve already messed up.

When it comes to the trial and error nature of parenting, we find plenty of situations where we don’t really figure out how the heck to do something……

until it’s no longer necessary to do it.

Such is the nature of coaching in youth sports.

Three short months ago, I watched my daughter drive away to college four hours away.  I felt like the dad in the Subaru commercial talking to his little girl in the driver’s seat.

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I choked back tears as I gave her simple parting instructions, knowing that I would no longer be a powerful daily influence in her life.  What kind of influences would she have in her life in college?

Today her mother and I watched her final soccer game of the season.  On a cold, rainy day in Circleville, Ohio, after a hard-fought loss we parted ways once again with her mother choking back tears this time.

Macy had a long bus ride back to Knoxville ahead for her.  And we would have loved to have her home with us for the weekend.  But these were tears of joy (mostly).

Macy and her coaches had stopped by our car to chat after the game.  Smiles and laughter masked the exhaustion of a 90 minute game.  A great player/coach relationship was easy to see.  Mutual respect.  Comfort, not fear.

They walked away in the cold rain.  One of her coaches put his hand on her shoulder, just like dads do to their daughters after tough losses.  My wife, through teary eyes, just said, “look, Karrick.”

I know who influences my daughter.

Macy loves her coaches.  She loves her teammates.  It’s plain to see.  It’s a blessing that we’re so thankful for.

If you are a parent of a kid involved in youth sports, it doesn’t matter if they’re 7 or if they’re 17, don’t underestimate the value of having a coach that your child loves and respects.  And don’t ignore the treasure of having a coach that treats your kids with love and respect.

Macy isn’t exactly a kid anymore and this is college soccer I’m talking about.  But it’s an experience that is either going to be good or bad, depending on the direction of the leadership.  They won 2 games and it was as enjoyable as any other “successful” winning seasons she’s had at other levels.

If you’re a coach, whether it’s your first try at pee wee soccer or your tenth year of middle school basketball, don’t forget why you’re there.

Coaches are there to lead, to influence kids.  Winning is a by-product of leading the right way and teaching the right things.

Every team that you coach isn’t going to possess enough talent to win in a given season, but every team you coach is made up of kids that are going to be adults someday.

Win or lose, what are you teaching them along the way?

1)  Plan practices well.  Give clear instructions.  Be consistent.  Build credibility.

2)  You are under a microscope.  Do and say the right thing….always.  Apologize when you’re wrong.  Be a positive influence…..always.

3)  Don’t “over-coach”.  Make sure your spoken words have value to your players.  If you talk too much, players quit listening.

4)  Make sure your players know you care about them.  If they think you don’t care about them, they quit listening.

5)  Teach them the value of giving maximum effort, every practice, every game.

6)  Look into the future.  Be bold enough to make decisions based on building character and teaching fundamentals, work ethic, teambuilding, and accountability.  See the bigger picture and don’t cave in to outside pressure to “win now”.

7)  Keep all players engaged in practice at all times.  All players should have equal opportunity for improvement in practice.  What they choose to do with those opportunities may determine how many game minutes they get (depending on age and competition level).  “If you don’t like where you’re at, do something about it.”

8)  Motivate!  Great coaches keep their players excited about playing.  They encourage.  Their players love and respect them.  They don’t fear them.  They want to do well for these coaches.  Be intentional each day to catch your players doing something right and praise them for it.   Tasks not done well are teaching moments, not shaming moments (see 9).

9)  Mistakes happen.  Kids can’t play in fear of their coach and they can’t play in fear of making mistakes.  Not giving a maximum effort or listening to the coach is not a mistake, it’s a choice.

10)  It’s ok to yell.  It’s not ok to yell AT kids.  Speak loud enough to get a team’s attention.  Don’t scare the life out of them (especially younger ones).  Never single out a kid and go Bobby Knight on them.

It’s nice to learn from your own past mistakes.  It may be even better to learn from simply watching somebody else doing it right.  Keep your eyes open.

I’ve coached plenty of games in the past, but I’m not presently coaching anything.  If given the opportunity again, I’ll welcome the chance to LEAD more and coach less.

Travel Sports and Sunday Games Are More Satanic Than Kiss Albums

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I’ll admit it.  Three of my kids have played travel sports.  They even played on Sundays.  Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row.  Shriek!

Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James.  And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often.  Right?  No, not at all.

No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents.  It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.

Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot.  Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.

I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.

When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures?  When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose?  Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?

Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time.  The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless.  The absence from church services is temporary.  But the importance placed on faith must be constant.

That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it.  The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays.  It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.

Teach well.  Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important.  Keep your eyes open for teaching moments.  As your kids get older, the moments become clearer.  Are you prepared for them?  And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?

A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday.  Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game.  Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.

Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities.  Let the choice be hers to make.  Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.

Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”

Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways.  But they are temporary.  Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.

“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.”  The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.

And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary.  A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.

Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:

“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight.  I’m going to church.”

“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year.  I’m going on a mission trip.”

“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games.  I’m going to church camp.”

Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning.  It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.

Play hard.  Have fun.  Watch the scales.

The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.

Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.