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Chatterbox: Fields of dreams


Some of what’s broken in America and around the world stays broken despite honest effort by those advocating goodness and fair play. Sometimes, it can’t be helped; other times, those with a personal agenda, benefiting from the broken system undermine improvements. The rest can be caused by inexperience, incompetence, ego, or even apathy.

In any event, for better or worse, from sandbox etiquette to world leadership, all things are affected by everything from altruism to narcissism and from innocent inexperience to delusions of grandeur.

On Sept. 15, 2005, Chatterbox talked about one particular place where the importance of fair play and practicality, common sense and compassion can have a permanent effect on a person’s future. We were, then, talking about the choice made by one team coach who put his ego over a critical moment in the future of one of his players.

Coaching is tough. Good and bad coaching occurs in many forms, on many fields, on many levels of learning from Pee Wee to pro. Professional players, more experienced and pragmatic, with the kudos to keep them confident, learn to navigate the moods and ego of coaches and their personal hits and misses of their sport.

Most high school coaches understand that what they do critically impacts their players’ records and college scholarships, with effects that can last a lifetime. Good coaches can keep their head in the game and the fun in the game without compromising their players; that is a gift.

When dealing with young children whose passion for a sport almost always outweighs their skills, most coaches know their actions are critical. Most understand that what they say and whom they play can shatter a young athlete’s self-confidence, affect their love of, and continued interest in, any game, and can change the heart of the game for every kid just learning it. The coaches of entry level sports must understand that they’re teaching the sport and winning can’t be the goal. Those who don’t, leave many defeated young hearts on the sidelines. I recently witnessed some heartbreak caused by coaches of some young school kids.

When teams sign kids up to play, play must be the operative word: the kids must play; it must be play for them; and coaches must be teaching them how to play. Young players will not, indeed cannot, learn the finite points of any sport if they don’t play, or are performing only the skills they have perfected. They can’t learn to be confident, competent, fair, well-rounded players, if they’re focus is on how to win instead of conditioning, achieving stamina and developing a love of the sport. For these young players, scrimmages where team members change sides and play for experience, instead of winning, should be the only games played.

There’s always time to learn how to lose graciously once they are seasoned; until then, we must ask ourselves what the purposes of these youth sports teams are. When we take the accent off teaching a sport and place it on winning, we not only cut short the development of skills among players – especially young players – but we change the focus of the coaches. Young players should be getting developed, and learning, perfecting and loving the sport. What they should not be doing is being left, demoralized, on the sidelines to feel incompetent during their developmental years and their early stages of learning the game they love.

Whether showcasing the skills of a college prospect, or teaching a kindergartner how to swing a bat, keeping the ego of youngsters, and coaches alike, out of the mix is imperative. While being scouted by a college offering scholarships can make any high school prospect choke a little, sharp leadership’s perspective is essential – and whatever personal dreams any coach may have must take the bench to what comes first: the kids.

Nearly none of the millions of kids who play Pee Wee sports will be the phenomenon many coaches on a community field are hoping for. Bringing the least talented child to a place where he/she learns the game, and learns to love the game and not hate him/herself, is what the best of coaches do. They are unselfish with their time and talents, and to them we say thank you and bravo.

It’s sad that there always are those few who only see the value in winning, and it’s sad when any youngster is ever exposed to them.

They need to learn that the first step toward winning is understanding the goal.

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