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I received a call from a parent a couple weeks ago wondering what to do. His daughter, who is seven, had participated in a “Placement Camp” for her local soccer club. Up to this point she has played rec soccer and the expectation was that she would take part in the club’s team formation for next year. My friend’s daughter likes soccer, but she isn’t any more serious about it than she is about other things she is learning how to do.

There were two teams created for the seven-year-old group and my friend’s daughter was placed on the lower level team. The placement was not in dispute. My friend called because he wondered if the information he received about cost was reasonable. He and his family were being asked to pay $1000 for ten months of soccer and over $300 in team uniform fees. She is seven. She is unsure she even likes soccer all that much. The time commitment was a lot and the bill for her exploration was going to be $1300.

I gasped first, muttered an expletive, and then encouraged him to find some other form of soccer programming for his daughter to play.

“Won’t she get behind?” he worried.

“Maybe,” I said, “but this youth sports thing is a marathon, not a sprint. You don’t have to pay that right now as she’s learning what 7-year-olds learn. If she learns to love it enough to keep working at it, she’ll catch up.”

For the hundreds of thousands of families who pay a lot of money for youth soccer (or hockey, or baseball, or basketball, or gymnastics, or swimming, or… you name it), they will likely jump all over me for thinking the cost to participate in youth sports is getting outrageous.

“We have to pay for good coaching,” they’ll argue.

“Uniform fees run that steep.”

“We’re paying for a higher level of competition.”

“We have to travel to get good competition and exposure.”

“People around here can pay that much.”

Well, obviously, if your association or youth sports group asks people to pay that, they can afford it. (that’s actually not always true, but I’ll save that for another post) The environment and the market will only bear what it can. All I know is that where I live during the schoolyear, a 10-month travel soccer fee of $270, with a uniform fee of $90 is more than some families can pay. Where I live, we may never have the programs to compete with the affluent areas, and in reality, the kids from towns like ours are running a marathon too, but they are on a completely different course. The youth sports marathon course for kids who are not from affluence is a harder course. The hills are steeper, the obstacles more difficult, and to be honest, they start a few miles back when they start. Yet, most of the time we are asked to compete against communities that are not like ours at all.

When it comes to youth sports
Where there is competition, there is divide.
Where there is money, there is disparity.
Where there is both competition and money, there is disaster.

As of August 30th, 2017 Time magazine claimed the youth sports industry was worth $15 billion. “Elite” teams exist in every single sport and with those higher levels of programming, comes a higher bill to pay. I am more and more convinced that “elite” refers less to the level of athleticism and more to the actual elite members of our society. For some families, they rarely consider the impact of their choices. Competition is stiff enough, they don’t need to worry about the poorer families who cannot afford the same opportunities.

Youth sports is just another arena where the “haves” are finding ways to participate and when the “have nots” are left behind, no one really cares. If we want to have a real conversation about the participation numbers of kids on athletic teams, we can no longer ignore the existence of capitalism and the willingness of parents to do everything they can for their own kids. Too often they make personal choices with little to no regard for other kids who are not able to afford the same programming. It’s a dog eat dog world, though, right? So why does it matter? It matters because when kids drop out of sports, or are unable to be a part of teams that encourage physical exercise, belonging, and endless life lessons, we all lose.

I live a dual life. For part of the year our family lives near where I grew up in a suburb of Denver, Colorado. It is an area of affluence with gated communities and the highest level of sports offerings around. During the schoolyear we live in a small, rural town in one of the poorer counties in all of Wisconsin where travel teams are challenging. I see the differences.

My Colorado friends jet-set around the country to take part in high level tournaments, showcases and sports experiences. Intense travel and commitment starts in practically every sport when the kids are ten and eleven, sometimes younger. They pay exorbitant fees for expert coaching and high-end equipment and some of the travel includes 10-day trips to Europe or weeklong tournaments in Hawai’i. This doesn’t even touch the specialized training or camp opportunities they finance. I don’t begrudge my friends for providing these opportunities for their children. They have every right to spend their money how they want. I’m not sure they even have a responsibility to the poorer kids who will never have those experiences, but I do, and I struggle because of it.

I coach the boys’ high school soccer team in our rural Wisconsin town. We compete against schools with robust travel programs that take place the nine months outside of our high school schedule. Travel soccer is not an option for many of the families who live here, even at the $270/year amount. Our travel is minimal and includes mostly away games in the Twin Cities (an hour away).The kids who take part in our travel teams can generally afford it, but there are a number of families who never take part because it is more than they can commit or pay. Soccer for my guys is a low-budget, low-commitment endeavor for sure.

The other side of the coin deals with the families from our town who do have a bit more in resources. Those with more capital are willing and able to take their kids out of our community entirely to pay more for the programming in a larger more affluent place. We lose kids on both ends. Even in our house, we have a couple of kids for whom we’ve made the “exit” decision and I have admittedly agonized about our choices.

There has always been a variety of experiences available to families with money. The experiences are not the same for those without money. Add youth sports in front of the word experiences and all of a sudden it becomes a choice we’re making about how we are educating our youth. All of them. It is not unlike the private education/public school debate, but it is essentially an extension of that.

Does every child deserve an education? Do they all deserve the same sort of education? Do all kids deserve a chance to participate in sports? Do they all deserve a chance to get just as good as the next kid, or to play as long, or to have a similar enhancing experience?

Some of the decisions that keep the machine in motion come down to fear. My friend was afraid if he didn’t pay the $1000 his child would fall behind. Those who can afford it have more to lose if they choose not to pay-to-play. In the affluent communities, there is always another player to take the spot. Thankfully my friend was able to find a program with a much shorter time commitment and a reasonable fee for his daughter’s current level of interest. There isn’t always that choice.

Our family’s decision to engage in the pay-to-play model is more about geography and numbers of participation, but I  agonize because it is still an impactful decision to leave a small community to travel outside of our town. Every exit takes potential resources that would be useful if families were to stay.

For my part, I choose to continue to engage in two worlds. We can afford for our kids to have sports experiences and we have tried hard to keep the experiences at a level that reflects their interest and/or commitment. The older they get and the more they personally invest, the more their dad and I are willing to invest financially. For the soccer kids I coach in our community who don’t have the same resources, I do what I can to provide the highest level of coaching and experience at little to no cost to their families. Coaching the high school team is the best way I can give back to the sport that gave me so much and offer anything I can to the kids who will likely never have more experiences than what I can provide when they play for our school team.

A recent article in Atlantic Magazine further illuminates the growing gap between the affluent sporting families and everyone else. It is an important piece and I am not sure the truth of it can be ignored much longer.

If the youth sports playing field is going to be leveled, who will do it? It won’t be the for-profit companies making hand over fist off of eager families. It won’t be the poorer families who don’t hold the purse strings. It could be the affluent sporting communities if they were to think generously about the value of a system of inclusion and enhancement, but I am not confident that will ever happen. My best guess is that legislation is the way to achieve equity in youth sports, but that sounds like a hard, arduous fight.

What do you think? Should society at large care about the trajectory of the privatization of youth sports? If so, what are some potential fixes that could make it happen?  

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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silhouette of a boy playing ball during sunset

Photo by manu mangalassery on Pexels.com

I am in an old body now. It has arrived in spite of my competitive and active spirit. Doesn’t the fact that I’m still pretty young count for something? I’m not even 45 yet! I can’t seem to will my joints to feel like they used to or my muscles to line up as they should. My body has seen too many combattive miles. Not just running, but running and colliding, running and cutting with aggression, and running and then falling or diving. Plus, I hurt myself…a lot.

I played hard. I ran, I hit, I jumped, I fell, I got back up and I did it again, and again, and again. I was a tenacious competitor. I battled until I broke…literally. My first big injury was when I was 16. Broken tibia and broken ulna. Yes, one bone in my leg, the other in my arm. Full leg cast, full arm cast. Same side of my body.

I should have stopped there. I should have let my body heal, and ease it back to gentle movements. But I simply could not stop the fight I had started. I felt like I needed to prove something. Ultimately, my body fought back.

I was getting good. I was nearing that athletic peak and why wouldn’t I ascend as high as I could because I still could? Even if it meant enduring other big injuries, tape cuts from wrapping before every practice and game, sitting in ice baths and waiting out the timer on the stim machine? So what if I needed a few surgeries, months of rehab, my own pair of crutches and a number of prescriptions for Vicodin?

It was all worth it, right?

Part of my college tuition was paid for and I had the opportunity to play at the highest level at the time (except for the National team). When it comes down to it, I don’t regret I kept going, but not for the personal athletic peak I achieved. I’m glad I fought it out there because I met my husband, we had our children, and we made a life. So, for that opportunity I will be forever grateful, but I wonder, often, whether it was worth the price my body has paid.

I watch my peers post pictures of triathlons and marathons and endurance challenges. I know it’s not in me anymore. I put too many difficult miles on my body too soon.

I have found relief in daily walks, regular yoga, strength training, pool workouts and hiking. Those movements are great, but there is a part of me that longs for the other uses a body of my age should be able to do, if I hadn’t battled so hard (and lost so often) when I was younger.

I asked a question on Twitter over the weekend about whether we should focus our programming energy in youth sports toward helping athletes achieve their greatest potential or to develop people who enjoy being active for life. Choosing to get as good as possible is the harder road. The chase for the highest level has gotten more crowded and more competitive over the years, and I have a hard time encouraging our kids to engage there. Especially if it hurts them to try. It is my own unhealed voice, I know, but I want them to have a 45-year-old body in better shape than mine is. I hope they achieve the very best of who they can become, but if that is as an 80-year-old running marathons, surely it matters what they do now. I sincerely hope they feel well enough long enough to enjoy the full capacity of the gifts of their bodies. I spend a lot of time protecting them from their own battles, but maybe I shouldn’t.

What do you think? Did you play at a high level and find challenge in your aging body? Do you keep your kids moving without worrying about whether they are in the fight now but it may cause them issues later?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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kids soccerAccording to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of an athlete is, “A person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina.”

No one is born with athleticism and there is no such thing as an athletic gene. Young kids are not athletes. None of them. They are not yet trained or skilled enough to be considered proficient and thus cannot be considered athletes.

There are children who have more regular exposure to physical movement, and their coordination is a direct result of that exposure, but it takes time for even the coordinated kids to become athletes. Becoming an athlete is more than physical coordination, however.

Becoming an athlete begins with belief.

The word athlete is a noun and nouns are static. It is too easy to influence the tendency of concrete-thinking-children as they grow by telling them they are either an athlete or they are not. They will believe what you say.

Jean Piaget’s Four Stages of Cognitive Development highlight the processes of children’s brains as they develop. In my opinion, the most critical age for cognitive development of athletes is for children 7-11. During that phase in life, kids latch on to beliefs about the world and beliefs about themselves. They begin to operate in the world according to those beliefs.

I am currently coaching a co-ed u12 team with emerging athletes. The kids are ten and eleven years old. Some of them have been exposed more regularly to physical movement than others, and demonstrate a higher level of coordination. Some of them have had very little exposure to physical movement and the learning curve for them is a bit steeper. I tell all of them they are on the road to becoming athletes. I hope I’ve caught them early enough to influence the beliefs they will ultimately adopt about themselves.

The alternative is heart-breaking for me.

Too many kids assume that physical activity is reserved for the “athletes” among us and when they hit a place where they believe they are not athletes, they stop looking for ways to stay active.

This is on us, coaches. We have a responsibility to ALL kids to build the belief that they are all athletes and that physical movement is one of the best ways to be great humans.

There will still be a narrowing of talent as the kids mature. Stronger, faster, and more skilled athletes will make the more competitive teams, but if we do our job right, all kids will continue to be active in something and they will believe that they are athletes on the spectrum. They will do this if we can instill in them a Growth Mindset.

Adopt and Utilize Growth Mindset

So how do you build belief in emerging athletes?

  • Check your body language- especially around mistakes.
    • As kids are working to attain skill, they will look to you for feedback. Encourage the continued growth in all of their efforts, but maybe most specifically when they make a mistake. “You got this.” “What now?” “Back at it.”
  • Have a good response for the “But Coach, I can’t do it.”
    • You say:  “You can’t do it, yet.” Every time they run up against something they haven’t learned yet, encourage them to continue pushing past it because they are just not there YET.
  • Help them to maintain a sense of humor in the learning process. Growth needs a positive space and laughter is pretty dang positive.
    • As they have fits and starts in their physical development, celebrate the achievements and find a way to laugh off the guffaws. You can especially model this when you say or do something you hadn’t intended. They need to see that you don’t take yourself too seriously either.
  • Maintain the same focus whether it is a game or a practice.
    • Belief is most built in those measurable moments. When score is kept or times are calculated, the concrete thinkers will assume that what is measured is who they are. Help them to see the growth above the recorded score or time. Make note of even the smallest of success for each of them so they can see the growth that you do.
  • Bring parents into your efforts. Explain your desire to build belief in emerging athletes and tell them your aim is to help develop amazing people who have a flourishing growth-mindset that will keep them active for life.

No matter whether  members of your team will ultimately be selected for a high-level team or they will be the one to train with a group of friends for a fun run, if we build people enough that they believe being human affords access to the title Athlete, then we really will have done our job as coaches.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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why my husband quit coaching

Someone recently reminded me about this piece originally posted in 2016 on a site that has since been removed. I felt compelled to post it again because I want to enable coaches to seek and provide for one another the resources needed to keep good coaches in the game. It helps me to know that what I do as a high school coach is actually really hard. For any high school coach struggling with the challenges of coaching high school athletes and their families, I just want you to know you are not alone.

 Coaching high school teams is hard…possibly the hardest kind of coaching there is. I do believe it is possible to enjoy the journey, however, and I sincerely hope more and more high school coaches begin to believe that too.

Several years ago, my kids and I were saying our goodbyes to my husband in the parking lot of a youth hockey arena. My son, who was probably nine at the time, hugged his suit-and-tie-clad dad, patted him on the back and said, “Hey dad, say hi to your girlfriend for me!” My husband and I laughed as he then walked over to me for a goodbye hug and kiss.

More than anything, I wish I had had a camera to capture the dismayed look of the couple who had come out of their car right when we were saying our goodbyes. They looked so confused. They obviously didn’t know the truth of our situation and I wish I had been able to explain that it was a goodbye that made perfectly good sense to us.

My husband has had a mistress since well before I met him. Her name is HOCKEY. She is a seductress and apparently capable of lifelong relationship. Not having known her as a child, I have spent much of my adult life trying to understand her.

It didn’t take me long to figure out she’s quite a drama queen. She evokes such passion from the people who love her. I observed often how passionate my husband was about the sport that so fully defined who he is. I began to note the power she had over him when the only times during the winter months when he shaved, cut his hair, and got dressed up in a coat and tie were in direct correlation to the time he spent at the rink. It’s true she has made her way into our marriage bed too…on the heels of a tough loss or on especially emotional outings.

His love affair started when he was a young boy. She would entice him from a frosted window when the city water trucks would flood the neighborhood rink for their winter tryst. She made him feel so good about himself as he slid to an identity in and out of organized meetings. Passion grew with him and when he began to have a lot of success and recognition for his abilities as a teen and into early adulthood, her hook was set.

They did break up for a while- when the course of their relationship was tested with the arrival of injuries and a new coaching staff in college. For the first time in his life, he was told what sort of relationship he was going to have with hockey, and it was from the sideline. This experience was possibly one of the most painful of his life.

That was when he and I met.

You would think I had power enough to help him to forget his first love, and for a few years I managed to be enough. I could tell that he was like the circle in Shel Silverstein’s book The Missing Piece and he was rolling around the world looking for something to make him feel complete again.

I take blame for the rekindling of his relationship with hockey. I felt somewhat obligated to help him pursue love that had left a gaping hole in his life…it’s what spouses do, right? I honestly didn’t know what a decision like that was going to mean for my life. She has changed everything.

I became the great enabler. I packed boxes and moved small children several times, I single-mothered most Friday and Saturday nights or trekked the three kids out in the snow and ice to watch him pursue his passion. I then became the enabler for the kids too as they showed interest in getting to know her. They’ve been lured into her sticky web and they each navigate a path of childhood that includes relationship with her. I helped make that happen.

Recently, something quite drastic has happened to his love for this lifelong mistress. I don’t know if he has outgrown her or if he struggles with the way other people have tarnished her in his eyes, but the glow has nearly vanished.

He took a head high school coaching job three years ago, after spending the majority of his coaching career at the college level. Probably from day one at the high school level, his passion for the game has dwindled. I’ve worked hard to support him through some of the harder discoveries he has made over the last three years, because that’s what spouses do, right?  Here are some of the things I’ve observed:

  • Most high schoolers don’t yet have a full-fledged passion for hockey (or for anything really). They are growing into the passions they will follow and it takes patience to wait for those passions to emerge.
  • My husband’s college coach demeanor on the bench was quite often misinterpreted as indifference. What people didn’t realize is he has spent a lifetime learning to control his emotions and no one will ever really know how much he truly cares about the kids and the game.
  • It is heavy to carry the weight of responsibility for the parents of teenagers who have ideas about how passion should be taught and fostered. Each person requires something unique. My introverted husband is not equipped to navigate that minefield.
  • He hasn’t enjoyed the 30 varied opinions about who hockey is, how hockey should be loved, or whether hockey becomes a passion for the young men on his team.

I’ve thought a lot about why his passion tanked like it did and one thought I had is that, likely, as a college coach there was no need to navigate relationships like this, because college men who play hockey have firmly established that they are sincerely passionate about hockey. Those who make it to play in college have a passion and commitment that my husband recognizes, and when they gather in the locker room they can see in each other’s eyes a kindred spirit.

If it is time for my husband and hockey to have a final break up, I’m okay with that. She’s done her work to mold and shape a large portion of our family phase of life.  I can see in my husband he is ready to put his energy into other things, like the relationships with all the children in our home. He acknowledges what I do, that their time here is coming to a close, and I am so glad he doesn’t want to miss it. He is also expanding responsibilities for his job and he is at the point in his life where he has to choose how to best expend his energy.

Hockey has served him well. She’s served all of us well, and for one or more of my kids she may remain an important part of skating through life. She can be a fantastic vehicle of connection, and a catalyst to incredible personal growth. I don’t hold any grudges against her.

I know my husband had hoped he would have had a chance to take their relationship to even another level, but he is fully grateful for the gifts she has granted. She brought us together, she has been an integral member of our family, she has been the reason we’ve met so many wonderful people, and she is the reason we live in a place we love with a lifestyle we adore. That’s enough for him.

There will be people who don’t fully understand this good-bye, because they don’t know how much more there is to the story. Just know, it makes perfectly good sense to us.

For the record, my husband still coaches our daughter a couple times a week at the goalie practices for her high school team. 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Coaches need to stop punishing and start disciplining for accountability.

There is a difference.

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“Keep running, and pick up the pace,” my coach said. Next lap around we tried to get his attention, but he was deep in conversation with the assistant. Our captain managed to ask, “Are we done?” He didn’t look at her, or at us. He simply shook his head no.

We kept running.

We had been running a brutal conditioning drill where one line of the team sprints around a shortened field to catch up with the other line that is slowly jogging…switching roles as soon as the first group got back. We had been jogging/sprinting for twenty minutes at the end of an intense two-hour practice, the day before one of our last games, at the end of a losing season.

None of us dared stop running (except the one player who slid behind a bush to vomit). We knew the punishment was coming because we had lost the previous two games. He wanted to light a spark in us so we could finish out the season with better performances. It didn’t work. We lost all the remaining games anyway.

That’s why coaches punish, right? To effect some sort of change in a team’s behavior or to create a level of accountability. Sometimes team punishment achieves a desired change, i.e. the Miracle hockey team of 1980. (there is a reason that entire story was rather miraculous though)

It is an honorable thing to employ discipline with the end-goal of accountability.

Physical punishment to affect behavior is timeless. Militaries use it, parents use it, and certainly sports coaches use it. The problem for some coaches is they misuse it. Physical punishment is a powerful tool and must be wielded thoughtfully.

There are functional uses of physical punishment that make sense to me as a natural consequence, and there are horribly dysfunctional uses. I’ll stick with the dysfunctional ones.

3 Dysfunctional Uses of Physical Punishment

  • Team punishment for an individual’s infraction.
  • Because a coach has run out of ideas to develop a team further.
  • Because a team loses.

Team Punishment for an Individual’s Infraction

I see this ALL the time. I even highlighted a ridiculous example of this in a post I wrote five years ago. This DOES NOT build team cohesion. It rarely works to even hold the individual accountable for whatever he/she did.

People buy into a team mentality, they cannot be bullied into it.

There is honestly no real-world scenario where team punishment makes even a little bit of sense. I’ll use some extreme examples. In the “punish the team” model, the entire group of tv hosts/hostesses for the morning show where Matt Lauer worked should be fired for his transgressions. OR, my whole family should have been jailed because my dad made poor choices and, obviously, because we are part of his family, we should pay for his behavior too.

If you are about to dole out a team punishment for something one kid or a couple kids have done, take some time to think about whether you are doing that because it will enact accountability or because you are lazy. It takes energy and creativity to work out the right consequences for wrong choices.

It is choices we want to influence after all. Choices to be a team player, choices to behave with integrity, choices to show up on time, or compete well. There is nothing wrong with wanting to influence behavior when there is a choice, but there are ways to do it better.

My very favorite use of physical discipline for accountability was my husband’s approach to his hockey team’s penalties. The day after a game, at the very start of  practice, the players who had posted penalty minutes the night before would come before a jury of their peers to be judged. My husband taught them that there are “good” penalties and “bad” penalties. The “good” penalties happened with a player was playing hard and got tied up, resulting in a penalty, or as a last resort did what he needed to do to stop a breakaway. “Bad” penalties were any that included unsportsmanlike conduct or a loss of emotional control.

The player with the infraction would plead his case. Sometimes. Sometimes he would acknowledge how dumb the penalty was and just skate his punishment- (4 cross-ice boards per 2-minute penalty). If he wanted to be judged, the team would vote and determine whether a punishment was valid. If there was a tie, my husband would be the deciding vote.

The teams my husband has coached are among the most disciplined I’ve watched play. The boys knew they would be held accountable and it influenced a number of their decisions.

Because a Coach Has Run Out of Ideas to Develop a Team Further

I think this might have been my coach’s misuse of punishment. It happened over twenty years ago, and it is still among one of my most memorable practices. (and not for the right reasons)

For coaches who measure their successes on wins and stats, if the season is a rough one, they’ll grasp at anything to try to put things right.

Maybe if my coach was able to acknowledge the truth, that we really weren’t that good, he could have utilized our practice time more productively.

Because a Team Loses

Too many teams lose games twice. They lose on the scoreboard and then they lose any possible lessons because the response to a loss is physical punishment.

“Oh, man, coach is going to run us so hard tomorrow.”

“Why?”

“Because we lost.”

“Ok, but you were playing the number one team in the country.”

“That doesn’t matter, we always run when we lose.”

This might be an attempt at consistency, but this sort of punishment is neither disciplining nor holding anyone accountable.

Losses happen. Teams play flat and uninspired. Physical punishment in response is not going to change what happened in that last game.

Should you talk to your teams about how playing uninspired lessens their chances of success? Sure. Should you encourage their feedback about what works to influence their enthusiasm? Absolutely. Should you run them into the ground? No.

Conditioning is a part of every practice I run, as it should be for all sports coaches. It’s just not part of my response to a loss we have already fielded as a team.

Questions to ask yourself about whether to utilize physical discipline:

  • Is it fair and appropriate to the choice the player(s) made?
  • Is it going to influence the behavior in a desired way?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is this the best way I can think of to discipline?

It’s a shift in thinking and a shift in semantics. Athletes should know that physical discipline is crucial to their ultimate success. The best coaches inspire kids to work hard at that discipline, and if coaching is really happening well, the players will seek out the physical discipline for themselves. If it’s punishment, they never will.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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susan cain quote art

I cheated the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. In my late twenties I took the test and the results tagged me as an INFJ. Everything I had observed about myself, or probably more accurately wanted to believe about myself, meant the test results were obviously wrong. I changed a couple of the answers in order to change the ‘I’ into an ‘E’ and went into the group discussion proud of my declared “teacher” personality. There was no way I was a contemplative counselor…or so I thought.

Fast forward fifteen years and my accidental discovery about the truth. Last month, one of my book clubs picked Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I looked forward to the read because, without a doubt, I had identified my husband and one of our three children as profoundly introverted. I was sure I would learn so much about how my extrovert (ok, maybe ambivert) self could better navigate relationship with them because obviously I was so unlike them.

I took the introvert/extrovert test (3 separate times). Turns out, I’m actually an introvert too. Sigh. I’m still considering the possibility that my husband made me that way, but regardless of my level of comfort in admitting the truth, knowing this about myself is a game changer.

How can this be? I’m a coach, a journalist, a speaker and I consider myself incredibly verbal. That, and for most of my life, people have tagged me as an extrovert. According to the Myers-Briggs description of INFJ’s:

INFJs are deeply concerned about their relations with individuals as well as the state of humanity at large. They are, in fact, sometimes mistaken for extroverts because they appear so outgoing and are so genuinely interested in people.

The more I investigate the description of my particular personality the more sense it makes. Introverts can be and do pretty much anything. We just make adjustments so we are more comfortable. Part of what I’ve subconsciously done, over the course of my life, is I’ve inadvertently adapted the use of my own energy system so I can be better at those things I love to do.

This personality revelation explains why I’ve been somewhat reluctant to coach. I love coaching, but there are parts that tax me and I’ve always prioritized the energy needs of my house above everything else.

I know in my gut that coaching is SO, SO important and there are parts that I really do love. I love analyzing the game, individually counseling athletes, planning contemplative exercises, providing individual technical instruction and relating to the players and family members as well as the coaches with whom I get to coach. I’ve figured out the more I can have planned out beforehand and the more practice I have at the rhythm of a season, the better I do. I’ve set up good communication strategies, drawn clear boundaries with parents and players, worked hard at relationships with them and I’m diligent about all administrative aspects of my job.

I can only engage in those things for regimented periods of time though. Breaks in seasons and days off to rest, are paramount to my effectiveness. Thankfully, I’ve figured out what works for me. (Next step is figuring out how I can encourage a team that is seemingly quite introverted to step out of comfort zones too-blogpost to come)

I’ve been lucky, though. Without seeking out opportunities to coach, coaching jobs have literally landed in my lap. I do feel I am meant to be coaching, but without life unfolding the way it has, I’m not sure I would have pursued it. I think it is harder for introverts, interested in coaching, to have the opportunities they seek.

I’ve actually seen it firsthand in our house. There is no mistaking my husband’s introversion. For many people he is so deeply introverted that he seems off-putting. He is not out-going and certainly unlike most apparently extroverted coaches who seem to be so good at being out there. The thing is, he LOVES to coach and he is really good at it. (especially for the college-aged athlete) He still plugs in where he can, but I’m not sure the coaching world, including families and athletes who espouse extroverted coaching, is quite as receptive to  introverted men who coach.

What do you think? Are you an introverted coach? Are extroverted coaches better at coaching? Should coaching staffs comprise a certain combination of personalities to be most effective?

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2018                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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Coach a resolution

I adopted the hashtag #closethegap as my focus for last season’s team. There exists a profound skill/commitment gap between our team and the teams in our conference. People have pointed to our high school’s championship football team for some of the gap that exists, and I would be foolish to pretend football doesn’t matter. We are in a small western Wisconsin town and the number of students participating in athletics makes same-as-football-season boys’ sports somewhat disadvantaged. Demographics, too, make it tough for us to compete with some of the communities that have more resources, both human and material. None of those factors can be an excuse, however, and I refuse to play the blame game.

I have a responsibility for the growth and success of this soccer program and plenty of recent self-reflection has led me to my current resolution. I don’t want to call it a New Year’s resolution because then it seems as though I only intend to be resolute for the new part of the year or for one year only. I am resolving to make changes in how I coach, in how I approach coaching and the decision to do something, about a craft I have studied and worked at for over twenty years, is a big deal.

I blame Kate Leavell, author of Confessions of an Imperfect Coach, for this recent surge of inspiration. The perfectly-timed arrival of her book on my desk has tied together a number of the loose thoughts that have been swimming in my head for years.

I have been a somewhat fraudulent coach. Ok, maybe fraudulent is a strong word, but I know I haven’t been “all in”.

Every single coaching job I have had has been an “emergency” one.

The first team I coached was a premier u-17 girls team in Colorado. The club director asked me to coach them after their coach was caught partying with one of the players. I steadied the ship mid-season and coached them one more year before we moved out of state.

The next coaching job I had was as the head women’s coach at UW-Stout. I was hired one week before the season started. A literal emergency hire and one of the hardest things I have ever done. That emergency lasted for five years.

Next up: a U10 girls team in Woodbury and a couple youth co-ed teams in Menomonie. For each team, they needed someone to coach and I reluctantly raised my hand.

My current job as the head coach for the Menomonie High School boys team was one I hesitated to pursue too. For two years, as a parent, I watched from the sideline and struggled to coach our son through the difficulties of being on a team that lacked a positive culture or a stabilizing voice. When the revolving door began to spin again, for what would be the third coach in four years, I found myself sitting across the desk from the Athletic Director in an interview before I realized I was doing it again. I was agreeing to take on a struggling program in peril.

So here I am. A seasoned coach who has told herself for twenty years, coaching is a temporary position, a part-time gig.

What if it’s not, though? What if coaching is exactly what I am supposed to be doing? What if I pursued it completely and decided to get as good at it as I can?

My response would be, “well then, I have a lot to learn and even more to do.”

All of this brings me to my new resolution.

A Bing search of the definition of resolution yields the following:

Resolution

  • A firm decision to do or not to do something.
  • The action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
  • The process of reducing or separating something into its components.

So, my firm decision? To pour myself in to coaching others. Sometimes it will look like soccer, but most of the time it will look like parenting, advising and teaching. I totally want to set up a booth at the end of my driveway like Charlie Brown’s friend Lucy that solicits “Help” for 5 cents.

The problem I want to solve? Inspiring those around me move toward the best versions of themselves. (another book influence: Perfectly Yourself: Discovering God’s Dream for You, by Matthew Kelly)

The process and separating into components? That’s goal-setting. I have a new hashtag for this year.

#timeandspace

I want to create spaces for people to grow and set aside time to be there with them as they do. It’s actually something my husband and I have been trying to do for our kids and our summer employees without really having the hashtag to describe it.  I want to bring that to the teams, athletes and fellow coaches with whom I work. How I’ll measure that daily, weekly or monthly is something I’m still exploring and I’ll spend more time with this concept in future blogposts.

For now, I wish you the very best in your own resolutions. May you make your own firm decisions to problem-solve for the good of those around you and find purpose in the pursuit.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com

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captain

One of the captains for a team of mine peed on every soccer field before every game. Yes, peed. She would gather the team around her so she could inspire us (and hide what she was doing) by performing the feat of pulling her shorts to the side while she squatted low enough her stream would not spray her socks.

I was never impressed… nor inspired.

She wasn’t a good leader and I was not a good follower. I wasn’t the only one who struggled to follow her lead, but if our coach had asked, we could have told her.

The one peeing was the coach’s pick for our captain. The team had chosen another player who had been injured in the offseason and, when a coaching change happened that summer, the new coach assigned a replacement captain without bringing a choice to the team.

It didn’t go well.

There is solid argument for trusting the captain choice to the most experienced and wise person on the field. (I sincerely hope that is the coach) Young players on teams have a tendency to vote along popularity lines and that is a struggle for coaches who truly believe that leadership matters for the chemistry and efficacy of a team. (and it does!) Coaches generally have a good idea of who would be good leaders for the group, but making a unilateral decision about a team’s captain can backfire.

Choosing a captain should be a group effort, and the team will more likely follow the lead of the players they choose.

I tried a different approach this year and I really liked it.

As a coach, I guided the selection of the captains, but the team ultimately decided.

I introduced a rather lengthy selection process for assigning our in-season captains. I contend that this approach is likely most appropriate for high school-aged teams and older. (I have ideas for how to grow captains in younger teams, and I’ll cover that briefly later)

Captain Selection Process

Step One: Captain Application

Players interested in being chosen as a captain must submit an application that consists of the following questions:

  1. What is the role of a captain?
  2. Why do you want to be a captain?
  3. What are your leadership qualifications for this position?
  4. What leadership activities have you participated both in school and outside of school?
  5. Explain how you would be proactive in confronting peers who violate team rules, school policies or league regulations?
  6. What impact would you make on our team as a captain?

My coaching staff reviewed the applications and because of the number that submitted we let them all take part in the next step. My plan, if there are many more applications in the future would be to select five candidates to present to the team.

The application process is an important one. The thought that goes into crafting their responses raises their level of awareness that we as a coaching staff value leadership. It also gives us a chance to see what their leadership values are.

Step Two: Speech

Once the captain candidates were selected they were each given one minute to explain to their teammates why they wanted to be the team’s captain and what value they could offer.

Step Three:  Team Vote

After the speeches, the team selected their top three choices. I like having three captains because there is better balance with three voices.

Step Four: Captain’s Pledge

To really emphasize my expectations of those selected as captains for our team, the players chosen and their parents have to sign a Captain’s Pledge.  It looks like this:

Captain’s Pledge

I, ___________________________, realize the honor that goes with the many responsibilities involved in serving as a Captain for MHS Boys Soccer. I need to be a leader both in and out of the competitive setting (on and off the field), before the season starts, during the season and even after the season has been completed. Unless I am dismissed from this role, I will always be known as a Captain for the MHS Soccer team.

I am very proud that I have been selected to serve in this capacity. I realize that I must be mature, take initiative, and at times I may need to make unpopular decisions. I will keep the interests of the team first and I will always demonstrate good sportsmanship.

I must remain drug and alcohol free and I will do my best to ensure that all of my teammates are doing the same.

I realize that I need to work closely with the coaching staff to make our season successful. I will treat my teammates with respect and give them extra help when they need it. My integrity will never be questioned, since I realize that people will remember me more as the type of person I was, as well as the reputation of my team, much longer than any of my personal accolades.

I, _____________________________, agree to all of the above and pledge to uphold the philosophy and live by these guidelines. I know that I must resign as Captain if I fail to live up to these expectations.

Captain’s Signature___________________________________  Date____________

Parent(s) Signature__________________________________  Date__________

Soccer teams are among the few sports teams where captains are more than just an honorary title. They have work to do on behalf of the team. They represent their teams in the coin toss, they are the identified player rep for conversations with the referees and I utilize them in decision-making as player representatives. (voices from the trenches) They have an important role in the chemistry of a team and in the identity of a program. It’s a big deal and worth the extra effort to put the right players in place.

****Captains for Teams Younger than 14

For younger kids, I think captain of the week works well. Assign a pair of players the job of leading warm-ups or end-of-practice cheers the week they will be assigned captains for the game. Leadership takes practice too. Talk to the players about leading well and following well, pointing out the behaviors you most value in your leaders. (and your followers)

 

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

americanflag

If you stand on a youth soccer sideline long enough, you are bound to hear a coach yell, “Take a knee!” Most often the directive is meant for a recently-injured-player who is trying to be brave and make one last heroic play, but whose limping attempt is not productive. Kneeling is necessary to protect the player and stop the game.

For young kids, when an injured player goes down, players on both teams also take a knee. The full-field gesture is not because any other player is hurt, but because they are respecting the player for whom the game has halted.

I was the sort of athlete who really didn’t like to have to kneel, either as the injured or as a mandate when another player was hurt. I did it when I was asked because I respected the game and those who played it. It was part of the arrangement for being part of a team. As I got older and players no longer knelt, I made it a point to touch the shoulder of the injured before gathering my teammates on the field.

Before anyone slams me for likening the current on-field kneeling to that of kneeling for an injury during a soccer game, hear me out.

My perspective, like every other American watching what’s happening on NFL sidelines with regard to kneeling, comes from a unique place. My perspective isn’t right, it’s personal. (I would argue that is the case with every single person who has an emotional opinion about what’s transpiring)

It’s been a tough few days: as a coach, as a once-upon-a-time-elite-athlete, as an American, as the daughter of a West Point grad and veteran, and granddaughter of two World War II vets. It’s been hard too as a middle-aged white woman who, as part of the pre-game protocol for the diverse boys’ high school soccer team I coach, to stand facing a flag for an anthem two to three times each week without thinking about those kneeling.

I’m left wondering what the right response to all of this should be and I’ve decided it’s too personal to dictate.

The kneeling posture is a physical statement while others are standing for the playing of our national anthem. Until this weekend, it had already been happening in small pockets in America and for personal reasons I have no business analyzing.

Kneeling during the anthem looks like injury to me.

There are plenty of hurting people in this country and the professional athletes who have taken a knee to draw attention to some of those hurts are taking the posture of an injured soul. Look at the recent team photos of anthems: some are kneeling, others stand with heads bowed and still others stand at attention with their eyes raised to the flag. The controversy exists because any expression that might be different than the way we each want to approach that flag could be seen as an affront to our personal feelings. The kneeling expression hurts those for whom standing with great reverence is their own personal attention to the hurts they carry too.

Every person has a right to their opinions and freedom exists in the expression of those opinions because we are Americans. Unfortunately, more and more these days we want everyone to think and express like we do. We want to express our own hurts without acknowledging the hurts of others. There seems to be little interest in even trying to understand the personal decisions other people make much less unpack what might be causing our reaction in the first place.

Every opinion is framed in personal experiences, the pasts we carry with us and the emotional realities that exist within us. Have you thought about why you feel the way you do about this?

Compounded in the controversy is the fact that teams had no choice but to respond to Trump’s statements because he inflicted new injury on the players and owners of the sports teams he chose to attack.

There are two responses I have seen, so far, that capture the essence of what might possibly be a way to engage in a productive and necessary dialogue.

vikings-seahawks-football

The teams where one player knelt or sat and the other stood directly behind with a hand on his shoulder best illuminates acknowledgement of both postures being necessary. The standing player stands because he must and the kneeling player kneels because he must. They connect with each other, because they are teammates who respect what the other must do.

The Dallas Cowboys did it right too. They knelt as an entire organization in linked-arm solidarity, just prior to the start of the anthem. Then together they stood,  interlocked, and remained standing as a group for the duration of the anthem. I am sure it took quite a bit of conversation to determine the group response. As a team they expressed acceptance of any hurts the members of their organization might be carrying while approaching the flag with respect and reverence.

They were booed by the Arizona Cardinal fans for this expression.

We are used to booing in a football stadium. For God’s sake, a majority of the fans show up each week to do just that. The thing is, this booing initially frustrated me. The more I think about it though the more I must acknowledge that booing is necessary for some people too. I would argue the angry response of booing to the sad posture of kneeling is simply another expression of hurt.

The hardest part of all of this is that America seems to have forgotten we are supposed to be on the same team. We’ve chosen which color on the flag defines us and which posture is right when we stand before it. We need to be better than this. We need to embrace the emotionally complex nature of this great country and every citizen who calls it home.

I continue to stand for the anthem, and I reverently look at the red stripes and the blue backdrop of the stars and, as I did as an athlete, I remember that I’m privileged to be in that moment. It doesn’t mean for one second I am not willing to walk beside someone kneeling in my vicinity to put my hand on a shoulder because I want the injured among us to know I see their pain and I am willing to stand up for them until they no longer feel too pained to stand themselves.

I recently read Waking up White by Debby Irving and I highly recommend it for those of you interested in deepening your understanding of race relations in this country. It challenged me to look harder at the individual responsibility I have to understanding the role I play in contributing to or combatting racism. I have a long way to go.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our small town in Wisconsin creates sports posters for the various varsity teams. The themes for the posters change each year and they are fascinating snapshots of the team for that season while showcasing threads of the overall team culture.

The phrase chosen by the soccer boys for their high school poster this year was “Our work is the world’s game”.

MHS_Soccer 2017 proof

They wanted the phrase iterated in three languages to represent the cultures of boys who play in our program. This year we have a foreign exchange student from Brazil, an exchange student from Turkey and several boys from the local Hmong community. Because of the diversity within our team, the phrase was translated into Portugese, Turkish and Hmong. It is certainly a unique poster among those posted around town.

In all fairness though, we are a unique program. That uniqueness has challenged me in ways I hadn’t anticipated as a coach and, in the current climate of our country, learning to navigate that uniqueness well may be one of the most important things I’ll ever do in my life.

In a town traditionally known for farming and championship football teams, the soccer micro-culture has been marginalized. I am challenged by that reality. I coach a high school boys’ soccer team that plays the same season as football and, in all honesty, the field is slanted in favor of the dominant football culture. It’s not a ground-breaking observation, I know, but I am starting to sense I need to pursue a better way to co-exist.

There is a well-established football machine in this town. (dare I say in this country) It’s a powerful vehicle of discipline for the athletes and entertainment for the spectators. There is good in that. I did not grow up in a town where Friday-night football was an entire-town event or so big that literally everyone’s schedules revolve around what the football boys are doing. For some time, I admit, I have postured for battle against the machine, hoping to woo some of the better multi-sport athletes to choose soccer instead of football. It’s not a battle I have won.

Soccer encourages regular creativity and it is time I employ skills I have spent my lifetime honing.

I grew up thinking soccer was what everyone did: boys or girls, tall or short, and the coaches on the sideline added to my understanding that this world is a pretty big place. My youth coaches were from Iran, France and England and I appreciated the varying perspectives they added to my appreciation of the game. (and of the world at large) I want to create a space where that thinking exists for the players and families who explore soccer in this town.

I am not intent on tearing down anything the football culture has created. I enjoy watching football and I appreciate the efforts of the athletes who pad up on Friday nights. They bring the entire town together and I like that. My focus needs to shift to a mode of appreciating football for football and establishing soccer for what it can be in this community. I am sensing that we need to work at expanding soccer without diminishing anything already happening on the football field.

Maybe our poster phrase is more important than I think. The woman helping me to translate our slogan into Hmong was challenged by the word “game”. There are two Hmong words for game with different connotations. One has to do with childlike playing and the other has to do with game competition. She chose the word that meant competition. It’s the right word for this year’s poster.

The world is playing an incredibly competitive game right now, deciding whether dominant culture or inclusion is the way to go. It is an age-old battle that seems to have been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. What is emerging in my little Western Wisconsin corner of the world is an effort of advocating for the marginalized while appreciating the dominant. Only time will tell how this will go, but I am a part of this team’s culture and I too want to make the world’s game my work.

Meagan is currently the head boys soccer coach at Menomonie High School in Menomonie, Wisconsin. She played collegiate soccer for Division I Colorado College and has been the coach of U5 through college teams for nearly twenty years.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                                                             @choosingtogrow