Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

An Accidental Experiment

I am navigating an inadvertant mess for which I am partially responsible, and it has to do with the fact I think the high school team I coach in the fall will be stronger after the players break up for a while.

The question for which I do not yet have an answer is this: Do teams fair better if you keep the group together year round or can individual growth pull a team along to a stronger place?

I am the Men’s Varsity Soccer Coach for a high school in western Wisconsin. We are a one-high-school town with one traveling soccer team per age group, starting at u10. The highest level we have traditionally been able to compete in club soccer is at the C2 or C3 levels. The conference where our high school team competes has schools that can field teams with premiere and academy-level players. We have won one conference game in six years.

During our post-season exit interviews this past fall, I told a few of the freshmen and sophomore-aged players that it would be worth considering trying out for a C1 team in a neighboring town. My opinion was based off of observations of their play during our season, the level of commitment those players have demonstrated (i.e. involvement in other sports, etc), and because I was of the opinion they were ready to take that step. It was not information I shared with every player because I do not believe every player was ready for that next level.

The biggest problem is I have disrupted the group as a whole. The entire situation, and partially thanks to the challenge of a parent who shared he wouldn’t have guided the group the way I have, makes me feel as though I need to reflect upon and better clarify my philosophies about building players and this particular high school program.

Understanding my philosophies begins with where I’m coming from. First of all, I’m not from here. Here is a small town known primarily for its stellar football team. The town’s philosophy, and often mimicking the successful football program, celebrates a cohesive approach to team building. There is a lot of support for the idea that successful sports programs can be (and should be) grown in town with year-round togetherness.

I do love the idea of that…on paper. In reality, however, it has never worked to advance the development of our high school soccer team. There have been a few factors responsible for that, but I would argue that one of the biggest challenges for soccer development in our town is tied directly to resources.

Both human and physical resources have been generally lacking for club-level soccer in our community. There are a handful of mediocre fields and less-than-a-handful of adults willing to coach kids how to play. Young parents are not traditionally soccer savvy and there are no highly qualified coaches, paid or otherwise, sitting around waiting for a team to coach.

The other factor in my perspective has to do with my experience. My last head coaching gig was as a college coach. I built teams by recruiting players with high levels of skill, character, and game sense. The boys I coach now are all still acquiring those things. I am always looking for ways to help teach the guys from where they are so they can improve. I know I cannot do it by myself and I am dependent upon off-season and club coaching to maintain momentum.

Soccer is a skill sport. Players need fields to play on and knowledgeable coaches to coach them, but also, at some point, the players need the right level of play to enhance confidence and challenge growth. An appropriate level of competition advances skill, creativity, and game awareness.

The in-house, community-team-build approach works with the right recipe of resources and passion. Traditionally, the town’s lukewarm soccer passion matched the minimal soccer resources and the average soccer talent. Now that there is a growing level of passion and skill-level in our community, the need for challenge and opportunity has increased. Unfortunately, the available resources have not kept pace.

Only Time Will Tell

For the high school soccer players in this town, keeping the group together to play in the off-season has not worked to create a competitive team. My guess is, improving five or six players to the next level will certainly enhance the team’s level of play in the fall, but the choice to encourage that is problematic. Most summers it is incredibly hard to scrounge up enough committed players to field even a C3-level high school team, but with players leaving for other opportunities, there are not enough players for an in-town team at all. This was NOT my intention, but I acknowledge it is a direct result of my encouragement for some players to seek C1 programming.

I continue to work with our youth board to create a solution for all the players stuck in no-man’s land, interested in playing this spring and summer. I still firmly believe every player on our team has the capacity to come in next fall improved from where he ended last season. It will always come down to what work a player is willing to do on his own, what pick-up games he is willing to find or organize, and what opportunities offered he is willing to pursue. It doesn’t have to look like the traditional youth sports model.

If I’ve learned anything in this it is that I need to be more transparent about offering opportunities. If players/families want to know how I think a player would fair in a higher-level tryout, I will offer my honest feedback. And then it will be up to the families to decide what off-season experiences they want to pursue.

The parent who challenged me to think harder about this decision illuminated a difficulty I may face when this group of players convenes next fall to compete together. Team building after they’ve been broken up for a while could be hard, but I think he knows what I do, that this is a great group of kids who care a lot about one another. I am supremely confident they will work hard to come together as a team, every chance they get, because that’s what good teams do.

Copyright 2019


b-w-team-huddledI’ve been a part of teams for over 35 years and I know that one of the most important parts of being on a team is showing up. Showing up for off-season lifting and pick-up games, showing up for practices, for film sessions, for team meals, and then for games. The thing is, there is more to it than just showing up… how you show up matters most.

I’ve had the privilege of showing up as a player on elite, winning teams, and I’ve had the challenge of showing up on teams that go winless for an entire season. There is a very real shift in psychology when the excitement and hope of a season fades into the frustrated reality that opponents are going to be tough and the work that lay ahead may not provide the results the team truly desires.

Players want to play and teams play games to win. Period. Putting forth exhausting effort to come up short time and again, starts to weigh on players and ultimately on teams. The psychology of an athlete and a team is challenged at the extremes. The players who experience consistent playing time and winning are challenged to stay focused and humble. The players on teams experiencing losses are challenged to see a point in working hard, they have to navigate personal, ugly emotions that come with sitting on the sideline or losing. They either give up trying or they use a lot of energy to determine ways to keep fighting and to help their teammates do the same. It is much harder to be a part of a team that is in defensive battle mode.

The hardest thing to keep in mind is that true winning (competing well each and every outing) is always possible. It’s a decision to show up well.

This is not an easy decision, however.

The team I am currently coaching is 2 and 9 and facing the back half of a season with the same opponents who have already beat up on us once. We are experiencing the hardest part of being in battle mode.

This is where the true character of these players and the heart of this team will be tested most.

There are countless ways the guys can decide to respond. Countless ways to show up….or not. I’m challenged to help them to dig in and to find value in competing well no matter their record. It’s for pride. It’s for building upon the groundwork we are laying. It’s for sharpening the character tools in their toolboxes as they prepare to go on to college, or jobs where what they’ve learned about competing well will matter.

We need to continue to show up well:

  • Show up early (or at the very least on time)
  • Show up ready (bring all gear necessary)
  • Show up positively (find the good in other players and the fun in the game)
  • Show up focused (leave other thoughts off the field and bring mental focus into the task at hand)
  • Show up ready to work hard (no matter what you are able to do in a day, do your best)
  • Show up ready to learn (see each day as an opportunity to grow as a person and as a team)

Showing up happens on an individual level, but it is layered with an awareness of what showing up means to the team as a whole.

I’d like to say, after all this time on teams, that I’ve perfected the showing up thing. I haven’t. I am equally challenged to show up well and I need reminders to stay the course too. It is a daily decision and I need to come back to the decision each morning because, for me, any time I have the opportunity to be part of  a team I have made the implicit agreement to show up well.


Meagan Frank is the author of the Choosing to Grow series, a national speaker, athlete, coach, and mother of three. A 1997 graduate of Colorado College, Meagan was a four-year starter and senior captain on the Division I women’s soccer team and lettered in Division III women’s basketball. She has coached recreational, high school, elite, and college-level teams for both boys and girls.

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Copyright 2016       Meagan Frank   Choosing to Grow


© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow


For many years I joked I was going to homeschool our kids through junior high. My plan was to keep them home during the maturation years and then put them back with their peers when they were high schoolers.  I remember my own time in middle school as moderately uncomfortable, but most definitely annoying.  I also remember being annoyed  with the middle-schoolers I taught when I dutifully fulfilled my requirement to show up for a stint as a seventh-grade student teacher. It took about two days for me to decide that middle school teachers are among the best people on earth, and I was happy to remain in awe of how they navigate that hormonal, cantankerous, goofy group, but I did not need to martyr myself following their career path. (somehow I thought high schoolers were easier to teach…LOL)

At any rate, I never did pull the trigger on homeschooling my seventh-grader because I do recognize one of the biggest lessons they are learning at this age is how to navigate the social landscape. (that and let’s face it, homeschooling would mean I would have to be teaching a seventh grader…every day…all day…like, really?!)

It’s a strange age. They are moving through so many developmental stages at once, and everyone goes a little nuts for a bit. We adults know that it is a phase, and that they will (hopefully) outgrow it. Growth is painful, however, and it is at this stage where some of the biggest growth spurts are happening…literally.

So what in the world do you do with a team full of junior high kids?

Run them into the ground. If they are tired enough they don’t have the energy to be quite as annoying. (JK, although there is something to be said for solid exercise)

It’s not an easy age to coach, especially if you are a parent of one of the kids on the team.  Tom Swyers, a baseball enthusiast and youth sports advocate argues parents should completely step out of coaching roles by the time their kids are thirteen. He has a solid argument.

No matter who is coaching this agegroup it takes continual effort to offer guidance, direction, discipline, consistency, and a patient sense of humor. (you may want to record a few key phrases so there can be a continual loop playing…it’s simply a time-saver because you WILL BE A BROKEN RECORD!)

  • “Respect your teammates”
  • “Respect your things”
  • “Respect your opponents”
  • “Respect the refs”
  • And “are you kidding? Put your buddy down.  I am fairly certain he DOES NOT want to go in that trash can.”

The truth is, these kids are all feeling badly about themselves, and only God knows why EVERY kid has to go through a phase of thinking they suck, but it is a scientific fact: the seventhsad boy grade brain loops the negative at a much more intense pace than the positive. (okay, so it’s not totally scientific, just something I’ve observed) It is our job as parents and coaches to give them every reason possible to entertain a positive thought. The kids will provide the negative critical track, and the adults HAVE to be the balance. That includes when a doink kid on the team says a doinky thing or makes a doinky decision and your kid wants to know “How do I play with him/her? He/she is so mean to me?”

You ask your kid how they feel about it, assure them it is totally okay to feel that way, and then brainstorm in a positive direction.

“What do you like about doink kid?” you may ask.

“Nothing,” would be a standard reply.

“Every kid, even the doinky ones have something that is great about them…if you were to text doinky kid and you HAD to say, ‘I really like ___ about you’ what would you write?”

Keep working on them to see the positive as long as they’ll let you.

If it is a stretch to find something good, explain that there are sometimes personality differences that make it hard for some personality types to get along, and that they don’t HAVE to be friends with everyone, but they are expected to respect everyone.

Then remember to keep pumping the positive. Jim Thompson, founder of Positive Coaching Alliance , talks poignantly about the athlete’s emotional tank. Calculating on a 5:1 ratio that people need five positives for every one negative, he offers a script for coaches to talk about filling tanks with their athletes.

It is no wonder everyone hates seventh grade. The negative is SO pervasive, it is exhausting to try to maintain the 5:1 ratio. If you decide to coach this age, or if because of your legal obligation as a parent you have to keep one this age in your house, there HAS to be an effort to put positive back into the equation. It’s honestly your best survival tactic.

Team chemistry is an incredibly elusive thing at this age, and it is because the brains of this aged kid is growing toward how they want to define themselves individually. It comes in fits and starts, and expresses itself in their experimentation as a teammate. They are not sure what kind of person they want to be, and they will be up and down about what kind of teammate they want to be too. The best approach is to keep working on their vision.

  • Point out when kids make a good decision…even if it is not your kid.  If it is not your kid, try to make a point to tell that kid’s parents, or the kid himself.
  • Make an effort to see for yourself what makes each of the kids on the team a great asset, and then point out to them why you think that.
  • Make a list of the best traits of a great teammate and then praise them when they show said traits.

Junior high may seem like a vortex of drama and frustration. That’s because it IS a vortex of drama and frustration. The kicker is that if we want contributing members of society, this phase of life is necessary, and it offers all of us an opportunity to help guide how they step out of this darkness into what they will eventually become. That’s a pretty awesome responsibility.

OK, with that said, I am going to log off now and go tell my kids five affirming things.


Learn more about Meagan’s current book project at her website:

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Copyright 2013   Meagan Frank     Choosing to Grow




Winning feels good. Scoring goals, having a shutout, and performing well feels good. Losing hurts, as does poor performance or lack of production.  From the perspective of an athlete who has felt all of those emotions as a player, I still struggle with how to get rid of those feelings when I watch our children from the sideline. I don’t want to feel good or badly about how our kids play because I don’t think it’s the best way to parent. The only feeling I want to havefor them is love , so I have to practice processing and discarding any other emotion.

We cannot control the way we feel, and it takes a lot of practice to suppress the involuntary emotion so that it does not appear at the wrong times.

Let me tell you how I managed my emotions well this weekend… and how I did it poorly.

It was an interesting weekend in our house.  Two of our kids had tournaments.  One kid played awesome and her team won the tournament championship…the other kid is playing pretty average right now, and his team did well to get third place. What struck me most was my own struggle with emotional reactions to the parent chatter about our children.

When people would tell me, “Oh you must be so excited…she is playing so well right now” or “Congratulations, she did awesome!” I sit for a moment. Why are they congratulating me? I had nothing to do with it. I do respond, however. I don’t want to be that odd woman who turns silently and walks away, and I want to handle it in a way that reflects my parenting philosophy. I do better with positive emotions (who doesn’t) and it is relatively easy for me to respond well. I put the credit squarely on the shoulders of my hard-working kid. “Yeah, I’m so excited for her. She has worked hard this weekend.” or “Make sure to tell her that. She earned it.”

My daughter gets big hugs and smiles no matter what…I am aware that I give her the same kind of hug no matter how she has done.

I didn’t do as well with the more negative comments about her brother.  While walking out of one of my son’s games I heard this: “Skunked again huh?  He hasn’t got a goal yet? I bet that bugs him, huh?” I didn’t respond as well as I would have liked. It has been a rough year for our son, who has traditionally believed about himself that he is a goal-scoring forward.  He has been challenged to play defense for his team, and he is working hard to learn the position. He is trying to learn to add value when what he has known to offer before has been limited to offensive production.  It has been a challenge for all of us to watch him struggle to play the way he can.

So, my impatient response was, “No, he’s just ready to be done with defense.”

It’s not really what I wanted to say, and I did not give myself enough time to think it through.  What I wanted to say instead was, “He’s having fun playing, he enjoys his teammates, he works hard to protect the goalie, and I’m proud of him for trying so hard.”

I was able to compose myself enough before our ride home, and I was more positively present for our son.  I let him tell me about the game from his perspective…I listened to the ways he remembered being valuable.

“I stayed focused and didn’t sit with the girls before the game” he told me, “Did you see me kick the puck off the line? The goalie said I saved a goal.”

I had seen those things, but I had only “felt” the mistakes… the struggles.  I needed him to remind me about the privilege I have to be his parent.

I can’t help feeling the way I feel while watching our kids pour their hearts into something.  I am along with them for the experience, but I think it is really important that I don’t influence the feelings they deserve to have all on their own. My feelings are my feelings, and I never want my feelings about their performances to be the reason they feel any differently about themselves. The only feeling I want them to feel from me is love.

When we get in the habit of basking in the awesome feelings that come with positive performance, kids pick up on that…in contrast, they will absolutely know when we are disappointed or sad if their performance wasn’t good. It is a vicious cycle that works to convince kids that their worth is inextricably tied to whether they win or lose…score or not…play well or horribly.

Love doesn’t feel like that.


2012 copyright Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow                   


Phew. My least favorite time of year is over.

The evaluations are done, the teams are named, and although it was not a painless process in our house this year, it was a time for significant growth for all of us.

Last week, as though perfectly timed with my personal journey, I attended a presentation by life coach Dr. Jean Davidson. She offered a number of intriguing nuggets of information, but one important idea she offered is the assertion that people in our western culture are reluctant to stay in emotion long enough to actually process through it.

It is an idea I have entertained before.  As I observe relatively normal people transform into crazy people on the sideline of youth sporting events, I often wonder what emotional baggage they might be trying to unpack.

It got me thinking about how evaluations, and the categorization of kids, plays a part in the craziness.

Our oldest got through his tryouts first, and while still reeling from the emotional fallout of the decisions that were made, our middle daughter started her run through the evaluation guantlet. I was pretty emotionally spent at that point, and had a rather strange perspective as I watched the girls and their parents tighten around anxiety with the tryouts. Girls had migraines, parents were visibly nervous, nausea ran rampant, and flushed faces of people I enjoy spoke frustrated lines about the performance of their 9 or 10-year-old daughters.

It is the way of youth sports. When labels are involved,  people become crazed.

It matters that you can say your kid is on an A team. Players identify themselves with the label they are given, and too often it becomes a stamp that ends a child’s willingness to pursue potential.

“Oh, he only made a C team,” I heard some of the 10-year-old girls giggle as they settled their own nerves about the impending A-team cut. Parental, peer, and personal pressures to make the right team often cloud patient perspective.

That’s what happened to me. I claim that I can look at most of this youth sports stuff with an objective lens, but if I am honestly pursuing a Choosing to Grow sort of mentality, I have to acknowledge the presence and power of emotions. Especially my own.

I am not proud that I got angry…I am not proud that I lashed out in a  post that made emotional assertions, but I won’t apologize for allowing myself to actually feel every bit of my life and the experiences I endure. By processing where I did…in an adult venue and never within earshot of my children…I was able to get through the tough stuff to better help them cope with their own emotions. Separating my emotions from theirs is imperative to both their growth and mine. However,  I can only effectively separate  when I give myself time to identify my own emotions and work through them.

I presented paranoia, anger, sadness, and I wrote it out in a public way because I honestly believe in providing a space for dialogue about what too few people are willing to address. People who responded positively to the post admitted “feeling” similar emotions. The dissenting opinion addressed logistics of evaluations and the business of categorizing children. Processing ugly emotions IS ugly, but like Dr. Davidson contends, absolutely necessary.

The denial of emotions does not make the feelings go away, it simply delays their arrival.

I think it’s fine that Minnesota Hockey sent this note of encouragement to parents who are battling with the results of tryouts. Tryouts: The Day After The advice is sound. What the message lacks is the validation that people are hurting.  What it is missing is instruction that people should give themselves whatever time they need to work through their feelings. I would never contend that this processing should take forever, but to simply tell people to move on, without any strategies for how, you end up with destructive back-room conversations, bitterness and sometimes a crazed parent who lashes out at an opponent or a ref. (obviously anger about tryouts is just one possible reason for pent-up emotion that explodes mid-season)

For all you parents who are standing in the dust of your post-evaluation emotions, I challenge you to not walk away too quickly. Whatever you might have felt…in the lead-up to the tryouts…throughout the tryouts…and now on the backside, take a few minutes to identify what those feelings were.  Write them down. Why did you feel that way? Write that out. Share what you wrote with a friend who has absolutely no connection to your sports world. Process with them. The validation you need is not that you are right about being slighted…the validation you need is that it is perfectly appropriate to feel the way you do.  Then leave it.  Burn it if that makes you feel better, but don’t hang on to the emotions.

Whatever ugly emotions you ignore, stuff, or move past too quickly will present themselves in some surprising way that may or may not be in a place you want it to happen.

Now that I have exhausted my efforts and I chose to grow through my own emotions about the world that emerged during this period of evaluation, I am ready to lift my face and see the path better. It is not to say that I won’t stop at any point in the future to process the places my feet get stuck. When I find myself stalled, I’ll stop and stay for a while.  I wouldn’t want to move on without letting myself feel the moment.


Copyright 2012                          Choosing to Grow                              meagan frank



I never thought I would play professional sports.

My husband thought he might.

I made the misstep last night of telling our 12-year-old that the chances of him becoming a professional hockey player are pretty miniscule.

I struggled with the reaction of both my husband and my son as they told me I was a dream-crusher.

That’s the last thing I wanted to do, but I couldn’t quite understand why being realistic was such a bad thing.

It’s great that little boys have professional athletes to watch on television.  It’s easy for them to emulate them and to look up to them as bigger versions of themselves.

Girls don’t have that.  Girls know they are not going pro, but they play hard anyway.

Too many boys only play hard because they think that professional sports might be in their future.

It got me thinking, where is the balance, and how should I parent our athletes to become the best versions of themselves? I am contemplating this issue from the perspective of a mom of a boy and two daughters.

Should there be a double-standard about raising different-gendered athletes?

Right now I am of the mindset that there should not.

We have a sporting lifestyle because of the inherent good that can come from competing in team sports.  Given that our son likely has less than a .05% chance of playing for any length of time in the NHL, his chances of going pro are about the same as his sisters. The chances of professional competition for any of our kids is so small,  they should all be playing sports for many more reasons than a paying contract.

I don’t want to hurt our kids in any way, and my intention for the comment was to help him to know that we have no expectation for him to play pro.  He heard it that I don’t believe he can.


Dreams are healthy, and it is fun to imagine the possibilities. Goals take action and intent, and the approach to the pursuit of goals looks incredibly different. It would be unfair to all of our kids if I didn’t equip them with tools to pursue their goals.

I feel like I just spilled the beans about Santa Claus, and the structure of our son’s world has begun to reshape itself.  It comes down to whether he believes he is chasing a dream or whether he has a goal he believes he can attain.

If it becomes a goal to play at the highest level that is possible for him, his actions and approach will start to look different.  That’s up to him.  All we can do is help him to build that goal-parachute one stitch at a time. And in the meantime, I’ll continue to encourage him to take care of that back-up chute too.

So here are the crucial questions:

Should I have waited until he was older to talk about this? Should I have let him figure this out for himself?

Has this scenario played out in your house, and if so, how did it go for you?

To learn more about Meagan or her current book project, Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her website



Copyright 2012                Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow



A friend of mine recently sent me an article about Tim Tebow. She explained that she would be impressed if even half the stories in the article were true. I agree with her.

Rick Reilly, ESPN sportswriter, compiled a number of stories that put Tim Tebow above his competitors.  The article doesn’t talk about his overwhelming athletic prowess, or his fundamentally perfect throw…that would be pure fiction. What the article addresses instead is why Mr. Reilly has come to believe in Tim Tebow because of what he does off the field. I won’t attempt to write the story again, it’s a fantastic piece just the way it is, but I want to point out the value of playing with perspective.

When Tebow focuses on people around him, he becomes a better competitor.

Tebow distracts himself with the bigger picture.  He plays for someone every game…a sick someone, a dying someone, a hurting someone. He spends time with these people and he focuses on them, before becoming too self-absorbed with his own successes. This is how he motivates his team…and an entire fanbase has emerged celebrating this approach to life… and competition.

There are opportunities for youth teams everywhere to tap into this approach to sports. Not only is it possible…it is necessary.

Kids are naturally self-absorbed. They can’t help it, really. Because of that, it is imperative that the adults around them foster available opportunities to think outside of themselves.

Our oldest son has had two such opportunities this year, and I can say, without a doubt, it has worked to shape who he is becoming.

Opportunity One

In response to Jack Jablonski’s tragic injury, my son has played the majority of the season with “Jabs #13” written on his stick.

He talks often about playing for Jack and wanting to play his hardest because Jack can’t anymore.

This has been an impactful experience in the formation of his identity. He recently wrote a realistic fiction piece from the first-person perspective of a paralyzed hockey player. His main character spent pre-game time deciding for whom he would be playing the game that day, and then, after the paralyzing hit, internalized that he would still be able to help people even if he were injured.

This was insight…real, tangible insight… into how important this experience has been for forming the characteristics we hope to instill in him.

Opportunity Two

The second growing experience included an effort that involved his entire team. The team’s coaches and managers caught wind of the fact that a player from an opposing association was recently diagnosed with Burkitt’s Leukemia.

They seized the opportunity to show the boys how to think outside of themselves, and that when a team of people come together, fantastic things can happen.

Within days, pairs of blazing orange socks with a black “croix” insignia, were a part of their uniform.

Croix Hurtis is the name of the young man who is facing the cancer diagnosis with grit and determination. You can visit his Caring Bridge site here.  He is from New Richmond, WI, and the team colors happen to be orange and black. In addition, and somewhat ironically, the color of the cancer ribbon for Leukemia is also orange.

Our son’s Stillwater Peewee B1 team wore the socks last weekend, in tribute to Croix , and raised money to accompany a shadow-box cancer ribbon display that was constructed out of a pair of those same socks.

Through this entire week, and leading up to a fundraiser that is happening for Croix this weekend, the Stillwater Squirt B team is now wearing the socks.  The socks will then be passed on to a team in Croix’s association so the tribute and supportive efforts can continue.

Does finding causes to support make teams championship teams? Not necessarily.

Does wanting to play for someone in need make athletes better athletes?  Not always.

I do believe, though, that shifting perspective enough to see the world through big-picture lenses gives athletes…and people…an opportunity to navigate life in a better way.  It opens up possiblity, taps into an innate human desire to leave a mark…to make a difference.

Just imagine if community service and intentional outreach were more than just an occasional conversation in the sports locker rooms across this country.  What if that were the everyday language? What if the big picture were the only picture upon which coaches, players, refs and parents focused?

The opportunities are there…for everyone. It’s just a matter of taking them when they come.


To learn more about Meagan Frank or her current book project, visit her website:

We spend a lot of our time in cars headed to practices and games. We spend even more time on the fields and in the rinks where the cars end up. We tell people we are a sporting family, but it is really important to us to maintain perspective in the increasingly competitive world of youth sports.

As much as I know about sports, teams, competition and being an athlete, I know there is still so much to learn.  I am invested in learning how to best guide our children through what is yet to come for them, and enjoy the journey along the way.

Game on!