Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

I’ve been working on this sports book project for over seven years. I have tried to identify the personal places I need to grow and some of what I’ve worked through has been tough to process. I have avoided thinking or writing about this one…until now.

I am proud of my sports story. I played four years as a Division I soccer player and a year as a Division III basketball player. I achieved recognition in both sports. It is only recently I have been forced to contend with the fact that how I accomplished what I did wasn’t really all that good. There was a lot of pain for that gain, and more than there should have been.

Generally, I pay attention to those things that strike a nerve with me. A pain-filled nerve was struck for me three times in the past ten days and I need to attend to the thoughts that have emerged.

Last week, a friend of mine shared that her daughter had suffered intensely over the winter months of her sport season. The coach was emotionally abusive, but no one wanted to deal with it because the team was winning. It is a difficult position for kids and families to be in. Their choice is to endure the abuse for the sake of the team or stand up for your personal right to health and safety. I always chose the team. Most athletes do. Athletes are encouraged to put team above self and very rarely does anyone consider how potentially damaging that decision can be. Those who stay engaged beyond discomfort, working through humiliation or physical punishment, are lauded and celebrated. Toleration of coach emotional abuse is a complicated issue, but it is high time we begin conversations to change destructive coaching tendencies.

The second thought-provoking instance happened on Facebook. I commented on a shared article post about how NFL coach Mike McCarthy yelled at refs after his kid’s basketball game. I commented that he likely has emotional issues he needs to attend (as does every yelling parent everywhere) and a commenter argued that she was glad she played in a time when coaches were allowed to yell at kids because it made her resilient and tough.

Yelling coaches also made me tough and resilient, for sure. It was my only defense. This instance, however, McCarthy was in the role of a dad. The commenter forgets that a dad’s behavior, even when that dad happens to be a coach, opens an entirely different box of emotional fireworks for his kids.

My drunk and yelling dad certainly contributed to my determination. He was the fuel for my angry energy. His abuse, although explicable, should never have been excused, yet I chalked it up as something that just happens for some fans at sporting events. Too many people say the same thing.

I suffered emotional abuse at the hands of my alcoholic father, a number of times in connection to basketball memories specifically, but I forgive him. I forgive him for yelling at referees during games because he was battling his own demons. I forgive him for drinking four beers in fifteen minutes before driving me and a teammate home from a game he coached because I know he wanted the withdrawal-shaking to stop. I forgive him for showing up drunk at the hospital because I too found it a little overwhelming that I broke both my arm and my leg in one fall. I forgive him for standing me up when he told me he would take me to dinner after a college game and I forgive him for missing my senior season in college because he was in jail.

I forgive him, but I continue to be affected by how those memories shaped me.

I thought I had completely moved past my emotional abuses, and in relation to my dad I’m doing pretty well. I also had pretty decent coaches growing up and aside from one horrific conditioning night, as punishment for an irretrievable season, I wouldn’t say I was abused by coaches.

Coming to terms with the part I played in tolerating and perpetuating my own abuse, however, has been harder to work through.

The third nerve-strike happened when my husband and I were watching an ESPN 30 for 30 show last week about professional wrestler Ric Flair (AKA Nature Boy). I was riveted. He wrestled for forty years. Each day he would abuse his body on the mat and then he would drink five cocktails and ten beers at night. Every. Single. Night. His son was on the same trajectory of becoming a professional wrestler and a raging alcoholic, when he overdosed on drugs and died. Flair’s daughter is now wrestling on the professional circuit, in honor of her brother. I couldn’t turn off the program and I couldn’t get the story off my mind.

I recognized the tendencies, the addiction, and the dysfunctional drive. The question that then arrived was “Can an Athlete Self-Abuse?”

It seems like I should have known the answer to that already. Obviously they can. There are eating disorders, addiction to exercise, and toleration of abuses that should never be tolerated. I’ve recognized self-abuse in others, yet I hadn’t ever turned the mirror to acknowledge that I too abused myself in the name of sport.

You would think it would be easy to write that, “I was abused in sport”, but it’s not easy to admit. The thing is, my abuse was subtle, never criminal, and, disturbingly, mostly at my own hands.

I achieved recognition for playing and I prided myself on the highest level of sacrifice in that pursuit. The thing is, I had no clue what I was pursuing. No one asked me my long term goals and I know for a fact I couldn’t have offered one had they inquired.

Without a doubt, I battled with RED-S Syndrome starting in high school and all four years of college. It is an energy deficiency complication that affects all systems of the body, including the psychological aspects of performance. It was not diagnosed while I was an athlete, but all the evidence is there. I didn’t start my period until after I turned 16, I broke two bones in one fall, I was diagnosed with anemia in college, and I spent more time in the training room than I did on the field.

In spite of injury after injury in college and lackluster performance after puberty, I kept at it. I was tough, resilient, and gritty. I wanted to prove to the world and to myself that I was above my circumstances. I was stronger than anything that might have made me feel shameful and I could prove it. It seemed like a constructive mindset at the time, but in conjunction with everything else I hadn’t taken the time to analyze, this was not my healthiest time.

I tolerated practically anything. I put up with: sexist weight room attendants and coaches, whispers of icky sexual advances by gymnastics coaches, rumors of players sleeping with coaches, having to talk a coach out of his “funk” because he was distraught our 16-year-old captain wasn’t paying enough attention to him, driving a van full of college teammates, as a freshman, back from Nebraska at 90-miles an hour because the hungover assistant coach couldn’t drive, driving 45 minutes one way to coach for my childhood club even though I passed five other clubs along the way, accepting the emergency hire position to replace an emotionally abusive coach, agreeing to clean up his mess even though I had three children under the age of five and I had no aspirations of being a college coach. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.

I was the punchbag clown that kept popping back up after being beaten down in order to prove I could take anything that came my way. I must have thought I deserved to be injured or hurting practically all the time.

My work with this book project, including my relationship with sport and finding healthful ways for our family to navigate sports, I am convinced there are healthier ways to engage.

There is a difference between grit and self-abuse.

Self-abuse is behavior that causes damage or harm to oneself.

The definition of grit that resonates most with me comes from Cindra Kamphoff’s book Beyond Grit: Ten Powerful Practices to Gain the High-Performance Edge. She writes, “The leaders I see kill it know their goals, know why they are pursuing their goals, and keep going despite setbacks and adversity. Without understanding why you want to achieve your goals, it is almost impossible to stay devoted in your pursuit.”

As a high school and college athlete, I didn’t have goals or a clear idea of why I was pursuing them. I just knew sports kept me busy, afforded me recognition and success, and was the proof I could offer the world that I was worth something.

Healthy athletes have goals and clear boundaries. They know what exercises strengthen them and what exercises hurt them. They realize they need to push muscles through micro-tears to make them stronger, but they don’t push hard enough to inflict harm or injury.

If you haven’t had conversations with your children or your athletes about goals and boundaries, it is time.

Ask these questions:

What are your athletic goals? What are the ways you are pushed too far past your emotional boundaries?

Keep in mind, stretch and challenge is what grows you, but pushing too far can damage you. It is a fine line.

Emotional abuse is “making an individual fear that they will not receive the food or care they need.” In the context of sports emotional abuse plays on fear of not achieving a place on the team, playing time, or opportunities at the next level. That fear can be imposed upon an athlete or it can be internally driven.

Where is the line between challenging a kid and crushing him?

Where is the line between pushing a kid and paralyzing her?

Where is the line between internal grit and self-abuse?

The answers to those questions are unique and different for everyone. Part of why coaches avoid the “emotions” conversation with teams is because it’s exhausting to imagine addressing the emotional needs of each and every athlete. There is not a playbook that can be shared or X’s and O’s that make sense in the emotional world. Each athlete’s emotional needs and journey are theirs alone and it is difficult to appropriately navigate that journey but oh-so-necessary.

Sports Abuse is real. There is physical, sexual, mental, and emotional abuses happening consistently by coaches, parents and by the athletes themselves. Since we have our kids in sports for their health and well-being, and as exhausting as this work is going to be, it’s time to pursue the complete health and well-being for people who show up to take part in sports, and work to end the abuses we’ve let run rampant for way too long.

Copyright 2019 Meagan Frank

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No, seriously, check your feelings before you walk out the door. Decide which emotions are useful, to you and to your sporting child, and leave the rest at home. Intentional presence will positively enhance every part of your day, and has potential to be a game changer for you as a sports parent.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but first I want to tell you about a celebration we had in our house last week.

Middle Sprout had a horrible hockey game. I’m not kidding, it was like the worst game she has maybe ever played. On the heels of a really emotional week for her team, after two days of finals (including her hardest test the day of the game), she struggled to focus like she usually can in net.

As a goalie, she is vulnerable to the extremes of emotion. When she plays out of her mind, stopping every shot she sees, she is on cloud nine. The days she is mucked up with distraction, or over-exhaustion, she usually doesn’t perform well and it feels pretty horrible.

The unwritten rule of being a goalie’s mom is that I am supposed to feel how she feels.

This is a flawed rule, and I have worked hard to break it as often as I can. It is not easy, but it is so worth it.

There are a lot of goalie moms (and dads) who feel what their kids do. It’s my suspicion many parents discourage their kids from playing goalie because they do not want to have to navigate the emotional minefield (oh yeah, and pay for all that gear). Goalie parents don’t hold the corner on emotional attachment to athletes, however.

My disclaimer is that I am not the typical sports parent.

I work hard to be in my own emotional space when it comes to our kids’ sports experiences, and I choose for that space to be a positive one. It helps me to be a better mom for them. I contend that the entire youth sports environment would be vastly improved if people were willing to engage in personal emotional work.

It Matters that Parents Rise Above Emotion, Not Become It

When our goalie daughter has a rough day, if I am in the muck with her, how do I support her? If, at the end of a tough day, I need a hug more than she does, how does that help her?

The same applies when I coach. I work on maintaining control of my emotions. If I am overwhelmed by emotion I cannot make the best tactical or instructional decisions. Objectivity is the regular victim of undisciplined emotion.

I have practiced understanding and controlling my emotions for a really long time: as an athlete, as a coach, as the spouse of a coach (yes, even as a spouse: it’s tough to hear unfair things said about a person you love) and as a parent of athletes. All sports endeavors are filled with emotion, so I have had LOTS of practice. (forty-something years worth)

I have also been intentional about my study of emotions and how to navigate them. While researching for the book I am writing Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, Feeling My Way, I have uncovered nugget after nugget about the power of emotional health, and it has changed my relationship with sport, enhanced my relationships in my family, and it has improved my ability to coach.

I was happy after last week’s awful game. Not because our daughter struggled. Not because the team lost 10-1. Not because there was plenty of hurt and upset for the girls and their parents. I was really happy because I have actually found a way to separate myself from the emotions that used to govern me. My strategy last week included concentrating on the parts of my presence at that game that brought me happiness:

  • Our entire family was together in the same room.
  • Teachers from the high school were there supporting the team.
  • I felt good about organizing the celebration for the seniors and their parents.
  • I had my camera in tow and I love taking pictures.
  • And, we had a short trip home that night.

The things that made me happy were not huge things, but concentrating my thoughts on those positive aspects of the evening, influenced my mood significantly.

After the game, as I prepared for the hug I knew I would need to deliver to a sad and disappointed daughter, I smiled and laughed at a funny story. I was still smiling when another hockey parent stopped me. He asked me how I could be so happy all the time. (I know he was referencing the hockey mom rule I like to break) I take his comment as probably one of the most extreme compliments I have ever been paid. I am increasingly happy because I have put a lot of energy into self-reflection and legitimate work into understanding and processing MY emotions around our kids’ sports.

It’s true. I have been working through and writing about emotion since I started my first Choosing to Grow project. A few highlights of the ways I have written about and exposed my wounds as they pertain to emotion in sport are:

I would say that the majority of people would rather avoid the “feelings” talk, and especially in sporting arenas. It is deeper and more painful than most people want to engage. My hope is to move the needle past that status quo. People will benefit from introspection, relationships with the children in our lives will improve, and if we are going to have any chance at positively impacting the youth sports landscape, we have to start paying serious attention to the emotions we carry.

Answer these questions honestly: How emotionally tied are you to the outcome of a game or to the performance of your child? When your kid makes a glaring mistake, how do you feel? Really think about it…which emotion do you feel most? Anger? Sadness? Frustration? Shame? What about when your child succeeds? Joy? Excitement? Happiness? Pride? How would you describe your level of emotion when you watch your children compete?

STEP ONE: Acknowledge the feelings you feel.  Feelings are never wrong and they are always trying to tell us something

STEP TWO: Identify the trigger for your emotions.

The second step is figuring out why you might be feeling the way you do. What is triggering your emotion? And don’t take the easy way out and say, “Well, obviously I’m pissed because my kid sucks.” I contend there is more to it than that. Why do you care so much if your kid makes a mistake? You’re not the one who failed. What else might be making you angry?

One of the women I interviewed for my book told me that watching her kid play is like watching her heart out there running around. Well, that sounds pretty vulnerable. Could being angry be a defense mechanism? Could something else in your life be an underlying reason for anger?

I will warn you, introspection will change the way you watch games. It is admittedly a bit of a buzz kill for those parent-fans who enjoy the emotional roller coaster. I chose to work through these things because I wanted to improve my relationships with our kids and I wanted to learn how to best parent them through youth sports. That may not be a priority of yours, but know that choosing the fan experience over the parenting one could make the navigation through youth sports more negative and difficult. Plus, it really doesn’t help your kid in the long run.

If you are able to identify the trigger for your emotions, STEP THREE: is to Do Something Positive.

Okay, so let’s say your kid swings and misses, spins and falls. You get pissed and are able to admit to yourself that you feel embarrassed. Maybe you figure it has to do with a similar experience you remember as a kid and you were made fun of. Whatever the case, knowing the emotion and the why doesn’t exactly make the feeling disappear. So, what then?

Now comes the harder work. Find something positive to do. Decide to set the feeling aside, on purpose, and do something positive. Seek out ways to help someone else. Go for a walk. Knit a scarf. Pick up your phone and try to take a picture that you know you’ll want to use for your kid’s graduation table. Or better yet, start lugging around a camera and literally change your focus at the games.

If your emotional experience at your kid’s games is impeding the experience for your kid, check your feelings and put in the good work to be intentionally and positively present. Please and thank you. (from a fellow sports parent and coach who happens to be…choosing to grow)

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     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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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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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         http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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Before taking the ice, the locker room was filled with tension. There were silent tears, migraines, upset stomachs, throwing up, pale faces, wringing hands, and chest palpitations.

You would think this was the scene I observed prior to the Olympic gold-medal game, right?

No. This was the state of the locker room just before a U10 girls’ hockey tryout. U10, meaning the girls were UNDER the age of ten. Eight and nine-year-old children (and some of their parents) were as stressed out as any military recruit arriving for the first day of boot camp.

It’s hard to believe this is something caring adults create for children… on purpose. It is disheartening to acknowledge that adults have devised this system. The only hope is that enough adults will get together to stop scenes like this from happening every tryout season in every sport where elementary-aged teams are decided.

No matter the sport, conducting tryouts and creating A, B and C-leveled teams for elementary-aged children is a practice that needs to be changed.

If we, as the collective adults who run youth sports, decide that sports for kids are educational (a forth-coming blogpost), then Developmental Psychology defends the idea to cut tryouts for kids under the age of 12.

I’ll refer to the philosophy of psychologist Erik Erikson. In an article describing his philosophies, Kendra Cherry describes his theory of psychosocial development, and the fourth stage refers to children from ages six through eleven.

Cherry writes, “they strive to master new skills. Children who are encouraged and commended by parents and teachers develop a feeling of competence and belief in their skills. Those who receive little or no encouragement from parents, teachers, or peers will doubt their ability to be successful.

According to Erikson, this stage is vital in the development of self-confidence. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.”

Telling children they are “less than”  or “more than” their peers because of an A, B, or C-leveled designation can be incredibly damaging to kids.

Reinforced in the book Your Family Compass: A Parenting Guide for the Journey, author Jenny Hanlon, M. Ed., says, “It’s imperative for teachers, parents, and coaches to eliminate comparisons of children based on their abilities. There is no need to point these things out, as many children are already aware of their abilities in comparison to others. Having an adult point them out creates feelings of inferiority.”

Through tryouts, adults evaluate and decide the placement of children based on ability. The adults may understand that the kids could grow out of this placement, but the kids often do not fully understand that. Too often they start aligning themselves in other social settings based on the designation. “I’m a C kid.” or “I’m awesome, I’m an A kid. You suck…you just made the C team.”

Children who believe they are inferior during this critical stage of development struggle to gain the confidence necessary to push through to a place of competence in the skills they are attempting to achieve. I have a hunch this feeling of inferiority plays heavily into the decision for some twelve and thirteen year olds who decide they will NEVER be good enough to compete and then quit sports altogether.

Once children reach middle school ages of eleven, twelve and thirteen, they are formulating their identity outside of just competence, and they can better process where they rank along a physical skill scale.

When Left to Their Own Devices What Do Kids Do Naturally?soccer player

Have you ever observed a group of kids organizing a pick-up game? I know those games are more and more infrequent, but the pick-up games I’ve observed come together about the same way each time. Kids naturally level teams to be even. They don’t stack one team when they play. Instead they do quick analysis of the participants and make the teams as fair as possible. Kids want to compete, but they instinctively recognize that it is simply NO FUN if the teams are uneven.

More often than not, the argument I hear for defending “leveling” teams is that the better players are held back by less talented players so it is better if all the “good” athletes are on the same team and competing with other associations who have leveled their teams too. They ask, “What does it teach talented kids who are thrust together with less talented athletes?”  Well, all indications are that it teaches them all good things.

Looking at successful educational situations, most American schools have moved away from a fixed-leveling model and more toward a sliding rule method designed along growth potential instead. The Finnish educational system has achieved great success with this and one of the things they have adopted is a mixed classroom full of all talent levels.

Putting different levels of talent on the same team is NOT detrimental to the development of a child, and I would argue it could actually be more beneficial for the overall development of both the talented and the untalented players.

For the more talented players, I would hope it could be used as a teaching ground for humility and sportsmanship, an opportunity for positive leadership and teamwork, and a place to have fun playing a game that all the kids are LEARNING. In an ideal world, the coaches would recognize what each athlete brings to the team and help the kids recognize those strengths in each other.

We have had the unique opportunity in our house to be a part of intense tryouts for teams in a couple of the biggest sports associations in Minnesota as well as to be part of a pair of associations in Wisconsin that are small enough that tryouts are rarely necessary. Last fall, at the start of their first season in the small town, all three of my kids were literally jumping for joy that tryouts would not be happening for them. At the end of the season I asked my oldest, who is almost 14, whether he wished he had been on a team of similarly-leveled talent after tryouts or on a team with varied talent that didn’t require a tryout. He said he would choose the team that didn’t require a tryout even if the talent of the players was not all at the same “level”.

Educators have learned a lot about educating the elementary-aged child and it needs to translate onto our fields, courts and ice rinks.

Imagine for a second that your third grader had to try out for math class. Depending on the results of two tests he would either be in the class or not in the class. That’s absurd, you might say. Every child has the right to learn math. My contention is that every child who signs up for a sport has the right to learn that sport too, and it shouldn’t come at the cost of positive psychosocial development. Not to mention the resource gap between the A teams and the C teams. (I’ll save that for a future post too)

The System Would Need to Change: So How Can We Do This? ID-100234295

I’ll start first with some of the counter-arguments I heard while doing my research.

Argument 1: “This would be too hard to implement. It’s just easier to keep doing what we’re doing.”

True, status quo is easier. Just because this is the way we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it is the best thing for kids or for the development of athletes overall. Honestly, if you have ever been a part of the headache of tryouts, you know that it is tough enough exactly the way it is. It is just a different kind of hard to navigate making evenly competitive teams from all the talent in the association.

Of course, every association has to abide by this huge philosophical change in order for it to work. If there is a group that wants to tip the playing hand in their favor, it dismantles everything. So let’s say in an idyllic world every association does the same thing. All players under the age of 12 are placed in levels by age and then within the association the teams are put together as evenly as possible.

How would teams be chosen?

There are a couple ways to choose even teams. One way would be to pool the kids together for a number of practices at the start of the season. A committee of coaches would then work together to create even teams from the talent in each age group.

Another way to do it would be to get an idea of talent-level and then ask the kids/families to indicate friends (or carpools) with whom they would like to play. The team-deciding committee would do what they could to put two or three of the friends together, according to this request, while still making the teams even (kids perform better when they play with their friends anyway…and the families will likely have a better experience).

Choosing by coaching lottery (like a draft) would also make the teams pretty even once they are set.

An added bonus: making the teams leveled within the association helps with the overall team identity of the association at the same time. This is especially true if teams are mixed up year to year as the kids grow.

Argument 2: “High school is cut-throat and kids need to be prepared for tryouts.”

I agree. You wouldn’t want to send a kid to high school without having some experience with the stress that goes with a tryout. With this approach, there will be tryouts… when the athletes are 12 and older, and for two years before they start high school. Plenty of time to prepare for the impending stress of high school evaluation.

Argument 3: “What about commitment level? There are the REALLY competitive families who want an intense youth sports experience.”

Offer heavy schedule, medium schedule, and light schedule teams. You can still put teams together according to the numbers who sign up for that “level” of commitment. The more kids who sign up for a heavy schedule, the more teams you make for that group.

A recent article in the Star Tribune highlights the frustration of folks who want to give their kids a chance just to try hockey but who feel it is an ALL or NOTHING endeavor. This is not unique to competitive hockey, and it really shouldn’t be this way. With different scheduling opportunities families could give their kids a chance to try a team sport.

I think more than anything, cutting tryouts will enhance a spirit of teamwork that is currently lacking in youth team sports. The current system rewards players for acquiring individual skill in the off-season so they can make a higher level team. It pits families against one another when teams are named and players have either found a way to be on the right list or have done the right things to be noticed. Working hard at being a team player, no matter the level of the teammates, is not something we are teaching kids to do.

There will be a time when the cream rises to the top and the best of the best can compete for the entertaining pleasure of the parent-fans. Twelve-year-olds are a good age to introduce this sort of competition. For the kids who are younger than that, we need to start thinking like educators and use a holistic approach to service ALL athletes better than we currently do.

 

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 all levels of teams for both boys and girls ranging in age from 4-22. 

You can find Meagan:               fb           twitter-logo-1       www.meaganfrank.com

Copyright 2014 Choosing to Grow

The above information is part of an ongoing book project:

Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter

© 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.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

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I cannot bring myself to watch the video of Kevin Ware’s injury. I too broke myself on a basketball court, and it would hit way too close to home to watch it from an audience viewpoint. My injury exposed more than weakened bones. Being physically broken showed me the weak spots in my emotional and mental game too.

It makes me concerned that we, as coaches and parents, are not doing enough to prepare athletes for the inevitability of injury.

The following is an excerpt from my book: Choosing to Grow for the Sport of It Because All Kids Matter and I offer it up as food for thought.

It could be the noises in the darkened hospital, or maybe it’s the overwhelming sense of helplessness, but either way, the throbbing pain partnered with my over-active brain renders me sleepless. The painkillers have numbed the dull aches in my leg and my arm, but there is no way to make my discomfort go away completely. Without an option of rolling onto my side, I stare out over the edge of the bed and past my elevated full-leg cast, while the full-arm cast rests awkwardly on the pile of pillows on my stomach.

I can see the glow of the nurse’s desk and I can hear the murmurings of patients and machines. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been dead silent… the motion in my head is distracting enough.

“Why did this have to happen?” my sixteen-year-old brain wonders, “I have never been hurt like this. Who’s going to believe I broke my arm and my leg…playing basketball…at a practice? The orderly’s right…I need to make up a better story than that. I’ll tell people I was saving a small child from an approaching semi…my leg and arm just couldn’t get out of the way in time…that’s a better story for sure. It sounds like a reasonable explanation for why I’ll be doomed to these casts for the next six weeks.”

It is night two of my hospital stay, and I’m finally alone. My dad has come and gone on the breeze of his alcohol-filled breath. My sister has called crying to tell me our basketball team lost the playoff game, and my stupid boyfriend had even less to say on the phone than usual.  It is the first time since arriving I am lucid enough to recognize the fear, pain, and sadness have arrived. I wasn’t afraid when they talked about resetting my badly broken arm…I wasn’t afraid when the doctor explained I had fractured my tibia just below my knee cap… I wasn’t afraid as they wheeled me out of surgery and past the waiting room where my mom and soccer coach were visiting. I wasn’t afraid as the day-time conversations swirled around my mobility. “She’s going to need a specially-constructed pair of crutches. Oh, and to get around school? I guess you’re right, she’s probably going to need an electric wheelchair.”

Now, in the solitude of a crowded hospital… with only muted hallway light to cut through the darkness… the fear grows. I am afraid of the unknown.  I can’t picture what this new kind of movement will look like. I didn’t know quite what to make of this new version of myself.

Tears fill my eyes and as they start to pour down my cheeks, I have to let them fall.  I can’t move the casted arm, and the other one is painfully connected to my I.V.

“So this is what it’s going to be,” I think. Tear after tear lands on my hospital gown.

I try to compose myself, as the weight of the casts seeps past my bones and into the very center of my awareness.

“I can’t do this,” I sob to no one in particular.

 

This scene, in my sports story, is more important than any other I experienced. It was a stark wake-up call to how dysfunctional my relationship with sports had become. The moment I hit that basketball floor, the world I had built, and the only world I felt I understood, shattered. I had been functioning as a barely one-dimensional athlete, and I hadn’t realized it.

Successful athletes need to be physically coordinated and conditioned, but they also need to be mentally tough and emotionally stable. Who was I without the physical capacity to compete in sports? I hadn’t had a reason to contemplate that question, and I likely would never have asked it without being forced. So in the six weeks that followed my “accident” I took inventory of my worth. I had to look at my world without the physical language on which I had become so completely dependent. I was forced to gauge whether I had the internal toughness to fight through pain, ridicule, and recovery, and I had to address the gaping holes in my emotional armor.  When I emerged on the other side of that time of reflection, I was not the same person, and I dare argue, the “recovering” version was why I ever came close to attaining my full potential as an athlete.

Breaking myself was the best thing that could have happened to me. Only during the course of research for this book, did I begin to fully understand, and appreciate, why battling through that injury made me a better athlete…and a better person. Of course, I knew that the entire experience had been, as my mom put it, “character-building”, but I hadn’t taken the time to fully analyze why those weeks of immobility were so necessary. Before I got hurt, I truly believed physical work and achievement were all that mattered. Period. I had used both academic and athletic achievement as a way to distract me from the painful parts of my childhood. I hadn’t spent time thinking about the emotional fuel I had been using, nor had I considered whether my internal script was building a solid foundation for my beliefs about myself.  The only piece I had succeeded in achieving in athletics, up to that point, was my physical literacy.

 

The next blogpost will be about physical literacy and the ways parents and coaches can utilize the developmental tool to build physically stronger athletes.

 

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Copyright 2013     Meagan Frank                               Choosing to Grow

 

dreamstimefree_128508One conditioning drill used by hockey coaches includes line sprints up and down the rink. This sort of sprinting drill is called “suicides” in basketball, soccer, and football. In hockey they are called Herbies, named after legendary national team coach Herb Brooks. Brooks used the sprints to “break” his players. In the movie Miracle, the sprinting scene demonstrates the use of physical, emotional, and mental punishment as a way of breaking the players of individual tendencies so that they will adopt their role as a part of the team. It works. The players bond with each other because they endure the torture together. In the movie they align more with each other, partly because they hate Herb Brooks.

What Brooks did with the 1980 Olympic team is storied as one of the most brilliant displays of coaching in all of team sports. It is nearly impossible to replicate the achievements of that team, yet there are still factions of hockey coaches (and coaches of other sports too) who attempt to employ a punishment strategy to coach kids.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to present for youth hockey coaches about some of the best ways to build teams for teenaged girls. I asked the audience what they thought were good bonding exercises. A hand shot up in the back and the one-word response was, “Discipline.” I asked him to explain what he meant and he told me that if one kid broke a rule, the team would bond when they were punished as a group.

Hair on the back of my neck stood up.

Instead of attacking him for his idea, I turned it back to the women in the room to debate the merits of this approach.

“Ladies, how does that make you feel?”

One woman expressed she did not like it. She didn’t see how it would work to punish an entire group for the missteps of one player. Another woman agreed with her and pointed out that the strategy could certainly backfire if a group of girls decided to ostracize the player who had precipitated the punishment.

If I had been thinking quickly enough, I would have pointed out that the example he gave was not one of discipline, but of punishment, and in my book they are two different things. Teams must be disciplined to be effective. Coaches who implement discipline correctly can find a lot of success in that strategy. Punishment of the whole group for the behavior of one, is not discipline, it is a slippery slope that can lead to the breaking apart of a team.

Case in point, last year my son’s peewee team was instructed to sprint Herbie’s until the last player out of the locker room was on the ice. When the latest one finally got on the ice, the skating stopped. I asked my son this morning about whether any team bonding happened as a result of that exercise.  He told me, “Sure, we were bonded together to hate the coach, and we were bonded together to hate the kid who was the reason we skated.”

Herb Brooks coached men who had already developed a sense of identity. He didn’t mind being the reason they bonded because they hated him.

Youth sports athletes are developing their sense of self, self-esteem, and an appreciation for the way the world works. They need to be taught discipline, and they will bond when they are asked to endure difficult physical exercise together, but it must be done in a way that teaches all the right lessons too.

What do you think? Are there ways you have effectively used punishment to build a youth team?

www.meaganfrank.com                           fb                                             twitter-logo-1Copyright 2013    Meagan Frank                             Choosing to Grow

Picture%20for%20blog%20parentA friend of mine sent me an email last week with the subject header: “I Never Thought I’d Be That Crazy Hockey Parent”. I took a second glance at who wrote it, because I know a lot of hockey parents, and the running list I keep of people I consider “crazy” does not include her. In fact, the woman who wrote this message to me is one of the last people I would have expected to lose it at a hockey rink.

I won’t go into all the gory details, although that may be the reason you are reading this blogpost in the first place, but basically she got into a verbal altercation with another parent after she felt her son’s team had been put at safety risk during a poorly reffed game. It got very ugly in the lobby after the game and she said things she could hardly believe came out of her mouth.

This woman is relatively new to hockey, and a novice around team sports too. After reading her account of the entire incident, and talking with her at length, I am convinced of one thing. She is not any crazier than any other hockey parent, she just gave in to a crazy moment. She has not had nearly enough practice with the emotions that accompany youth sports, but there is hope.

I have been around youth sports for over 30 years. I hope I look completely calm, cool, collected, and unphased when I watch kids play.  I better…I’ve had a ridiculous amount of practice. Sports have definitely taught me to put my emotions in check. I could never compete well if my emotions got the best of me, and learning to be disciplined in the most charged situations was the only way I competed at the levels I did. That being said, although I handle most emotions around sports well, I too am still learning how to deal with the heightened emotions parents can feel while watching their own kids play.

Not too long ago, one of my son’s teammates was viciously elbowed to the head during a blind-sided, illegal check. I was immediately pissed. This boy has played with my son for three years, and he is a good friend of ours. He is as important to me as one of my own kids. A protective mamma-bear instinct took over in the seconds following the hit and it took me by surprise. I think I perceived it as a threat, and my heart started racing.  I was entering into the phase of “fight” or “flight” and unsure about what to do with what I was feeling, I turned to our friend’s father expressing how awful the hit was. I wanted someone to feel what I was feeling with me…I was looking for an ally. Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was looking for, and the dad shook it off as if it wasn’t anything to worry about. WHAT?!?I was unsure what to do with the “fight” feelings I had.  So now I was doubly mad and I started fumbling with my words. Gone was that calm, cool, collected lady I try to be, and only after I walked it off and did some deep breathing exercises did I get my heart rate to come back to normal.

Nothing came of this “fight” response, but I have to acknowledge the potential. I know it most certainly could have turned into something ugly. If the mother of the boy who delivered the hit had been within earshot and said anything in his defense…I just might have lost it. I don’t know!! And this WASN’T EVEN MY KID!!

My point is this: WE ARE ALL CRAZY SPORTS PARENTS!!  We are all one incident or one emotional response away from a crazy parent moment.

So maybe instead of denying this innate part of humanity we should all enter into a 12-step rehabilitation program so we can work through the steps to the calmest sports parenting possible.

Step 1: Hello, my name is Meagan, and I am a crazy sports parent.  (phew, denial has been so exhausting)

Step 2: It is true. I know that I am human and flawed and only through God do I have strength to combat my weaknesses.

Duh…it’s what worked for me when I was an emotional athlete, and I am confident it will work for me as an emotional sports parent.

How about you? Are you ready to come out of denial? What steps do you use to keep your emotions in check?

You can learn more about Meagan at her website:  http://www.meaganfrank.com

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Copyright  Meagan Frank     2013                    Choosing to Grow