Archive for the ‘Teamwork’ Category


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kneeling during the anthem looks like injury to me.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                                                                                        @choosingtogrow








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

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

MHS_Soccer 2017 proof

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2017                                                                                                        @choosingtogrow

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



The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.  -Vince Lombardi

I think Lombardi has it right. You pay for success with hard work, dedication, and a decision to offer the best of yourself each and every day.

The real challenge is knowing how to measure whether you succeed.

In a competitive world, it is the simple thing to measure in wins and losses…in points on a scoreboard…in stats we can count. We’re told repeatedly that only winners are successful.

I disagree. It is much more complex than that and I am challenged to stay mindful of what true success means.

Last night, on the way home from my first conference game (a lopsided loss) as the head coach for a boys’ high school soccer team, I had an interesting conversation with a couple of my assistant coaches. One coach commented about how there is a successful 17-year-old phenom who is playing professional soccer as a goalie. He lamented the fact that he is just a college kid, who isn’t playing goalie anymore, and who now has the goalie coaching job for fledgling goalies in a re-building program. Not newsworthy, in his opinion.

Another assistant coach, who is an incredible chorus teacher at the high school, also commented about colleagues who have “made it” and are big-time conductors with doctorates and incredible opportunities.

If success is only possible for the elite few who “make it”, or for the winning programs  and star athletes among us, then what is the point for the rest of us?

The point for the rest of us is the last part of Lombardi’s quote. “We (need to) have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” How we apply ourselves is to compete well. The definition of “compete” is to strive to win.

The point for the rest of us is that we learn how to compete well…always and in all circumstances. Competing well is how we succeed.

For that 17-year-old phenom, the best of himself is obviously incredible athleticism and goalie expertise. It’s going to matter how his stats add up. The task he has been handed is to compete with the world’s best.

We’re not all asked to succeed at that task.

For me, and my coaching staff, the task ahead of us is to build soccer skill, to build teamwork, and to build a program that can compete better in an incredibly tough conference. We need to show up every day with those tasks in mind.

For the players who play on our team, their task is to show up with the best of themselves each day with an attitude prepared to learn and grow as soccer players and as people. They can count themselves successful if daily they strive to compete well as individuals and as a team.

The world may not do a great job of measuring our successes, but if I’m stepping up to the task  I’ve been handed, I sure will.

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



basketball player at a fence

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. 

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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


I was surprised to learn that the going rate for a header goal for a youth soccer player in Colorado is $100. Here in the Midwest, parents who admitted to me that they pay their children only pay $20 for header goals.

Not all of the parents I interviewed pay their kids for performance, or at least they didn’t admit it to me when I lost my objectivity as a researcher and gasped at the mention of a $100 sports bribe.

It seems as though the paying parents are greatly outnumbered by the non-paying parents, however, the use of a reward system for performance is widely accepted.  I was a little surprised to learn how often bribery and payment does happen in youth sports and how unaware of the consequences the “paying” parents (or grandparents) seem to be.

Paying players for goals and assists in a team game is one of the worst decisions you can make for the development of your athlete.

“It motivates him to play harder,” one woman told me when I asked her why she offers her son a trip to get ice cream if he scores a goal. “He really wants to get ice cream so he’ll play harder in the game if he knows there is ice cream waiting for him.”

Hmm. Okay. I can see why the child is motivated. He wants to achieve immediate gratification with his favorite ice cream cone. What I am not sure about is the motivation of the parent.

Let’s say this mom, we’ll call her Sadie, enrolled little Jimmy in soccer because she hopes he’ll get really good at it. The only thing I can think is that she really wants him to be good at it now without taking into consideration what this approach does for him later. Otherwise she might make a different decision about the ice cream. For her, it makes sense to get little Jimmy’s legs churning faster during today’s game because logically he will do better in the game. She must assume that his good performance today will translate into his performance next time on the field. What she has forgotten is that Jimmy is not moving his legs to get faster or better at soccer, he is moving his legs because she has promised him ice cream.  It is a difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and the best athletes in the world are rarely extrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic Motivation Puts Athletes on a Slippery Slope

He could quit working

Let’s assume that Sadie continues her bribery as Jimmy plays. He starts to get frustrated the days he is playing a stronger opponent and because he struggles to score any goals, he could simply stop working. The only thing that he was playing for was the reward and working hard was not something that he learned to do.

He could miss out on other learning experiences

Sadie’s first mistake was to make goals the deciding factor of Jimmy’s performance. Scoring goals are as much out of an athlete’s control as the weather. The coach could be asking Jimmy to play and learn defense. What then? If scoring is the only way he is going to get ice cream, what do you think he’ll do when he gets the ball in the defensive end of the field. You guessed it, he’ll dribble where he shouldn’t be dribbling, he’ll forgo passing to a teammate all because he really wants that ice cream. It is certain to break down the efforts of the coach and the other members of the team.

It could seem like it’s working when it’s not

There are occasions where the bribery seems to work. Let’s say Jimmy works hard when he’s little because he wants ice cream and thus score goals. The goals get him the ice cream and so he works hard again. He will end up gaining some skill this way, and sometimes the goals start to matter more than the ice cream so Sadie would be able to stop the bribe. The problem is, the goals themselves have become the motivator and they are still extrinsic. Athletes like this could end up playing at a pretty high level, but they will not be good teammates.

I have played with and coached athletes like this, and they can be destructive to teams. If an athlete is extrinsically motivated he will have a hard time being happy if other teammates score goals, get playing time or are awarded and he is not the one recognized. He will choose shooting over the better decision to pass and he has the potential to pull a team apart from the inside. He will count stats and measure himself by the achievements that can be recorded rather than the intangible work ethic of an intrinsically motivated athlete.

Sadie likely never even considered the ramifications of bribing for goals with ice cream.

It’s a parenting decision, right? People have the right to raise their kids the way they see fit, right?

Promote Intrinsic Motivation to Build Teams

The thing is, bribery systems should not be a part of youth teams where the goal is longterm development of athletes and team players.

  • Fun should be the reward.
  • Recognition for hard work is enough and it should be consistent. (and you should be really enthusiastic about it)
    • Point out the subtle ways hard work can be measured, “Hey Jimmy, do you remember that play when you lost the ball and you ran the whole way back to stop them from scoring? That was such hard work! I loved watching that.”
    • Jimmy says, “I scored a goal.” “Yes, I saw that. You worked so hard to get the ball and you were moving your feet so quickly. I am so proud of how hard you were working. Sometimes that turns into a goal like it did today. Keep up the hard work!”

Start early promoting the recognition of other players on their team. Kids need to be taught to notice.

  • “Shane scored all of our goals today,” player says.
  • You respond, “Isn’t that great. Did you tell him he did great work? You should tell him how much that helps your team.”

Cheesy, I know. But you get the point.

If you have signed your child up to learn a team sport then there should be intention to be part of how they learn what it is to be a hard worker and to be part of a team. Encourage them to be intrinsically motivated and teach them how to be a good teammate. Otherwise they will develop into someone you might not have intended for him to become.

Do you bribe your kids for performance? Does it work better for you than the scenarios I described?               fb                     twitter-logo-1

Copyright 2014 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?                           fb                                             twitter-logo-1Copyright 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




Coach Steve Wills, Woodbury Hockey Peewee B2 Royal Head Coach

The story I am about to tell you is not a story you will find in national media. It’s not the kind of story that gets attention from the loudest tv or radio hosts. This is the kind of quiet story that reminds me why I’m glad our kids play team sports.  It’s why we encourage them to fight through those tougher moments, and it gives us all hope that it won’t take much to make youth sports exactly what all our kids need.

On January 15, 2012, two Peewee B2 teams faced off for third place of a tournament in Hermantown, Minnesota. The teams represented Woodbury (a bustling suburb of the twin cities-with over 62,000 residents) and Brainerd (a small northern Minnesota town- population 13,590)

Anyone who has watched much hockey history in Minnesota, knows that there is often no love lost between the city teams and the teams from up north. What happened in Hermantown should be a reminder to all of us that doing the right thing is easier than we think.

The story started even before the two teams took the ice. Just after dryland warm-up, and as the boys headed into their locker room to get ready, Coach Steve Wills, first-year head coach of the Woodbury squad, noticed a lone gentleman sitting in the stands.

Wills could see that the 74-year-old man was wearing a hat with military insignia, but he couldn’t read the specifics. James A. Hodge, a third class petty officer from the USS Chivo from 1955-1958, was wearing the 50th anniversary hat for his three years of service aboard a naval submarine.

Wills thought to himself, “I cannot just walk by this guy” without doing something. So, he followed the boys into the locker room and then asked them, “Hey guys, did anyone notice that gentleman sitting in the stands?”

A couple of the boys nodded that they had, but they hadn’t noticed what their coach had.

Steven Tharalson remembers, “Coach Wills told us there was a veteran out there and we should all go up and thank him and shake his hand.”

So they did.

The boys filed back out of the room, one by one, and headed over toward Mr. Hodge.

As they lined up thanking him, and shaking his hand, an idea popped into the head of one of the boys.

Max Gates, an older player on the team, shook the man’s hand and then stood waiting for his teammates.  He thought it would be nice to salute him too.

“I just thought it would be kinda cool,” Max said.

So with the confidence that comes when a team agrees to do something as a group, the boys all turned and saluted the gentleman for his service.

Woodbury Peewee B2 Royal

Coaches from left– Jim Hanson, Jeff Heinrich, Steve Wills and Brian Nerison
Standing players from left– Tanner Nerison, Nathan Julius, Andrew Pape, Jared Hanke, Steven Tharalson
Kneeling players from left- Logan Davis, Justin Hanson, David Heinrich, Thomas Young, Jayce Schorn-Pedro, Brody Wills, Alex Samuelson
Laying from left- Chase Wills and Max Gates
*not pictured: Sean Wood

When asked why it wasn’t hard to pay tribute to a stranger, Alex Samuelson said, “It’s really nice that man served and fought for our freedom.”

The seemingly small moment of gratitude and honor was a private one among the players and Mr. Hodge, but thankfully it didn’t stay that way.

What the boys could not have known, and what Coach Wills didn’t know either, was that Mr. Hodge was not only the grandfather of a player on the Brainerd team…he was also the father of the opposing head coach.

The story could have been that Coach Hodge learned of the tribute and sent a letter of gratitude, but there was something more to this story. There was that game to play, after all.

Tournament games for a trophy are too often the stage for less than desirable behavior from players, coaches and/or parents.

What Coach Hodge noticed was that this game felt different. There was really something special about this Woodbury team.

Teaching instruction before a drill

“I was listening to their coach, and it was all positive. He pushed them, but the way those kids responded to him… they played so hard the whole game,” Hodge said. He was impressed by the effort of the Woodbury boys, by the class they showed playing the game, and he appreciated the personality of the opposing bench.

“Teams take on the personality of their coach,” he explained, and it was refreshing to see such a vivid example of sportsmanship.

The Brainerd team won the game 4-0, but Coach Hodge admits that they would not win every contest against that Woodbury team.

Unknowingly, the Woodbury boys were going to have a chance to shake hands with another member of the Hodge family… while going through the handshake line.

“Every boy made eye contact with me, and told me good game,” said Hodge. He was impressed too, by the fact that the Woodbury boys took a respectful knee and clapped for the Brainerd team while they received their awards. There is an unwritten rule that such sportsmanship should exist, but, too often, teams forget to be that respectful of their opponents.

It was only after the game that Coach Hodge learned about the pre-game tribute to his father, and he just knew he had to do something to point out the positive things going on for the Woodbury Peewee B2 team.

“We (coaches) work really hard to win, but all the other things we do are more important,” Hodge said.

Coach Hodge sent out letters to local media outlets, and the link to his original letter is here.

A scene like this does not just happen. It is a combination of the right coaches, the right players, and the right kind of guiding parents who all come together at the right place… at the right time.

It took the extra effort of Coach Wills to pay tribute to a military vet he didn’t know.  It took extra effort for the son of that man, Coach Hodge, to then pay tribute to the team that behaved the way teams should behave. Both of these men go above and beyond the x’s and o’s.

Coach Hodge told me he coaches, “to influence kids to be better kids.” And Coach Wills echoed that sentiment almost exactly when he said, “I just enjoy finding out what makes these kids tick and trying to make them better young men; not just better hockey players.”

It was a chance collision of these two good coaches that made this story possible.

After I read the letter,  I too was compelled to do something in honor of all that is right about these teams. I had a chance to observe a recent practice, and afterward the boys were gracious enough to answer some of my questions. I asked them what makes Coach Wills a good coach.

Brody Wills, one of Coach Wills’ sons, told me, “He knows what each one of us can do and he expects from us all that we can do.”

Other answers varied, like, “He teaches us.” “We have fun.” “He doesn’t yell.” “He’s really nice.” and “He knows what to talk about.” But what I heard several times can be summed up in what Logan Davis said. “When we mess up a drill,” he told me, ” he teaches us and encourages us to get it right.”

It is, after all, about doing things right. Coach Wills shared with me the mantra he has for his boys. He regularly instructs them to, “do the next right thing.” It is completely apparent that Coach Wills doesn’t just coach that…he lives it.

Meagan Frank is a freelance writer and author living in Woodbury, MN. She is currently working on a book about youth sports, and you can learn more about her and the book project at her website:

Copyright 2012    Choosing to Grow                              Meagan Frank

Marsha Mayes, mother of Terrell Mayes, was comforted at the vigil. Three-year-old Terrell Mayes Jr. was killed recently when he was struck by a stray bullet. Photo Jim Gehrz Star Tribune

This post is dedicated to Terrell Mayes-  a three-year old Minneapolis boy who was killed by a stray bullet as he ran into his house and away from gunfire.  His story is more tragic than Jablonski’s…his family deserves justice and there is no reason those who have money enough to support injured hockey players can’t donate money to help this family too.

Don’t get me wrong, I have been incredibly impacted by the injury to Jack Jablonski. Actually, just read my blogpost about it.

It rocked our house…I could see our son in the smiling face of that kid.  I could hear my voice in the teary-eyed interview of the mom.  My throat gets an immediate lump EVERY time I see Jack’s younger brother skating to center ice of some game that has been dedicated to help support his brother.

I’m equally affected by the injury to Jenna Privette. There are two girl hockey players in our house, and I have a sneaking suspicion one of them is going to be the source of many scary moments for me. Jenna’s family seems to be a bit more private, so it is a little harder for me to completely connect there.

That lack of connectedness is part of my challenge.  The outpouring for Jack has been unbelievable…mind-blowing really. I connected from the start and so did a million other people. I’m starting to feel a bit uncomfortable with all of it, however.

There is the discrepancy in overall support between the male hockey player and the female hockey player, but if there is any blame to place, it is on the fact that Jenna’s camp isn’t as effective as the supporters of the Jablonski’s. Jack is surrounded by marketing and promotional geniuses. He’s on Facebook and Twitter. He has a hashtag and an army of tweeters and retweeters. Take a look at Jack Jablonski’s website. It’s professional and organized and already running like a business. There are places for merchandise sales, and a map of where donations have rolled in from all over the country.   I am part of that tide…because I’m connected.

It’s about having the right resources, the right connections, the ability to raise your voice well and have someone listen.

The hockey community is an amazing community…made up of some of the best and brightest. Jenna will have all the support she asks for.

Hockey people are online…and if enough noise is made…they will respond in kind.

Let’s face it, there is NO WAY there would be the buzz about #Jabs if it were not for the ease of social media. (and the group of people who were so immediately proficient with it)

I should be thrilled, right? I am part of a community that really does take care of its own. I think what I’m starting to realize though is that I am part of a Private Sport. It’s an exclusive club. We’re talented, generally affluent, successful people who can afford to keep our kids playing an expensive sport. We look in awe at what we, as a community, have been able to do in such overwhelming support of Jack and his future struggles…and we should be proud.

We should also be challenged.

The thing is, Jack is going to be just fine.  He has an amazing family, the support network of thousands of loving and dedicated people, and by the time all of this fundraising is done, he will likely have enough in his coffer to invest well and cover costs.

Maybe the Jablonski Foundation can support causes outside of the hockey community.  Maybe some of the money we raise can go to places like the Mayes family…a reminder that just because their online community isn’t as established or as effective… Terrell Mayes’ life means just as much.

Last I checked, the Crime Stoppers effort to raise money to find Terrell Mayes’ killer had collected $5345 of the $10,000 goal. If you have an interest in donating…click here.

Copyright 2012 Meagan Frank, Choosing to Grow

To learn more about Meagan Frank , you can visit her website.