Archive for the ‘youth sports’ Category

canva team building for girlsI swore I would never coach a middle-school-aged girls team. I’m still not sure I have it in me, but I have committed to this parenting thing, and, in our house, that seems to include coaching soccer where I’m needed. This spring I will be firmly positioned on the coach’s bench for our daughter’s U12 girls team. (a slight deviation from the high school boys varsity sideline I occupied last fall)

For different reasons, both coaching gigs present challenges and an opportunity for intense personal transformation. Because I’ve adopted the Choosing to Grow mentality, I’m going to seek out ways to grow as well as I can in these roles.

Step One: Accept Tween Girls for Who They Are

I can’t say I ever really understood the stereotypical middle-school-girl mentality…even when I was one. I was the aloof tomboy who preferred the predictability of my sporting guy friends and was found more often shooting baskets at lunchtime than gossiping at a table. I wasn’t really all that great of a teammate on the girls’ teams for which I competed, either, because I didn’t understand anything other than intense, claw-your-way-to-the-top competition. (certainly behaviors I have spent years unpacking)

Aside from needing to send my high school and college teammates a series of apology letters, I like to think I have arrived at a vastly different place in my mindset as a competitor and, ultimately, as a coach. At least I thought I had arrived at an enlightened place…and then our practices started.

The first few practices were fine and I was bringing my challenging conditioning games and an energy of intensity that seemed to be well-received. What I began to notice, however, was that some of the girls are wired for the competition part of being on a team while others are more interested in the cooperation part.

That’s part of the complexity of girls’ teams. Very often girls join a team because they want to be part of a positive group and they enjoy the friendships they find there. Other girls are drawn more to the fire of competition.

Tweens are at the cusp of discovering which approach matters most to them. They want to align with a group and as they sort out the nature of competition, they often align with a group and they find themselves pitted against another group. This can prove VERY problematic for girls’ teams. Hence the dreaded issues that come with “cliques”!

Not to mention the fact that hormones are beginning to rear their ugly heads. The pre-pubescent tween body has yet to experience the influx of hormones and is understandably overwhelmed by their arrival. Hormones flood their brains and make the world look incredibly different than they have ever imagined it could look. It makes them moody.

Concrete thinking is still a habit of the younger tween mind, and as they progress (of course at unpredictable and varying rates) they are becoming more capable of abstract and complex thinking. This development is not a small one and if embraced by encouraging a growth mindset, can be incredibly fertile ground.

The tween transition means that every one of the fourteen girls on my team are at vastly different places in brain development, hormonal infusion and self-awareness of her place in the world. UGH! No wonder I feel like a crazy person.

TASK ONE: Creative Team-Building

So, here is what I tried yesterday at practice: Team-Building-Conditioning-Clue-Hunt

I asked the girls at the start of practice why they like being a part of a team. Their answers varied slightly, but the overwhelming response was because they like being part of a group and they like being with their friends. The most interesting thing about their responses, however, was when they expanded to why they enjoy their friends on a team. The more obvious competitors saw their friends as necessary to the team doing well and others saw their friends as necessary to helping them feel better about themselves. This insight will help me to frame how they each approach the team dynamic.

Then we went for a 2-mile run. I had hidden 10 clues along the route that included instructions for tasks to complete and directions about where to go to find the next clue. At the halfway-point, which happened to be our detached garage, they did the Flip the Tarp game.

Built into this activity were strategies to allow each of the girls to have roles as leaders and to practice roles as followers. I mixed up the pairings and encouraged a variety of partnering along the way. The leader for each station had to initiate and facilitate the tasks assigned.

Here are some of the tasks they had to perform:

  • Take turns dancing in the middle of the team circle.
  • Do the team cheer.
  • High-five every player on the team.
  • Count together for 15 jumping jacks.
  • Link arms and run together the length of a cul-de-sac.
  • Shuffle, back-pedal, etc. on the leader’s call.
  • Weave lines on the command of the leaders.
  • Chant while jogging:  Leaders: We are the Mustangs…Followers: We are the Mustangs…Leaders: The mighty, mighty Mustangs etc.
  • Lead the team in a celebration routine.

There is no telling exactly how effective this approach will be. I may never know whether they’ll fully achieve the goal of team cohesiveness, or whether they’ll be any better at playing soccer together, but there were plenty of smiles, invested and continual effort from all of the girls, and I venture to guess at least a small shift in their perspectives of one another.

Meagan Frank has survived tweenhood for her two oldest children (boy and girl) who are now developmentally appropriate teenagers and she is in the throes of walking through the tweenhood fire again with her youngest daughter.

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

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. 

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

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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?

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Copyright 2014 Meagan Frank                                        Choosing to Grow

n8 jumping

Physical literacy is the language of movement.

If there was any language I learned most proficiently, it was movement. I was athletic. I could swim, jump, run, tumble, catch, kick, throw, shoot, ride my bike, ski- on both water and snow, and swing a bat. I was better at some elements than others, but there were very few physical games in which I couldn’t participate. I was not born an athlete, however. Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as an athletic gene…or at least researchers haven’t found one yet. It is a common assumption that when there are seemingly generations of athletes it is because athletic parents have athletic children. The truth is…athletic children become athletic because their parents do athletic things with them. What matters more is the timing of exposure to certain physical activities, and an intention toward that exposure. We all have the capacity to learn athletic movements.

My childhood had been the perfect, and inadvertent, breeding ground for growing physical literacy. My dad had been a solid athlete throughout his life and he loved to do athletic things with us. My mom became a passionate trailblazer in a time when a door was opening to create never-before-seen opportunities for young female athletes. And then there were the constant teammates and opponents I had in my siblings. Through all of my play, I was unknowingly building physical literacy. The more I moved the more proficient I got.

Instead of accidentally creating athletes, the Canadian Sport For Life  has long supported a more purposeful approach called the Long-Term Athlete Development program (LTAD). Developed in the 1990’s by sport scientist Istvan Balyi, it was created over an eight-year period during his work with Canadian alpine skiers. Since its inception, it has become internationally accepted as the model by which athletes should be developed. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more recently organizations in the United States like USA hockey and US Soccer have all adapted youth athlete programming that reflects the LTAD model.

Based on findings of physical development, the LTAD model has evolved into basically seven phases: an active start, FUNdamental movements, Learning to train, Training to train, Training to compete, Training to win, and Retirement and retainment. Instead of chronological age as an indicator for athletic development, the LTAD model uses Peak Height Velocity (PHV) as the gauge by which programming should be implemented. PHV is the point in pubescence when the tempo of growth is the greatest.

****Ideas to promote physical literacy…good for families…easy on checkbooks******

If we want better athletes, it is not hard. Starting from when they are really little, and up to about the ages of 8 to 10, make it a goal to teach them to do the following things:

Ride a bike, swim, kick and dribble a soccer ball, throw and catch a baseball, throw and catch a football, run, ice skate, ski, jumprope, swing a tennis racket, skateboard. There is no prescribed order, just an intention to teach your children these skills before they are 10 years old. The best part about seeing athletic development as physical skill acquisition is that it does not have to cost a single dime. You CAN do all of these things at home.  Granted, there are plenty of awesome programs developed to expose your child to these different athletic skills, and it is fun to sign up with friends as they learn, but it is not necessary.

Now granted, there are some elements that are harder depending on where you are geographically, but there are ways to simulate skiing and skating. It takes creativity. You don’t need to pay for swim lessons, just get in the pool as much as possible and swim. (unless you’re not comfortable in the pool, then it’s better to hire someone who will not exhibit fear in the water). Visit playgrounds and skate parks, buy roller blades (and make sure to buy lots of padding), look up park workouts that you can do in snow and sun. Make up exercises for every card in a deck of cards and when you draw that card, do that exercise. Play family games of kickball, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Play tennis on an open court, shoot baskets outside, take bike rides, go hiking, encourage kids to do cartwheels. I tell my girls cartwheels are pushups in disguise.  Do handstands too. Let you kids have dance parties (aerobics) and dance with them.  If you don’t know these skills then look up how to do them.  Living in the information age provides access to information that is unparalleled to any other time in history.  Take a chance and try it…teach yourself so you can teach your kids.  It is valuable bonding time and you don’t have to pay gas, uniforms, registration, etc. If you work really hard on the first kid, you won’t have to worry about that same energy for your younger kids. They’ll have a model of movement in their sibling (s).

There is no real need to expose kids to team competition until they are about eight years old. They don’t get what it means to be part of a team before then, and the games we adults set up for them provide some skill development, but it seems to be more about being entertained. It is not as much fun to watch children gain physical literacy as it is to see them score a goal, but if we want better athletes, we’d be better off delaying the investment in team activities and exposing kids to all sorts of physical movement.

We need to change our mentality about teams for young kids if we want ALL children to become better athletes.

 

Meagan’s book   Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It: Because All Kids Matter is her current WIP. You can learn more about the project at her website: www.meaganfrank.com

 

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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 punshment, 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?

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Copyright 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 a parent 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

2013-01-14 05.41.03

My daughter and I leave tomorrow morning for a hockey trip to Duluth. The girls will be building friendships, learning about themselves as athletes and as teammates, and playing some good hockey. The parents will be partying.

I am willing to roll our kids from rink to rink, from town to town because I want them to experience the ups, the downs, the heartbreak, and the joy of competing in sports. I know it will build them.

I worry it is crushing me.

As a sports parent, I am continually tested at a greater degree than I ever was as an athlete. Every outing, every out-of-town trip, and with every athlete in our house, I feel it is my role to process and help kids process the drama that unfolds on the way to the rink, at the rink (where I am too aware of the secondary drama unfolding in the space around me in the stands), and then on the way home from the rink where I need to be a safe sounding board for our kids.
It is much more emotionally draining for me as the parent.

As an athlete, when I stepped onto a soccer field or a basketball court it was my refuge from the stifling drama of my life. Sometimes I think my mom wanted to protect us from said drama, and the safest place she could think to put us was on a team. I suppose it worked generally. It was only occasionally I noticed the frustrated body language of people on the periphery. Or sometimes, at a stoppage of play, I could hear yelling that never really seemed to concern me. That is, of course, unless the yelling was the frustrated and raging voice of my father. He was never raging at me, but that damned offsides rule in soccer, or every ridiculous foul called by a basketball ref, were enough to awake his inner demons. I heard him then.

It was always with my dad that the drama of my life collided with my sports’ world. I suppose I am more sensitive to my role as sports parent because of that. My dad and sports were an interesting combination. My dad and sports…and alcohol… were a catastrophic mix.

As a kid I needed to ignore the scary moments. I needed to pretend I didn’t see my dad’s hands shaking from withdrawal as he sketched out a basketball play for my team. I needed to brush off the way I felt when at a lunch stop on the way home from an out-of-town game he “disappeared” for twenty minutes and then when my teammates and I went to get in the car for the long trip home we found the remaining two bottles from the newly purchased six-pack. We held hands praying the entire way home. I had to continually remind myself it wasn’t my problem when my dad would be thrown out of games for yelling at refs. I had to quietly internalize the pain of his visit to my hospital bed after I was injured. That was the night I was literally pinned to the bed and forced to endure what felt like an hour of his alcohol-drenched breath.

As an adult, I want to be infinitely better than he was as an athlete-turned-sports’ parent, and I sometimes battle with all it is taking from me to do that.

I can’t enjoy the hotel drinking games. Unless I intimately know and trust the other parents with whom I travel, the entire weekend is an exercise in exhaustion. There are times I’ll drink with the team parents, but there have been other times I have holed myself up in my room, thankful I had a little one in tow for an excuse. I don’t have an excuse this weekend, and I fear I’m nearing a point where I don’t have the energy to drink socially either. Some teams are rostered with parents who have literally made drinking their new sport, and when it is a group I don’t know well, it is tiresome to find a comfortable place to hang.

Sometimes I wish there were a rule about the number of drinks a sports’ parent were allowed to consume.

In two weeks I am going on a three-day school trip with our middle daughter. At the chaperone meeting last night we were asked to sign a waiver promising we would not bring alcohol or drugs to the sleepover camp. “It is an educational trip with children present. It is, of course, our expectation there will be no alcohol consumed.”

Why are sports trips different? Are they not “educational trips with children present”?

Beer-filled coolers are as commonplace as player bags and sticks when traveling for an out-of-town trip. Drinking is as much a part of youth hockey as inconsistent reffing. I’m just not sure what all of that means for me, and what the best parenting decisions might be.

What do you think? Is it totally cool alcohol is as much a part of youth sports as it is? Should anything change about the culture of youth sports and drinking?

 

Learn more about Meagan and her current project, Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It:  Because All Kids Matter, at her website http://www.meaganfrank.com

 

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Copyright 2013           Meagan Frank                         Choosing to Grow

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love doesn’t feel like that.

 

2012 copyright Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow                             www.meaganfrank.com

                                                                  

Phew. My least favorite time of year is over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Copyright 2012                          Choosing to Grow                              meagan frank

 

                                                  

Spring soccer started a couple weeks ago.

In our house it looks like chaos…pretty much from start to finish. Both the girls are playing and, in what seems like a purposeful punishment for our family, their practices are scheduled on the same days…at the same time…and of course at two different places.

I’ve made it work (even without my second driver). I get our oldest son set up with carpools for wherever he needs to go, and then the girls and I start running.

I drop off Middle Sprout and peel out of the parking lot as soon as I see her coach step out of his car.  Little Sprout and I arrive late to her practice (doing what we can not to disrupt things) and then I assist with the drills before we leave a few minutes early to go back and pick up her big sister. (who is usually waiting for me to arrive… with her coach)

I think after the craze of yesterday, Little Sprout finally understands why I was not able to take on the responsibility of head coach for her team this year. Six-year-olds need a coach who is there before they are and who can stay after they’ve gone.

The thing is, it took a while for another parent to step up and take on the role of coach for this little U-6 team. I felt badly that I couldn’t volunteer…but it’s clear why.

The man who eventually volunteered did so reluctantly. He admits he doesn’t know much about soccer and that he has not worked much with kids this age.  The thing is…he’s perfect for them without trying. He is kind, patient…and learning.

The girls LOVE him…and they are starting to love “soccer”!

I put parentheses around “soccer” because what is happening for this young developing team of athletes is not soccer the way that I know it…and it shouldn’t be.

It’s good that their coach doesn’t see what I see when I watch the girls try to kick… or dribble… or shoot. I see areas that I would love to correct and it takes every bone in my body not to point out when they do it “wrong”. He is working to learn names, understand the drill description in the association practice plan, and then it looks like herding cats to run them through the important games of tag, or red light/ green light. He lets them choose games and in doing so…they are a part of the process.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blogpost about The Need for Creative Athletes. In the post, I challenged youth coaches to allow for creativity in their practice plans. My daughter’s coach may not be planning it…but it is great that it is naturally happening anyway.

I recently read an awesome article entitled, The Courage to be Patient. It is a directive to youth soccer coaches, and it highlights the discipline it takes to truly adopt the best way to develop young athletes.

I’ve decided: allowing creativity is harder… the more experienced you are.

A friend of mine, who is the head coach for her daughter’s soccer team sent me a message about what she did to create a space of expressive and creative freedom for her players. I take to heart this decision because I know my friend well.  She is arguably one of the most intense competitors I have ever been around.  She and I were college teammates, and I know firsthand her intelligence of the game, her competitive edge, and her impressive work ethic.  Here is what she did:

Each player received a name tag that said “Meagan’s choice” for the practice. I warmed them up for a couple of minutes (only because it was cold and I didn’t want them to get hurt). From that point, the girls had control of the practice. Each player could turn in their sticker and then choose whatever game they wanted to play. They could repeat a game if they wanted…so we played sharks and minnows a couple of times. Or they could choose a game. Obviously, they call choose to play “soccer” games such as Clean Up Your Own Backyard (which I call poop in the yard…they laugh), Number Soccer, etc.  

What I’ve started to learn about the developing athlete, is that my daughter’s reluctant coach is providing an environment that is perfect for the needs of the kids at this age. Young kids need space to run in chaos.  They learn about collisions…and how to avoid them next time. They learn the ways that make it easier for them to keep the ball on their feet…because they don’t want to lose the game. They learn that laughter is part of sport. My friend had to make a conscious decision to have some courageous patience…but the players on her team will be better off for it.

It is counter-intuitive to allow creative chaos. Every one of us would rather have control…the thing is, kids need a chance to have some control too…and that feels a bit chaotic for us adults.

To learn about Meagan’s current book project make sure to visit her website:  www.meaganfrank.com.

                               

Copyright 2012        Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow