With the New Year and new seasons upon us and many of us making resolutions or goals for the year, it brings me to the question of expectations in sports. In professional sports, the expectations are very clear – WIN. There is no higher level to achieve and therefore winning the championship whether it is the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup, World Series, Wimbledon, etc. is the goal. While some will consider anything less than the championship a failure, the reality is that only 1 player will win the Australian Open that starts today and 127 players lose; similarly, only one of the teams in the NFL will be the Super Bowl Champion on February 3rd while all of the other 31 teams are left to try again next year.
When it comes to children in sports, I think one of the most important things we as coaches and parents can do is create the “right” expectations for our children/players. However, this will need to be constantly adjusted and is probably different for different children on the same team. I also believe that children at most levels should focus on their own expectations and then it is not until they reach a certain level of competency that the “team’s” goals become more important.
Schools in our society have been differentiating instruction successfully and we must strive for this in all forms of youth development. At the early stages of a player’s introduction to a sport, it should be fun and the kids should learn the right way to play. As soon as competition is introduced, it is critical that the games be relatively close with all participants being on par with each other. A team or player that is put in the position of losing too often or being “blown out” in a game is going to get discouraged and not enjoy the sport and experience. Similarly, if some form of success is not achieved, then the child will again be discouraged and potentially lose self esteem. We as the parents and coaches must look objectively at our children to find the right “fit” for our child. While it is very difficult to be completely objective as a parent in evaluating our own child (often being too critical or overly optimistic), we must listen to the coaches who can provide the appropriate objective feedback. And the coaches must be honest with the parents, even if it means moving the child to a different program or a different coach.
It cannot be said enough but every child is unique and children look at the world differently than adults.
What are your goals for this upcoming year for each of your children/players? Are the parents’ and coaches goals aligned? Are the goals realistic while being challenging enough?