Tough lessons from team sports
The world of youth sports can be a wild one if you allow it. Demanding schedules and first-time challenges for kids — and parents — can create a rollercoaster of emotions. There will be joy, but also sometimes feelings of defeat and even loneliness among parents.
I’ve experienced this world from all sides. I’m a sports parent. After retiring from a nine-year career in Major League Baseball, I became a youth sports administrator and threw myself into coaching. I’ve coached more than 90 youth sports teams.
Recently, I surveyed hundreds of youth hockey players and parents. Kids said the most important thing to them was having fun. Parents said they wanted their kids to grow in self-confidence. Across the board, the least important thing was “swag” and winning.
This could explain why parents are so emotional about youth sports. Often parents try to bulldoze a path to ensure their kids won’t have to deal with anything they believe could hurt self-confidence.
I’m on a mission to make those tough moments easier by connecting people through shared experiences with a new website at Linklete.com, a place for parents, coaches and players to share their stories.
I hope you’ll join the conversation. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of what I’ve learned so far:
Criticism from a coach
Learning how to deal with tough advice and criticism makes our kids stronger. Former Minnesota Wild player Ryan Carter said he knew he wasn’t perfect, so there would always be opportunities to draw criticism. How he grew in response to that feedback, however, was entirely up to him.
If kids (and parents) can learn to deal with sports criticism, it can actually fuel them as they keep working to get better.
Not making the team
Most kids go through this frustration or heartbreak. I know mine have. Justin Morneau has some great advice: “You can feel sorry for yourself — or turn it into a positive.”
In Morneau’s first year on the Twins’ rookie league team, the Elizabethton Twins, he had more home runs and RBIs than entire teams. He was like Babe Ruth!
The next year, he was sent back to the same level and didn’t get moved up to a higher league until there were only three games left in the season. He could have focused on that negative. Instead, he had fun and gave 100 percent in practices and games. He kept getting better until the team had no choice but to move him up.
Wanting to quit
I recently talked to a mom who had tearfully struggled through an entire lacrosse season. It was a bad experience for her and her daughter. She was morally opposed to letting her daughter quit, but conflicted because of how tough the experience was.
Reaching out to others gave her the support she needed. This mom told me she realized there was no right answer, but having support made all the difference.
An athlete’s biggest fear is taking time off and losing “it.” I bought into this lie as an athlete. In my second year of professional baseball, I had a phenomenal year. Afterward, however, I didn’t take any time off in the off-season.
When that third season started, I wasn’t as mentally sharp. I got hurt three times. It was such a frustrating year. The next offseason, I didn’t pick up a bat for four months. I had a great year!
If a pro athlete can’t be “on” all year, how can we expect a kid to be? Playing year round makes it tough to bring the intensity and focus needed to get better.
Dealing with injuries
As a sports parent, you can feel upset and helpless when your child gets hurt. Former Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway told me he got through tough injuries by remaining positive. He focused on getting a little bit better every day and surrounded himself with people who wouldn’t let him feel sorry for himself. As parents, we can be that support system.
As a youth athlete or parent of an athlete, we experience a lot of firsts — the first tryout, the first time we have a tough coach, the first time we fail.
With Linklete, I hope we can give parents, coaches and players an outlet to connect, and help others by sharing our stories. It can be very reassuring just to know you’re not alone.
Corey Koskie played Major League Baseball for nine years, including seven with the Minnesota Twins. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four sons and is the creator of linklete.com.