By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
Whether you are coaching or parenting (or both) young athletes, a main component of your job description is to try to get the best out of each individual. Of course, this is easier said than done, but I will share a personal experience that I hope is helpful.
Some of you know from my previous pieces here, I have four children. They are all now adults, the youngest twenty-one. My three boys all played college baseball. Two are now playing professionally. My daughter, the youngest, is playing Division 1 soccer. So at a glance one might think they've all had tremendous achievement and have probably done as well as could be expected.
I was talking with my daughter, who is about to go into her Senior year. With the exception of the times she was injured, she has started every game in her first three seasons. She has won all-conference accolades, is a captain, has had a great college career. But she looks back with regret because she says she now realizes she could be better.
In middle school and high school she played and started for one of the best club teams in the country. She and I both figured that playing for that organization was enough, that those coaches would know how to get the best out of their players. She received a scholarship to a tremendous school and it seemed everything was on track. Her Freshman year in college she came in and immediately made an impact and felt like she was excelling. Then, they played a team ranked among the top in the nation and my daughter faced an All-American on the other side. She had never seen a player of this quality and just couldn't keep up. It was something she'd never experienced before and opened her eyes.
She had always been extremely hard-working, but she realized there was even more she could do. She used the humbling experience of that game as motivation to do even more on her own. I don't need to go into specifics about her daily regimen, but her coaches say they have never had a player who works as hard. And she has seen significant results. She's gotten better than she thought she could be. Her regret? She didn't take this approach ten years ago. She feels she could be an even greater player had she been doing all of this work all along. But she can't change the past.
Her message to any young athlete would be to work your hardest, do everything you can to improve...today. No matter what stage in your athletic career, no matter how much success you are currently enjoying, there is more you can do. If you're not a starter, make your goal to be one. If you are a starter, work to be the best on the team. If you're the best on the team, be the best in town. Don't let another day go by when you could give 100% to be the best you can be.
How to convey this message to your kids is another matter. Most youngsters don't have any urgency because they think there is always going to be more time. They typically view the world as a road stretching out ahead with no end in sight. As we get older we begin to look back and see choices we could have made that would have improved where we are now. Often, by then, it's too late. But simply telling a child “You're not working hard enough” or “So and so is better than you,” will likely have the opposite of the intended effect.
For younger children it may just be a matter of you getting out and playing with them. Unless we had a weekday game there was not one free day I can remember when I didn't take the boys down to the Little League fields and throw them batting practice and hit them ground balls. It became a daily routine. There was never a question of if we were going to the park, just when.
If your children are a little older, maybe asking, “What is your ultimate goal in your sport?” (The answer may surprise you, especially if it is not the same as your ultimate goal for them). A follow-up question might be, “Do you feel you're on track for that right now?” (If the answer is yes, then it would be a good idea to see if you can get them to set their sights higher). But, in the more likely scenario, if the answer is no, “What else do you think we can do to get you there?” Notice I said, “we” not “you”. This way it seems as if you're willing to share the effort, not just talking down to them in a veiled accusation of laziness.
One of my favorite all-time quotes, from motivational speaker Jim Rohn, is, “In life you will face one of two pains. The pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” I said it to my kids enough times that they'd roll their eyes and shudder upon hearing it. If you can get them to give that little extra now it will not only help them achieve even grander goals in athletics, but lay the foundation for a pathway to success in life.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org