By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck
We all agree that kids playing sports is a good thing. We know about the health advantages and that playing team sports teaches kids to interact as part of a group and learn social skills. But after years of coaching, my experience with my daughter’s softball team helped me see another benefit which may trump them all.
Adolescents, especially girls, thrive on feeling safe. We, as parents, do everything in our powers to foster that sense of security – as we should. However, we also all know that the most successful people in the world are typically those who take some risks. Those who are often willing to move out of their comfort zones and try new things are the ones who enjoy the benefit of rich experiences. That’s where I found sports was the greatest teacher.
I had the toughest time getting my team of 11 and 12 year-old softball girls to get off the base. I gave them the steal sign and they wouldn’t go. I wanted them to get aggressive lead-offs after the pitch so that we could take off on a passed ball. But it made them nervous. Most would still would only get off base a few steps, then scamper back. It dawned on me that being off the base wasn’t in their nature. It was scary. They wanted to be where they were safe.
As the season progressed, more and more girls began to buy in. They started to learn that when they stayed too close to first, if the ball got away from the catcher, they would not be able to take second. But when they did get farther away, though it was nerve-wracking, it often paid huge dividends. The more shy and timid girls who took longer to adapt learned from watching the daring and confident players. By the end of the year the entire team was stealing, rounding bases hard and sliding – all things that had frightened them months before.
They realized that to have the best chance to advance, they needed to take calculated risks. That sometimes to get where we want to go, we have to do something a little scary. They figured out that you can’t steal second base with your foot on first. On occasion, the risk didn’t pay off. They failed. But they discovered that failure wasn’t the end of the world, because there would be another chance later. Of course, these lessons were not just about softball.
In all sports, soccer and basketball included, boys and girls are learning that if you want to score, you’ve got to give it a shot. Sometimes you miss and sometimes you lose. But once in a while it goes in and you win. True, those who only watch while someone else goes for the glory will never know the agony of defeat – but they will also never experience the thrill of victory.
So when you’re coaching these young, impressionable players, remember what you’re really there for. You’re not just with them to teach them about the game. While playing and having fun, you’re helping them learn the most important facts of life.
Brian Gotta is a former professional recreational youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is President of Help Kids Play, a collection of companies whose mission is to further the development and enjoyment of youth sports.