My biggest vice, fortunately, is not an addiction. Well, at least not in the traditional use of the word. My informal diagnosis – although my wife recognized it years ago – is a chronic distraction: sports.
Truth be told, I am writing this article while watching a college basketball game between Michigan State and Iowa – and basketball is my least favorite sport.
As bad as it remains today, I have managed to transition from the ridiculous to borderline acceptable. The key for me has been to be realistic and not obsessive. My transition actually started 15 years ago.
Being Christ-like Comes in Different Styles
I spent the first 15 of my 18 years as an adult working as an athletic department administrator at the collegiate and professional levels. This simply served to feed the addiction that had started practically at birth. Being a Pittsburgh native in the 70’s, I was a teenager during the time of the city’s crowning as the City of Champions. As the Pittsburgh Steelers were winning four Super Bowls, the Pittsburgh Pirates two World Series, and the University of Pittsburgh Panthers claimed an NCAA National Championship, sports practically became a religion to residents around Western Pennsylvania.
The catalyst to start my “recovery” occurred in 1999 when my sons were getting started in youth sports (of course). At that time I was working at a university that was undergoing a significant transition, and I was holding three different positions that required me to be at the office almost every evening and weekend. I was not seeing my boys much at all.
I made a dramatic switch to a sales position with a software company. It was my first 9-5 job, which was actually a 7-4 job. This allowed me to spend evenings and weekends with my kids. It also allowed me to become entrenched in another side of sports.
To be honest, I was never a great athlete – especially in the “ball sports.” However, I knew I could be a parent and advocate of the positive reinforcement and the “do your best” philosophy that should be the focus of youth sports. Plus, is there a better way to spend time with your kids that tossing a baseball or football? (Yes, I know there is, but you get my point.)
My eyes were quickly opened. Many parents, especially men, do not grasp that 6-10 year olds are not going to practice, concentrate, or perform at a professional level. Hard to believe , huh? What is even more startling, is that most of the kids do not care nor do they strive to be great. In fact, many did not even want to be there. Primarily, most youth look at sports as a way to socialize and just have fun.
It was not long before I was intervening. Seeing that my training and experience as a high school and college coach could be transferred to the youth level, I was soon volunteering.
Despite my earlier comment about misplaced expectations by many “dads,” volunteering with youth sports is an ideal way to interject Christian values. One excuse that I have heard numerous times is that many parents with no athletic skills do not believe they can contribute to a sports team. To be honest, it is no different than the kid that doesn’t have the skills to be a successful athlete. All have something to contribute to the team. It is the adults’ responsibility to find a way for everyone to contribute.
There are at least four areas an adult with no athletic skill or knowledge can assist the coach or manager.
1. Be a shepherd and help bring the straying sheep back into the fold.
Realize that the coach is probably a volunteer as well. Unless these coaches are professional teachers, most will possess little training in coaching or dealing with a group of kids. So, one thing you can do is simply help “herd the sheep.
2. Find and accentuate the positive.
The primary task for the coach is (should be) to improve the athletic skills of the athlete. Therefore, it can be your role to compliment the kids for effort. Don’t forget about the non-athletic items like “hustle, focus, attitude, confidence.”
Seek and ye shall find.
3. If you watch and listen to what the coach is saying, you will hear and see how you can help.
If a child is having a tough time grasping the message from the coach, perhaps you can say it in terms the youngster will understand. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a youth soccer coach emphasize to his 6-year old kids that he wanted them to “kick the ball up the field.” I immediately noticed something that the coach didn’t. A couple of them gave him a blank stare and a few others looked skyward. To a six-year old, “up” means only up…and fields do not go up. Directions are front and back or forwards/backwards or simply “to your goal.”
4. Keep watch and be an earthly guardian angel.
Thank the coach(es) for their willingness to volunteer and serve the children. Be an advocate for all of the kids (not just yours) and the coach. Try to keep the coach from showing favorites, and or ostracizing other children, which ironically is often his/her own child. Make sure all children are being treated as fairly as possible. Be a gentle reminder to the kid that is pouting or frustrated about his/her situation that all he/she needs to do is try their best. It is also a good idea to occasionally get the coach back on track. Human nature takes over in many adults and winning becomes the goal. It should be improvement and doing their best (coaches and kids). I tried to always ask a child after a mistake if they had tried their best. It is amazing how honest they will be. Some will actually say “no.” Simply say, “well, ok, then next time, if you do, you might have a better result. Thank you for being honest.” If they answer “yes,” then you can say that is all you want them to do. As they get better with practice, those mistakes will go away. Give them confidence for the next time.
Keep Sundays Holy Despite the Competition
I also have one more main point of emphasis. If you can become a person of influence within the league or tournaments in your community, try to steer competition and practices away from Sunday mornings. Let this be the time we intentionally put the Lord first. You can simply say that we should realize that faith is an important part of life for many families, and that Sunday athletic activities should not begin before noon on Sundays.
One of the examples we established very early when my youngest son was on a highly competitive traveling soccer team (way too young by the way – age 7-10), is that no matter where we were traveling and what time his games were scheduled, we found a Mass that we could fit into the schedule. After the first couple road trips, a couple other Catholic families started asking us about Mass times in the communities we were playing in, because they knew we had done the research. I do not think that God cares that the children were sometimes wearing soccer uniforms in church. I hope that He was just happy that they were in His house.
These concepts of shepherding, positive attitude, listening, and teaching children are, of course, not limited to athletic activities. The same traits can be used to support our youth in academics, the fine arts, and religious education. I cannot say that I did the best I could in all of these areas, but I know that I quickly became aware that I was having a positive influence on the kids I coached and/or supported….and it did not matter if they were a good athlete or not. They are God’s child, just like me.
© 2014. Greg Yoko. All rights reserved.
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