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Bully Motivators Youth Sports

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I’ve written on this subject many times, but the people in the back are on their phones or too busy worrying that a 10 year old won’t take life serious enough to hear me so I’m still talking about it. Bullies make things happen. Believers and encouragers make people inspired to make things happen for themselves and each other. One destroys, the other fosters growth.

I want to be fair because I believe the majority of intentions (Obviously not all of them) are correct, in alignment, and in the pursuit of giving our kids the best opportunities in life. The confusion is all about delivery and how to put kids and sports together in the best interest of their development and character, not the end game which we likely agree on. Let’s get this ironed out.

Our COMMON GOALS: Can we agree on these???

  1. Kids who enjoy physical activity, competition, and socializing
  2. Kids who learn to overcome things that are hard in order to master something and build self-confidence
  3. Kids who are resilient in the face of challenge and disappointment
  4. Kids who reach their potential by letting someone help them break out of their perceived limits and become more than they thought they could be.
  5. Kids who are respectful, can appreciate discipline, and take direction
  6. Kids who can problem solve and react, think, and adjust in the moment
  7. Kids who have a positive attitude, who come to practice and games ready and excited for the tasks at hand
  8. Kids who appreciate fun, positivity and encourage and lead those around them
  9. Kids who aren’t selfish jerks when they grow up or lacking the ability to work with others or authority
  10. Kids who can eventually and effectively advocate for themselves without parental invention

Sound about right?

Great, let’s be honest here – no one really likes the trophies for all mentality. (Did we ever??) We want our kids to feel pride in earning something. Entitlement is an ugly trait. But the neccessary ideology of inclusion (and we need more of this not less!) can be tough for fostering competition when kids develop at different ages, have different socio-ecomonic backgrounds, different levels of family support, athletic abilities, physical, emotional and learning challenges or gifts, and opportunities and access to training. We over-corrected our exclusivity as the answer to make sports for everyone, and we erased competition with the trophies for all reward system and the fear of pushing our kids outside of their comfort zone and leaving anyone behind. We put everyone on an equal playing field, corrected them less, required less and you know what, it wasn’t that much fun.

That whole era was frustrating. It resulted in a big generation of kids who stopped showing up for practice and then wanted to start every game.  So, what did we do? We over-corrected again right back and with more determination creating elite club teams and slapping an elite price tag on it while training in ways that rival the professional adult athletes, but without the mobility training, recovery, strength training and REST that they get. We tried to attract the best of the best and created these stacked power teams. Then the message that kids who are not in these programs will be left out of all the opportunities literally destroyed the recreation model of athletics and once again we are excluding entire groups of kids from the opportunity to play. I’ll say it all day long, we need rec teams, your kid doesn’t have to be a superstar to benefit from sports and most of the kids on “elite teams” these days are far from qualified to carry that title…

But back to my point. Motivation.

We can push our kids, we can train them to become champions on and off the field more effectively – not less – by using positive, encouraging, belief statements rather than shame. This isn’t some Pollyanna positive idea I had one day to be nicer. It’s based on years and years of coaching, observing, studying, and seeing exactly how big of a difference it makes in developing athletes and creating longevity and growth in a program. If you know me, you know that I hate to lose. I’ll say it again becuase I mean it. I hate to lose. I’m better at hiding it, I’m not better at accepting it. I’m adulting like a boss, but it still stings.

SO that being said, you have to realize that I’m not training kids to accept losing.  I’m training them to love training and celebrate mastery so that winning can be the byproduct that it’s supposed to be. And losing can be a lesson and not a reason to throw in the towel and quit or feel like their personal worth is tied to a scoreboard or statbook. Because even winners lose eventually, you don’t like it, but if you play a game where there’s a winner and a loser then inevitably at some point, it’s going to be you and if your identity is tied to winning then losing is going to be a debilitating blow.

So how do we motivate kids to work hard and get to all those 10 goals I mentioned earlier? How do we make them become their best and not be “soft” or “hey here’s your shiny I didn’t do a thing for this trophy..”

Here’s the difference between shame, fear-based motivation and Positive, growth-focused motivation. Both forms will produce movement, action, and results. But one will eventually wear the kid down, frustrate them, and ultimately fill their head with voices that they may spend years trying to overcome so they aren’t completely frozen with doubts and fear. The other form of motivation will fill them with belief, excitement, drive, internal motivational skills, the ability to motivate others, the ability to overcome negativity and adversity and confidence to push themselves without fear of failure. I’ve also found that in competition under extreme pressure, if those two versions were to play against each other, version 2 almost always comes out on top.

Version 1:

“You’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating your team. My grandma is faster than you guys! This is embarrassing!”

Version 2:

“Give me 100% on this one. Give me 1% more on the next one. I’ve seen what you believe is your top speed, show me something I’ve never seen before and blow me away! Make yourself proud with this next one”

Version 1:

“You’re not hustling, you guys are lazy. You’re wasting my time.”

Version 2:

“What’s you’re effort level right now 1-10? What can you give me to make it a 10? Everyone grab an accountability partner and you push each other for the rest of the drill until you help them be the best they can be right now. Tell me how your partner helped you, what things did they say?”

Version 1:

“You haven’t caught a single ball today and you’re cutting to the wrong place at the wrong time. You guys don’t even want to be here. ON THE LINE, we are running until someone pukes or I get tired of watching you”

Version 2:

“Who made a mistake today when we were running that drill because you tried something outside your comfort zone? What did you learn from it? Who wants to run that drill one more time and make it look amazing? We only fail when we don’t learn from our mistakes, mistakes mean we are trying hard, celebrate those and then make it better!”

Not only is version 2 better for building confidence, athlete retention, problem solving, character development and getting kids into the headspace to accept learning and correction more openly, it also makes them less reliant on you in the long run for game day coaching. Kids who are motivated by fear and shame require more fear and shame to get them going. Kids who learn confidence and internal motivation as well as the ability to motivate their teammates can function in game situations without needing external motivators in the same way.

I told you I hate losing, and honestly this method of motivating is a BIG WIN for everyone, that’s why I love it so much!

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