June is National Sports America Kids Month, created to “encourage the health, well being, and self-esteem of America’s children, and help them appreciate the gift of life and respect others.” In the spirit of this vision, this month we’re focusing on people who champion “sports power” and the positive impact it can have on our country’s kids.
Chances are, at some point you’ll step up to coach. As a parent, it’s pretty much a given. Or maybe you’ll volunteer. In any case, as “coach” you hold the power to boost a kid’s confidence–or turn him off sports forever. So what’s the right thing to say? Rick Wolff, a leading expert in sports psychology and sports parenting, has some great advice. In his recent blog post, The Importance of Words: “Crucial Coaching Conversations,” Wolff offers 3 key tips for anyone in position to make a positive impact by coaching:
1. Avoid sarcastic remarks. Kids under the age of 13 don’t understand sarcastic comments. The so-called humor is lost upon them. As such, just avoid it at all costs.
2. Never berate them right after a loss. After a tough game, give them some time to recuperate emotionally. Give them a pat on the back, but absolutely do not go into a detailed accounting of what they did wrong. This is not the time for that lecture. Wait until the next practice when they’ve been refreshed before going over mistakes.
3. Be brief. There’s never any need to talk for more than 3-4 minutes after any tough loss. Besides, kids will just quickly tune you out. Save your breath.
More than anything, Wolff points out, kids are looking for approval—one of the biggest motivators and gifts you can offer a younger generation.
For more of Wolff’s insights, click here to visit his site.
Up2Us’s Coach Across America (CAA) program believes that introducing sports to kids before 4th grade can help stop poverty. Two of the program’s executive directors are former soccer coaches, and wanted to bring the sport to at-risk kids in inner city Chicago–hoping its uniqueness would be a draw. As one of CAA’s coaches, Travis Moore-Murray was the perfect man for the job. Like the kids he coaches, Travis grew up in a poor Chicago neighborhood, and never played soccer in school. In fact, he never played any sports, and by high school, was on his way to becoming a statistic in the bleak cycle of poverty. His junior year, he decided to give football a try, and suddenly, everything changed. Travis’s love for the game brought a new respect for “showing up” (his catchphrase) and meeting the academic requirements for playing on his school’s team–and gave him the skills to motivate and work with his fellow teammates.
Travis has dedicated his life to giving back to a new generation of kids by coaching through CAA. He’s a perfect spokesperson for the spirit of National Sports America Kids Month (June), and took time out of his busy schedule to give us some heartfelt perspective about coaching, kids, and sports.
How do you define a good team player?
First of all, it has to be about understanding your strengths and your role on the team–what you have to offer, and how you can help each other. Not every team member is going to be able to strike the ball the hardest. Also, maintain respect for your team, and your opponents. Appreciate them, because we’re all out there together. I have some great kids that can coach as well as I do because they’re out there encouraging the other kids, being level headed. Kids who understand that you’ve got to have fun.
What makes a good coach?
Different coaches bring their own personalities to the game. I like to have fun, be silly. I put myself in the game, and I come up with weird or goofy celebrations when someone scores. Even if they’re on the opposite team! Also, you have to have an investment in the kids, understand their issues, their family life. And especially with coaching youth, it’s extremely important to have a relationship with the parents. Reach out and let them know what their child is doing, that their child is important to the team. Parents should be involved.
What’s your biggest challenge as a coach?
One of my biggest challenges is peer pressure. Because soccer is new to many of these kids, it’s not considered “cool” to play. I’ll find some of my players heading home instead of going to practice, and they’ll tell me that their older brothers or friends told them not to play. Usually, I try to reach out to those older kids and invite them to come play, coach, or just watch, and then they see how cool soccer really is. Some of them are staying up late to watch international soccer games on TV—so I have to tell them to get their sleep!
Another challenge is with parents—I have some who are really competitive and focused on skill. But we don’t separate kids based on talent—we take everyone who wants to play. Because I’m coaching 4th grade and under, I just want them to be active, running around, having fun. With soccer, almost all kids develop as they play. For us, we score when a kid has fun. And research shows if you don’t grab a kid’s interest for afterschool activities before 5th grade, they’re less likely to do them going forward. I feel like this is our only shot—so it has to be good.
Have a favorite success story to share?
Hmm, that’s hard—they change every other week! My favorite one right now: there’s one kid–he was definitely the heaviest kid on my team–whenever I tried to get him to warm up, do cardio, laps, it was always a huge struggle. He’s a really smart kid, and he’d always try to talk his way out of doing anything strenuous—like why he shouldn’t have to run because he has asthma–just trying to get him committed was a constant battle. Over the course the season, he’s become my most committed player. Now he brags about running extra laps, about how he’s making his mom buy healthier food. He just won our award for Most Improved Player, and when we made the announcement, I kind of got choked up. Afterward, he came up and gave me a hug, and I told him how proud I was. Later, his teacher told me since this kid started playing soccer his grades had gone up, he was more focused. That just made me feel so good–like I really made an impact.
Inspired by Travis’s story? You can help him continue to make his impact by giving to his CAA fundraising campaign. 100% of your gift will go directly to CAA to fund support for more coaches; in return, you’ll get a story about the coach you help. Give here!
I’m officially a SeeYourImpact insider now–aren’t you jealous? If not, you should be, because it’s awesome here. I’m about to graduate from high school, but at my school we do a three-week “senior project” before we graduate. I did a mini-internship at SYI, working with the team on a smattering of stuff. To show you what I learned, come play the imagination game with me…
Picture it: A friend tells you her neighbor Sarah was laid off and is now unable to feed her 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. Your friend has decided to make a meal donation schedule, and she asks you if you’d like to sign up to provide a few meals. Do you say yes? Chances are you do, and a few days later you’re popping a lasagna into the oven. The effects of your efforts are obvious: Sarah’s family won’t be hungry. Sure, you’re busy, but at least you’re not hungry. It’s the least you can do.
But what if your friend had said something different? Something like, “Did you know that nearly 1 in 5 Americans struggles with hunger?” (which is true, by the way), then asked you to donate to a local food bank? Would you have done that?
It’s probably not as likely, even though the same amount of money would provide more meals through the food bank than you made for Sarah’s family. There’s a huge gap between our instinct to help a person right in front of us versus someone unknown or far away.
SeeYourImpact is all about bridging that gap. Its site makes it easy and rewarding to be both a fundraiser, like your friend rallying your neighborhood, and a donor, like you making the meals. Except with SeeYourImpact, you don’t even have to preheat the oven! It’s ridiculously easy. I’ll say it again, just in case you missed it: ridiculously easy. You can literally change a life with one finger.
Working here for a scant three weeks, I’ve found that that the effort we, as donors or fundraisers, don’t have to put in is not deleted, but rather transferred. There are about a dozen lovely people here at SeeYourImpact who do all the work for us (not to mention the board and everyone in the partner organizations!). These people take charge of everything from coordinating with partner organizations and managing finances to developing the website and getting the word out.
You may be thinking, “Well, duh,” but it struck me how much effort it took just to launch a single fundraiser. When you’re the online lasagna-procurer, things are pretty easy. There’s some time and effort involved, but mostly just finger-wiggling. What surprised me is how much goes into convincing people like us to sign up to be the click-master. The team here creates easy, enticingly beautiful personal fundraising pages, forges charity partnerships around the world, provides an easy way to pay, communicates to us the possibility of creating a fundraiser, and sends carefully planned emails often enough to remind us of our possibly-forgotten good intentions (but doesn’t send so many that we start reflexively hitting the delete button). Plus about fifty other things.
SeeYourImpact is essentially giving us free stuff–an easier-than-lasagna opportunity to change a life and get the warm, fuzzy feeling of seeing the smiling face of the person we helped. Sure, we have to pay for the gift, but when you think of how much work went into creating that opportunity, we realize our money is the least we can give.
So here’s my message: Don’t throw away free stuff! Your friends don’t actually ask you to feed “Sarahs” that often. Most times you give, it feels like your money just disappeared, even though some part of you knows it’s going to good use. This is your free chance to feed a real Sarah, pay for Pooja’s education, or help José learn how to use a computer. Think of the world as your neighborhood, and their lives are yours to change!