Teaching Life Skills in Youth Sport
I’ve been working with young female athletes in one capacity or another for nearly 30 years. In the last decade or so, I believe we have begun to over-coach sport skills and under-coach life skills. Playing youth, high school, and college sports taught me many valuable life lessons that have allowed me to be successful in a variety of leadership positions I’ve held to date. I learned how to be loyal to my teammates and coaches. I learned to respect my teammates, coaches, opponents, referees, and the games I played. I learned to appreciate the opportunities sport provided to have fun, stay healthy, and learn.
One of the most important life skills I learned on the softball field and basketball court was problem solving. If something didn’t work out the way I had planned, I had to figure out a way to do it differently the next time. I had to try something else. I didn’t have an adult constantly telling me what to do differently. When I pitched a softball that didn’t do what I wanted it to do, I analyzed the situation, evaluated potential options, and tried something different. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. But I learned to solve problems on my own. More importantly, I learned to TRUST MY ABILITY to solve problems and gained self-confidence in doing so.
Today, I see many young athletes who are being over-coached in sport skills and often under-coached in life skills. Many of the 12 and 13 year old athletes I work with today have private pitching coaches, hitting coaches, agility coaches, various youth coaches, and parents constantly TELLING them EXACTLY what to do in their sport. The result is little robots who simply do what we adults have programmed them to do. When something doesn’t go exactly as planned, they have no idea how to think through and solve the problem on their own and immediately look to a coach or parent for specific direction.
As coaches, we need to do a better job TEACHING young athletes to think through and solve problems. Practices provide a perfect opportunity to TEACH important life skills like problem solving. Rather than telling athletes exactly what to do differently, ask them what they think happened and what they might do differently next time. Then let the athlete experiment and learn. You may be surprised at what these young athletes actually know and can figure out for themselves when we stop telling them what to do and let them problem solve on their own. Like sport, life is full of challenges and things that don’t go exactly as planned. The earlier we teach kids how to think through and solve problems on their own, the earlier they learn to trust themselves to make good decisions. Youth sport provides so many opportunities to teach important life skills, let’s make sure we take advantage of those opportunities.