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Tolerance and Gratitude for better Programs

We seem to be lacking in appreciation and tolerance skills lately. This isn’t much of a surprise to anyone who has peeked into social media these days.  But it has crept beyond politics, beyond arguments in debates and moved full force into our youth sports. Suddenly there are enemies in our programs – parent vs coach vs player vs parent..the ugly cycle seems almost unbreakable.

As a parent, coach and former player I’m looking at all three sides to our program triangle.  Each side putting out time, effort, some heart and some sacrifice but our demand of perfection from each other is draining tanks and building walls instead of teamwork.

COACHES:  I will be the first to admit that as a coach I’ve made the wrong decisions, said the wrong thing, called the wrong play, misjudged a parent or player, had an ego, or shown up to practice distracted by something else going on in life.  But I do know that I put in serious hours planning practice, agonizing over who to play where and how to best approach players in a way that motivates without crushing their spirit.  I worry about them as they leave the field, I get frustrated when they don’t put out the effort and fall short of their potential and I lean on them when they need to learn accountability.  I schedule games, send countless emails, skip sleeping, count heads, make sure everyone has their gear, offer my shoulder when they are having a rough day and talk them through issues on a daily basis.  But what many parents are looking for is perfection, it’s the microscope we’ve allowed to be placed over top of coaches that says your effort means nothing if your method is ever imperfect. Coaches are burning out; they are not asking for gratitude -but their spirits desperately need it in order to continue to do what they do.

PARENTS: As a parent, I’ve watched my kids come home from a game with tears, seen their frustration, and felt that overwhelming protective instinct rapidly rising to the surface.  I’ve given up my own time, maybe worked an extra job or skipped a car payment to pay for registration and gear, spent countless hours shuttling my kids back and forth, waited in a parking lot for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour for practices that don’t end on time, missed work meetings, deadlines, volunteered at countless events, spent who knows how much buying useless items to raise funds, and begged and pleaded family, friends and coworkers to buy I don’t know how much cookie dough and wrapping paper.  Sometimes I may say something to the coach, or skip out on a responsibility to the team, or get frustrated about whatever is going on that is making my child feel unhappy or their efforts unappreciated because I am most certainly imperfect.   A program that shows that they know parents are making huge sacrifices for their kids to play will have parents who support willingly. Parents who are threatened, have coaches who shut them out and don’t communicate with them, who feel there is no place to voice concerns, who feel their time is not worth anything, are going to turn in to the parents every program dreads.  The sacrifice parents make for kids to participate in activities is enormous and a subject that isn’t appreciated nearly enough.

PLAYERS:  As a player I had moments of great self-motivation where I went out and played wall ball for countless hours, ran every morning before school and studied everything I could about the game.  I also had moments of late night Denny’s runs with my friends or just staying up too late, skipping preseason workouts, and choosing friend, family, and schoolwork, maybe sometimes a nap, over my team or preparing for the season.  But more often than not, I was stressing about having the gear I needed at practice, being at least in shape enough to not embarrass myself or be the last one in on the runs, making sure I showed the coach I was hustling.  I was an imperfect kid playing a sport. I gave up my very beloved job and extra cash because I wanted to play, I missed opportunities and many events with my friends because I made a commitment to my team.  Despite my imperfection and the fact that sometimes my preparation didn’t always equate to perfect skill execution, I desperately needed that reassurance from my coach that my efforts, my showing up every day and the sacrifices I made to play sports were not unnoticed or worthless. I needed to be told after practice or games that you saw how much it meant to me to play, and how much I hustled. Maybe it doesn’t equate to more playing time yet because the skills are quite there, but is there appreciation going on in some other form for the fact that are players are trying.  Are the post game talks shaming or uplifting and motivating? Shaming post game talks tell the players their time and sacrifice are worthless, but talks that focus on the future and the ability to gain the skills needed to improve drive player motivation and confidence in the process instead of only seeing results. Can their imperfection be tolerated and their effort be praised even when effort doesn’t equal the desired result? Can their sacrifices and their heart be appreciated?

Despite the triangle of our programs so often being pulled apart with blame, shame, intolerance and expectations that consistently fall short, each member of this group is actually putting out a significant amount of time, effort and sacrifice in their roles.  If we can learn to show appreciation for these things, then the tolerance can grow – the microscope can be put down and gratitude can replace all the hate that has been pouring into a child’s game. 

Its probably too simplistic to say that gratitude can fix all the issues in our kids’ sports, but think about how many things it can turn around – if only we can see past our own hard work and recognize that we are all in this thing together, that we will all fall short, and that’s ok – mistakes are ok!  Because in team sports we hope to teach our kids how to support their teammates while at the same time hypocritically showing that we are unable to do the same? Can we as adults learn to support our team members as well?

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