As the youth football season draws to a close, I am talking to lots of parents about their kids' experiences this season. It is great to hear of their improvements in technique and confidence, and even better when they tell me about things like discipline and teamwork...some of the foundations of sportsmanship.
My views on sportsmanship have greatly evolved over a lifetime of playing and coaching football. I am highly competitive by nature, so as a kid, I turned everything into a competition, and winning was my main goal. That included video games, shooting hoops...even spelling tests. Even as I got older, the athlete inside me was very focused on winning or losing, not the greater life lessons I would take from those experiences. When I was able to become a parent and a fan of this great game, I started seeing and valuing the lessons of sportsmanship in a different way.
Children have vastly different abilities and mature athletically at different rates. Keeping them confident and involved is so important as they learn about the game. Stepping onto the field is a great opportunity, but it needs to be an opportunity to learn about more than just winning or losing. Kids who are able to walk off the field appreciating the value of competing, working together, sacrificing for the greater good of the team, and winning or losing graciously have learned some valuable life lessons. I didn’t grasp the importance of those lessons until much later. As I work more with young athletes, I think it is critical to reinforce the lessons of sportsmanship from the very beginning.
I asked a number of people from all walks of life to tell me about the most valuable lessons they have learned from their involvement in football. I will be sharing their answers over the next couple of weeks along with my thoughts about how parents and coaches can help instill the values of sportsmanship in young athletes. I hope you appreciate their answers as much as I did, and I hope you will add your voice to the conversation.