When Is A Setback Good In Youth Sports?

When Is A Setback Good In Youth Sports?

For whatever reason, sometimes my messages just don't get through to my kids. Especially as they get older. Do you ever feel that way in youth sports? (If not, please share your secret!) Sometimes it takes someone else to say something. Even if it's the same message, a different messenger can do the trick.

And other times, something needs to happen as a result of our kids not taking our advice -- I recently experienced the latter of those. My 10-year old, Gehrig, started his ice hockey season on the “top” line of his team. I say “top” in quotes, because that's what Gehrig called it. The coaches never officially labeled any of their lines. They all get equal playing time in youth sports. But, hey, Gehrig said he made the top line, and I wasn't going to argue with him. It was good for his confidence.

A funny (and frustrating) thing happened as the season began though. Gehrig didn't appear to be skating as hard as he could on every shift. There were pucks that I thought he should be getting to that he wasn't. There were times when he could have put backside pressure on an opponent. But instead of busting his butt to get to the player, he simply maintained the same skating speed/pace as the kid with the puck. He also got into the bad habit of gliding the final 10-15 feet before he reached his destination instead of driving with his legs all the way.

Same thing in the offensive zone. He plays left wing and the center on his line is a very fast skater. There were many times that the center would have the puck and enter the offensive zone and Gehrig was 10 feet or so behind the play. Again, instead of busting his butt to get involved in the play and driving to the net, he would just maintain the same speed as the other players.

Hustle, Hustle, Hustle
Not being a hockey guy myself (I've never played the game.), I'm always a little hesitant to offer too much advice in the realm of youth sports. I never want to contradict his coaches. And when I'm not speaking from experience, the likelihood that I'll do that increases significantly. But what I was witnessing with Gehrig didn't involved hockey specific knowledge or technique.

It was Sports 101. Hustle, hustle, hustle. I talked to him many times about the need to skate his hardest on every shift. “That's why you have shifts in hockey. So you can skate like a maniac and then get a break. If you're not thankful to get a break after every shift, then you're not going hard enough.” I don't know how many times I've said that to him. I make sure I compliment the things he does well in games and practices, but not hustling just isn't acceptable to me.

A Message From Coach?
A funny thing happened a few weeks ago. He was taken off the “top” line. He swapped spots with a teammate. Gehrig was really upset about it. In the locker room after a practice he had to trade jerseys with the teammate that was replacing him on the line. (Each line wears a specific color practice jersey so that they can all do drills together and develop some chemistry.) That was a tough thing to watch.

We talked about the situation during the car ride home. He was visibly upset about the “demotion.” For the record, I have not idea if the coaches really switched him from that line because he wasn't skating hard. It may not have been a demotion at all. They may have just felt that Gehrig would be a better fit on a different line. Regardless of their reason for moving him, I was kinda happy about it. I didn't like seeing him upset, but maybe now my message would get through.

I asked him why he thought he got moved off of the line. At first his confidence was shattered. He was saying things like, “Because I stink at hockey.” I tried to reassure him that if he did, in fact, “stink at hockey” then he would have never made the team he's on. Then he said, “Well, my coaches think I stink.”

I decided to use that thought for motivation. I said, “Well, then prove them wrong. Prove them wrong by going your hardest on every shift and in every drill at practice. Remember all those times when we talked about giving it your all? Well, maybe that's why you got moved.”

Believe In Yourself
I said, “You know what pal? Your entire life there are going to be people who think that you're not good enough to do something. There are going to be people who don't believe in you. That's why you need to believe in yourself. When you believe in yourself the opinions of other people don't matter. BUT, simply believing in yourself isn't enough. You can believe in yourself as much as you want, but if you don't put in the effort and work as hard as you can, the results won't be there. Understand?” He nodded. “Right now, you're facing something called 'adversity,'" I said.

"Adversity is when you have to deal with something that is getting in the way of what you want. The best way to deal with adversity, is to make a plan of action. So let's do that, OK?” He agreed. And that's when we talked openly about effort and focus during every drill at practice and on every shift in a game. I was able to make my points and talk to him about the areas of his game that I thought he could work on and improve immediately. Instead of being defensive like he has was in the past, he listened. He was honest with himself. He knew he could do better.

But more importantly, he wanted to do better.

Message Received
Since that talk, I've seen a big improvement in his effort. As a result, he's gotten more scoring chances in games. He's winning more battles during drills in practice. He's finishing in the top three when his team skates mountains. (Those are line-to-line, full ice skating drills.) One of the other dads on his team even said something to me at practice the other day. He said, “What's gotten into Gehrig lately? He's skating like a kid on a mission. He's looking really good out there.”

Use A Setback To Help Him Improve
So if your son ever gets benched, moved to a different line, or loses some playing time, instead of scheduling a conference with his coach and getting defensive about it, use the situation to get a message across to your son. Talk to him about the situation. Look at it as an opportunity to help him get better. Especially if you know the reason why the coach made the move.

Let your son try to earn more playing time, his spot on the line, or position he wants to play on his own. Look at a situation like this to help him learn how to deal with adversity. If you honestly don't know why his coach made a move, then simply communicate with the coach. But don't be defensive about it. Come to your conversation from a place of wanting to help your son improve. Ask his coach what he's seeing out of your son.

Ask what he needs to work on and what areas he needs to improve the most. Don't let your focus be more playing time or a certain position. Instead, focus on helping your son improve. That's what it's all about.

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