There are thousands and thousands of youth sports teams, but how many of them are really doing team the right way? As a sports mom for 21 years, I watched my kids play on over 100 teams, and if I am being honest I will have to say that a lot of them had no clue about how to do team the right way. What makes a good team? As a coach, here are the team characteristics you should be striving to nurture, and as a parent, here’s the kind of team you should be seeking. It won’t happen every season, but when it does, it’s almost magical.
Good teams don’t take no for an answer when it comes to believing in kids. I’ve seen how belief empowers a kid. When my son was a senior QB, he played a game that he would rather forget. It was rainy and muddy, and as a result, the offense was disastrously sluggish. My son feared he might lose his job. On Monday, Coach called him into his office, and it wasn’t to fire him. Instead, he told my son that he believed in him and gave three reasons why he wanted my son to succeed. Knowing that his coach believed in him gave my son the strength to come back the next week with an outstanding offensive performance. Good teams look for the positive. Talk about the positive, and affirm the good in kids. Good teams don’t hold past mistakes against kids. Good teams look for ways to help all kids succeed.
Good teams know how to celebrate the small victories or the one person's success. Sometimes parents and coaches overlook small victories because they are too busy looking for the big stuff–the touchdown passes, winning goals, home runs, or game-high points scored. While it’s okay to rejoice in those successes, coaches and parents should never overlook the small victories or the one person’s accomplishments. Small victories are different for every player and every team. Small victories are subtle; many parents and coaches miss them because they are too busy focusing on the negative while waiting for the really BIG victories to come along. A small victory may be the team’s ability to work as a team instead of playing selfishly. It may be running the offense correctly or cutting down on turnovers. And a small victory may be only one person’s achievement. Maybe one player was finally victorious on learning a certain skill that another teammate had already mastered. Good teams don’t forget to celebrate the one or the small because good teams care about each individual as an individual, not just as part of a team.
Good teams don't take themselves too seriously. Let me say this bluntly: parents and coaches need to lighten up. Youth sports issues are not life or death. Laughter during practice--at appropriate times--is a good thing. Hard work and fun can co-exist. Teams who take themselves too seriously and can’t tolerate some lightheartedness or can never get to the point of laughing at their mistakes, are missing a lot of the fun that can come from being part of a team. It could even be argued that a team who laughs together, wins together.
Good teams see potential in kids when no one else does. What is potential anyway? The dictionary definition describes it as a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed. Every child has some skill or ability. The challenge is for the coach to find that skill and help the child develop it. A good team will be honest about kids’ skills, recognize that each player his his unique gifts, and then help each player develop that ability. Perhaps you are thinking that is a lot to ask of a coach, but that’s why coaching kids is such a huge job. Coaches should not just be building teams to win, they should be building up humans to succeed and grow in character.
What do you do when your child is stuck on a team that is not “good”? At this point, you have a choice to make. Will you stick it out and do your best to change the team’s culture so that it is a “good” team? Or will you move on to a team that is already “good”?