What kind of person is your youth sports athlete becoming?

What kind of person is your youth sports athlete becoming?

When you cheer for an exciting touchdown run, an amazing soccer goal, an unbelievable volleyball dig, or a buzzer-beating shot, you celebrate the success of physical effort. In that moment, you probably are not thinking about character development. But when the sports equipment gets put away and uniforms are washed, what kind of person is your athlete? Will he walk away from sports with more than just trophies and team photos?

You’ve heard over and over that sports can teach kids life lessons, but exactly what traits should we want our kids to walk away with when they are done with the game?

There’s nothing more annoying than watching cocky athletes taunt and draw attention to their accomplishments. Team mates do not respect them and spectators are not impressed by them. It is much more fun to watch talented humble athletes–classy is the word that comes to mind–who let their performance do the talking, instead of their mouths.

On the other hand, humility should not be mistaken for lack of confidence. An athlete who has confidence (with perhaps a touch of swagger) plays better because he is playing without fear. A fearful athlete plays tentatively. It’s too bad we just can’t bottle self-confidence and pour it on our kids’ cereal every morning. Although we can’t force feed our kids self-confidence, we can expose them to situations–such as sports–where they learn to acquire it themselves.

Vince Lombardi said, “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” There is no better place than in the arena of sports, where athletes battle mental and physical obstacles, to learn the importance of persistence. And when they do, they will carry that character trait with them as they advance on from athletics to the arena of real life.

When my son played high school basketball, he earned the reputation of being a team player. He was not out to pad his stats; he was out, he said, “to make the other players on the team look good.” That selfless attitude earned him the respect of his teammates and at the same time allowed him opportunities to have some high scoring games.

Let’s praise our kids after games when we see glimpses of these traits and then let’s high-five their athletic efforts. After all, the amazing athletic feats will fade in our memories, but character traits developed will last a lifetime. 

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