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How to Overcome Adversity in Youth Sports

11/20/2012 7:54:21 AM

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How to Overcome Adversity in Youth Sports

Contributer: Keith German

We know a Coach that began his first year coaching youth football this year. In fact, not only was the Head Coach new, but so were the Assistant Coach and most of the players. Typically, this is a recipe for losing games. In this instance, that’s exactly what has happened – a perfect 0-6 season. In fairness, we’ll make note that this team led late in two games, including against one of the undefeated teams late in the season, but in both instances watched the opponents come from behind late to win.

For most people, this would be devastating. However, this youth sports coach did something that few new coaches do – he set proper expectations early on. Rule #1 – have fun. Rule #2 – display proper sportsmanship (respect yourself, your opponents, the officials, and your parents). And, finally, Rule #3 – compete (give your best at all times).

This coach loved the kids. He lived for being around them. Make no mistake, he was tough at times and made them do station drills even if they just wanted to play football, but he knew that this discipline would allow them to develop as a team and a player. The “wins” would just have to take care of themselves, was his belief. He wanted them to win, to experience the joy of jumping up and down, high-fiving each other, going home with the family happy about the outcome – all those things.


However, this coach knew that mistakes would occur, even by himself, and these mistakes would have to be stepping stones to personal and team growth. He also knew that some parents would get on board, and some would struggle with not winning games. During the course of a season, times would get tough, and this coach wanted everyone to have something to fall back on; hence the team rules.

It’s uncertain whether this group of boys will return as a team next season. The fun thing about this age (9-10 in this instance) though is that they’ve made new friends and some may last a lifetime. In any event, this coach left these players with his favorite quote – “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.” He always told them that no matter what happens on or off the field to always LEARN. In summary, below are some things the coach learned through this first season experience:

  • Get Buy-in: set expectations early and communicate these to the players and parents.
  • Be Consistent: emphasize what’s important every chance possible.
  • Be an Example: model what you preach.
  • Be Patient: all parents may not support the “winning isn’t #1” plan. Emphasize player development over winning, but prepare and expect to win.
  • Be Humble: apologize after a mistake and learn from it. Some parents may not forgive you      though. Move on. Stay the course.
  • Always LEARN: make adjustments and corrections as appropriate and communicate these.

Here at FirstDown PlayBook™, we’ve used this story reflect on teachable moments in sports. For example, the New York Yankees have the biggest payroll in baseball, but they don’t win the World Series every year. The Dallas Cowboys have the biggest stadium and is the wealthiest sports franchise in America, but hasn’t won a Super Bowl since the turn of the Century and only one playoff game. The lesson in this story is this – “winning” must be defined and agreed upon as a team so that success can be measured. In this case of this first year coach and his team, were they successful? Based on the 3 Rules, and what we know about them, they were! How do you define winning and measure success with your teams?

As we prepare to publish this, we just learned that this team played two end of season games this past weekend. Why two? Because they WON their first game of the season – by a score of 26-6. Congratulations coaches and players!! We don’t have a picture, but we’re told that the players were jumping up and down and celebrating with high-fives with anyone they could find. #Success


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The who's who in the youth sports industry. Its membership represents more than 200 organizations/corporations serving 60,000,000 boys and girls registered in organized youth sports programs.