I have truly enjoyed a pastime in raising my kids by coaching them. My eleven-year-old boy has been through 15 seasons of soccer. Watching him from his very start to the competitive intensity of games today has been pure joy as a dad and coach.
I can see similar pleasure from the many parents I have met over the years as they watch their child discover themselves and push themselves in competition. Sports is such a great ground for hewing out character and working through our gifts and peculiarities. It’s one of the fun parts of coaching. Each child has a unique psychology and bent. Trying to figure out how to connect with and motivate a kid to play their best can be pretty challenging, especially in heated moments.
I really do care about them and always feel a great deal of privilege in my own heart to be able to speak into their lives. Their parents give me this trust, and I never take it for granted. Ultimately, these kids will move on and become adults.
In many ways, an eleven-year-old is much easier to coach than an adult. While they do wrestle with self-doubts or trying to avoid failure, they listen and take instruction to heart. There are many leadership and life lessons that I try to share with them consistently as I coach. Things such as:
- Show respect. On a given day, a team can always beat another team. We happened to win a lot but have also lost some battles. Either way, it’s important to look the other person in the eye and show respect. Respect them for their hard play, but also for the fact that the tables can always be turned under different circumstances. That’s life. Winning and losing is full of probabilities, and having humility to appreciate this is wise.
- You can always control your effort. There are many opponents that we cannot control. They may have better skills because they worked longer on some areas than us. We may be having a bad day from home life or feeling ill. However, we can always make a decision to work harder than anyone else. That’s a choice. It’s also a habit. We work on that habit and mindset a lot, and I think it gives great confidence to the kids. Adults can learn the same. Every day, we can always outwork other people and control our effort.
- Don’t complain. Kids come from different upbringings and worldviews. I try and deal in reality. We accept that life is not fair…at all. In fact things are working against us all the time. When we fall, we don’t create drama. We get back up and play. Toughness and resilience pay off. We don’t blame other people, the refs or anything else that is outside our control. We focus on playing the game and doing it with determination and focus. I tell my business clients the same thing. If you expect life to be fair, you will be greatly disappointed. Deal in reality and keep on going.
It’s been a special season. Some of these kids have been with me for a while. I hope their little hearts take the leadership lessons with them and they succeed in whatever they pursue. That is how sports can shape us. We get to discover ourselves and learn how to overcome adversity. We get to step into leadership, especially leading ourselves first so we can be of value to others.
So when you play the long game of life, remember to keep leading yourself. The little guys have been figuring it out from a fun game that is a teaching haven.