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Monday, April 25, 2011

Youth coaches: Be someone your players can trust

I heard an interesting conversation while listening to the radio recently.  The topic was youth sports and how difficult it is when a young person has to hear that they didn't make a particular “rep” or select team.

The guest was Dr. Paul Dennis, a psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto and also at York University.  I got to know Paul a bit when he was the long-time development coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs and he would on occasion invite me to give talks to young Maple Leaf prospects on topics such as understanding the media and the life skills that are part of becoming a professional.

Paul was asked about how it can be a crushing thing for the youngster to hear—and to deal with—hearing that they didn’t make a team.  He mentioned that it can also be very difficult for the parents, who of course support the aspirations of the youngster they love.

The conversation turned to how sometimes, a youth coach will tell a player they’ve made a team, but then turn around a day or so later (after perhaps seeing some new players show up for the tryout) that they didn’t make the team after all.

Paul then raised the very important issue of “trust”.  As in, how can you trust an adult when they promise you, or tell you, one thing, and then deliver something else?

It made me think and reflect on  the huge responsibility we all have as parents. When our youngsters look up at us, they want—and need—to believe us and believe in us. We sense that and do all we can to deliver not only “truth” but stand by our word to them.

When we are a youth sports coach, and those young people look up at us, they are truly looking up to us.  If they can’t trust us, can’t know for sure that our words matter, that our behaviour can be trusted, what will they feel about the world around them?  What do they learn about adults, about trust?

That’s perhaps something coaches should keep in mind, they next time they yell at a hard-working youngster for making a mistake, or think it doesn’t matter if they don’t follow up on the things they say they are going to do.

Youngsters need to see adults be fair to everyone, treat all young players with respect and dignity, regardless of playing ability.  Discipline has to apply to all.  Support for and credit to all, as well.  No playing favorites.

Character—including yours as an adult and a coach—should matter more than “winning”.  Words and behavior matter. Standing by your word matters.

 Kids will remember—for a long, long time.

And yes, trust matters—a lot.