Prospect Communication's Youth Sports Blog - "Taking You Beyond the Game!", features our own articles and commentaries that deal specifically with youth sports. Browse the site to read any articles that may be of interest to your sports organization. The articles are copyrighted to the authors (Michael Langlois & Mary-Louise Langlois) and they may not be reproduced without permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the site's content please contact us at inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

Prospect has a unique and specialized approach to communications skills and issues management geared towards those involved with youth and minor sports. Michael and Mary-Louise's work in this area is ideal for parents and coaches who want to make the most of children's involvement in sports.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

It’s not just youth sports coaches who sometimes make mistakes—we parents do, too

One of the most enjoyable (and I feel important) things that my wife and long-time business partner Mary-Louise and I have done in recent years is to utilize our background in communication to conduct seminars for youth sports Clubs.  Our focus is on how better communications can help coaches, for example, to do some simple but important things to build better and much more positive relationships—and outcomes— with their players (and with parents, too).

More than just communicating a bit better, coaches can and should work to build confidence and character in their young players. (In fact, that’s the title of our talk: How better Communication can help build Confidence and Character in young players.)  A lot of that can indeed be accomplished by being better at putting themselves in the shoes of their players—and the parents they interact with, too.

As parents ourselves, Mary-Louise and I made our share of “sports parent” mistakes over the past 25 plus years.  (Our eldest of four sons, now 33, first became involved in youth sports when he was 7 years old.)  While we encountered some wonderful people along the way, we also witnessed attitudes and behaviours that were toxic from some coaches and fellow parents. This life experience as “sports parents”, along with our background in communications and working in the amateur and youth sports field, has led to our offering the seminars that we do.

Lately, we have also begun hosting a program expressly for parents, to help them recognize small ways they can be better at understanding the needs of their own youngsters and also how they can become better at developing relationships with their child’s youth sports coaches. In fact, we just conducted a parent seminar recently for a large soccer Club in the Greater Toronto Area, and we were thrilled with the very positive response we received.

No coach—and no parent—is ever perfect.  Sadly, coaches too often coach to “win” at the younger ages when the real opportunity and focus should be to develop the skills and attitudes of all their young players—not just the select few who are bigger and faster and who seem to have the most obvious “potential”. This “win at all costs” mentality often results in kids leaving sports at a young age, because it simply isn’t enjoyable any longer.  

Surely the “job” of a youth sports coach is not to “win” but to ensure that all players learn, improve and enjoy the overall experience so much they want to stay in the sport that they loved to begin with.  In our talks we sometimes say to coaches:  if nothing else, at least do not kill the love that your young players have for the game.

And that can apply to parents as well, because we too often bring our over-invested emotions to the table, and it causes us to act out in the youth sports arena in ways that we never would in any other setting.  It’s not just “living through” our own children, though that can be part of the problem.  We push, criticize and develop expectations that are, in some instances, not realistic.  We ask for higher standards on the field of play from, say, a 9 year-old, that we can’t possibly attain ourselves in our everyday life.

In the end, we can do damage to our own kids, and that’s never good.

There are ways we can all be a bit wiser, more thoughtful, more positive, when we are part of the youth sports landscape.  If you represent a youth sports Club and would like to find out more about our seminars and how it can be a benefit to coaches and parents (and therefore to the youngsters at your Club), send me a note at Michael@prospectcommunications.com

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Brett Lawrie’s tantrum not the best message for aspiring young athletes

Being a professional athlete is a difficult and demanding job.  Individuals have to be not only exceptionally talented, but have worked long and hard to be among the one per cent of one percent who “rise to the top” of all those who began playing a particular sport as kids simply for fun.

In the same breath, while the financial rewards nowadays are handsome indeed for those who make it, athletes face a daily and very public pressure—besides their own personal performance expectations—from fans and the media.

It can be a bit too easy at times to criticize others when we don’t fully live through or understand the unique pressures someone else faces, including those often daunting public pressures and expectations facing many athletes.

That said, on occasion, a player will do something that makes a fan—or any interested observer—do a bit of a double take.  Such was the case recently when Brett Lawrie, the outstanding young third baseman with the Toronto Blue Jays acted out publicly in a game.

In the contest in question, the Blue Jays were trailing by several runs in the 9th inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles.  There were runners on first and third when young Lawrie, a talented and intense player, hit a fly ball to right field.  The ball was caught and the player on third base, teammate Adam Lind, did not attempt to score after the catch.

When Lawrie saw this (as he returned to his team’s dugout) he looked at both at Lind and the Jays third base coach, Luis Rivera.  He appeared to be saying something.  He was clearly agitated that Lind had not tried to advance, which was a decision made by the experienced coach.  The coach understood that Lind’s “run” was not important, given that the Jays were behind by several runs and there was a risk Lind, a slow runner, would be thrown out at home by the Orioles right-fielder, Nick Markakis, who has a very good throwing arm. 

The Jays needed a lot more than the run Lind might have scored on a risky attempt, yet Lawrie was visibly upset, and his anger carried over into the dugout where he was told by the team manager, John Gibbons, to calm down—with words, based on reading his lips, that were much harsher than what I just wrote.

What essentially occurred is that Lawrie had thrown a public tanrum, essentially publicly embarrassing and “calling out” (in sporting terms) a respected third-base coach (and former player himself) and his own teammate, Lind. 

Was Lawrie upset because the Jays needed that run, or because he missed a chance for a precious RBI—a personal statistical benefit which would also have helped his then dwindling early-season batting average?  (A player is not charged with an “out” or an official time at bat if he is credited with a run-scoring “sacrifice fly”.)

Those of us not in the team’s dressing room don’t know how teammates may have truly felt after the outburst.  But one could surmise that there are many major-league locker rooms (a successful organization like the New York Yankees, captained by the legendary Derek Jeter and with a legacy of success, might be one example) where it is unlikely that kind of publicly selfish behaviour would be tolerated.

It’s one thing to be an “intense” player who gives his all in endeavoring to help his team win.  It’s quite another to take that intensity and turn it against your own teammates (and coaches) and do so in a public fashion—because you put yourself above your team.

The Jays came back to win that particular game with a rather remarkable comeback after the Lawrie incident.  Interestingly, however, his behaviour was talked about more than the impressive victory.  And that may well be because a solitary victory in a 162-game season, while important, is nowhere near as important as how teammates treat and respect one another through the marathon that is a professional sports season.

Soccer has always been a sport, it seems, where professionals display their negative emotions in public toward teammates and for some reason, it is tolerated and accepted.  Yet such behaviour sets a terrible example for youngsters.  I’ve seen countless examples on youth soccer sidelines over the years of young players abusing officials, disrespecting adult coaches and criticizing their own teammates—by gestures and words—because they wanted to receive the ball at a certain location, or at a particular moment, whatever the case may be.

Where is this type of behaviour learned?  Usually in the home—or by watching what adult professionals behave like.

Regardless, when that kind of attitude of “blaming others” is learned at an early age, it can carry on forever.  That sense of personal entitlement and an accompanying lack of accountability sometimes never really leaves the individual. Watching an adult professional like Lawrie act out the other day was a reminder of what it was like seeing a much younger athlete with a huge ego (and who has always seen themselves as better than others) act immaturely.

Those “athletes”, those individuals, young or old, may indeed be “better” players than some of their teammates.  But their attitude is not.  And for a lot of us, being a good teammate and having the right kind of attitude is far more important than being “better” on the field of play.