The Education in Youth Sports

The hockey season is coming to a close for my son. This season I was the team manager. As the team manager I received an eye opening dose of the education provided to our youth by the sports they play. The experiences these boys had mimic life and taught them valuable lessons (positive and negative). Parents heed my warning that part of what follows in this article is explicit, so stop reading now if you get easily offended. At the same time, if you can handle it and want to find out how you can leverage youth sports to shape the character of your son or daughter, by all means read on!

When children play competitive sports suddenly alot is asked of them. They have a practice schedule they need to adhere to, a game schedule to meet, a dress code to follow and school obligations that must be meshed into all of that. Finally, they are asked to show respect for their coaches, managers, teammates and opponents. When they join the team they make a commitment to follow through in all of these areas. Failing in any of these areas is quite possibly going to teach them lessons that will stick with them all through their adult life.

The schedule is the first key component. We, as parents, must make our player understand that they must attend practices and keep their grades up. This quite probably will involve making some sacrifices on the player’s part. Instead of coming home from school and unwinding by watching television, they will probably need to do their homework or study for tests. This is so they will not miss practice.

Time management is a skill everyone really need to acquire, so why not when we are young? You, as the parent, are the guide and the role model. If you treat practice like it is optional your player will too. If you make appointments at times when a game is scheduled your player will treat obligations as optional events. How do you think your player’s future boss will deal with such an attitude?

Respect is probably the most important component of youth sports. Unfortunately, there is generally always a winner and a loser in sports. Lessons can be taught in both victory and defeat. Don’t shirk your responsibility as a parent. Teach your player that they need to respect te game, th coach, the team officials, the league officials and their opponents. Looking the other way will only result in disaster.

I started this article by mentioning that I am the manager of my son’s hockey team. Now I will tie it into the rest of this article.

Yesterday the team played for the Southern California championship. My own son had to learn a tough lesson right away. He sat on the bench.  This happened despite the fact that he was told the goaltender who worked the hardest during the week and had the right attitude before the game would be the starter.  The other goaltender was goofing around, not paying attention at dry land and generally not into the game, but he played anyway.  Could this have been the impetus for what would happen later?

The game progressed slowly.  Our team just did not have the hop in their step that we had become accustomed to and the other team took advantage.  They managed to score 2 goals on us while we were completely unable to score on them.  The final buzzer sounded and we had lost the game.  As is the tradition, the boys lined up for handshakes.  Our goaltender, the one who played in the game, went down the line and greeted every single opponent with “Fuck you!”  Then, during the trophy presentations, that same goaltender was giving the middle finger to fans of the winning team.  As they received the trophies they were to go down the line of the opposing team and shake hands again.  As this happened, our goaltender and one other player looked at several players and after hearing “Good game” from the opponent replied “Fuck you, nigger!” to those players.  I will remind you that these are 15 and 16 year old boys we are talking about.   These same players took their 2nd place trophies and threw them at the wall, breaking them into pieces right in front of three board members from our hockey organization.

I progressed down to the locker room to make sure my own player was doing ok.  I sat down next to him and the coach locked the door.  He began his speech by saying “I want everyone to stop what they are doing.  No more taking off gear until I am completely finished with what I have to say.”  He then began telling them that their behavior on the ice after the game was reprehensible.  He told them that they needed to lose with dignity and that they should always treat their opponents with respect.  He said that anything else was unacceptable.

As the coach spoke I noticed that the goaltender who had played the game was continuing to take off his gear.  He wasn’t trying to be quiet either.  It got so loud that I could no longer hear what the coach was saying.  After watching for a good 60 to 90 seconds, I spoke up and said “Josh, coach asked everyone to stop taking off their gear until he was done.  He isn’t done, so could you please stop what you are doing?”  Without hesitation, Josh responded “Why don’t you shut up?  You are not the coach, you are just the manager!”  I then responded back with “It doesn’t matter if I’m a coach or a manager, you were asked to stop removing gear until the coach is done, he is not done, so I am now asking you nicely to stop taking off your gear and show the coach some respect.”  Without hesitation again, Josh responded “Fuck you!”  I paused as I waited for the coach to say something.  After a few seconds of complete silence in the locker room and nothing from the coach, I responded to Josh.  “What did you just say to me?” I said in a stern tone.  Josh was tongue tied this time.  “You have no right to talk to me that way and it had better never happen again.”  He then responded “Why don’t you fuck off?”  It is at this point that I lost it.  I could feel the anger surging through my body.  I responded “Josh, you’d better just shut the fuck up because your attitude is going to get you in huge trouble.”  The coach finally stepped in and said “Mike, you should leave the locker room so I can deal with this.”  I got up and started to go when Josh’s friend on the team spoke up and said “What kind of manager are you that you would cuss at a kid?”  I ignored the comment, but it underscores my the point I am trying to make.

It is important for you to note that Josh responded to me without hesitation. He did not think about cussing out an adult.  He did not consider what he was saying.  He said what he said because that’s what he wanted to say.  The ramifications of those actions didn’t matter to him.  His friend was no different.  He was going to stick up for his buddy no matter what the consequences, even though I’m sure he knew (and later it was confirmed) that what his buddy did was dead wrong.

This boy (the goaltender) has had trouble all season long.  He shows up late for games.  He skips practices.  He has gotten 4 penalties during the season, even getting involved in a huge brawl at a Christmas tournament.  Despite this behavior he was rewarded with playing 3 championship games this season.  My own son worked hard each time to get the team to those championship games.  He played in 5 must-win games this season and played well enough to get his team the win each time.  Each time the other goaltender was given the next game.

There were lessons learned by both goaltenders in this situation.  The one, Josh, learned that he can do and say whatever he wants and he will still get to play the “big games.”  My own son learned that even if he works the hardest, performs the best and has the support of 90% of the families on the team, he still won’t get the rewards he deserves.  Now, I am not sure how Josh’s parents handled him after the game, so I cannot tell you whether or not Josh will learn anything positive from his confrontation with me, but I can tell you how I handled it with my own son.

First, I told him that I was very proud of how he acted.  He was told 1 minute before game time that the decision was to play the other goaltender.  He didn’t disrespect his coach.  He put his gear away and sat on the bench.  After the game he showed respect for his coach, his team and their opponents.  He went off the ice without throwing a tantrum.  I reinforced his behavior by emphasizing how much I respected him for his attitude.  I let him know that in life you will not always get the rewards you feel you deserve.  Many times you won’t get the rewards you truly do deserve.  However, you still have to act with dignity and respect because at the end of the day, that’s all you have left–your character depends upon it.

Next, I let him know that he will eventually need to speak to his coach about his feelings.  He informed me that he had lost alot of respect for his coach–not only for not playing him after saying the player with the best attitude would play, but also for his coach’s failure to properly handle the situation in the locker room.  Matthew told me “Dad, it should have been the coach telling Josh to stop undressing, but as usual, Josh can do whatever he wants and not get in trouble for it.”  Thus, I made it clear to Matty that he would need to talk to his coach and that he would need to be honest.  At the same time, I emphasized that he would still need to approach that situation with respect and dignity.  The lessons were clear here and he still has to deal with the coach situation.

As parents we cannot sit idly by and let these things go.  I had to walk the fine line between parent and team official.  However, at no point was I going to allow my principles to be compromised.  Thus, the impetus for this article should be clear.  Don’t shirk your responsibilities.  Failure to correct poor behavior will result in major issues for your children later in life.  Failure to guide them in the proper way to handle things will result in a long string of failed jobs and failed relationships as they move forward in life.  It is our job to use these types of situations to teach our children the right way to behave.  Many parents avoid it because it means a confrontation.  I say you should embrace that type of confrontation as it is molding your child into a better human being.

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  • Dennis Chighisola

    To be honest, Mike, I spent the time reading about the last half of that article with my mouth wide open.

    As a hockey coach, I hope I’ve handled things better than your team’s coach. To be honest, the discipline problems you described only culminated after that last game; they were fostered — and likely even encouraged — over the course of the long season.

    For sure, you were right in the way you handled your side of things. In the end, all you can really be responsible for is your own son. You guys, I suggest, will have some fun years ahead. Josh and his family, on the other hand, are very likely in for some really tough times.

    Thanks for sharing all that. I sense you might save some who read it, IF they have an open mind.

  • Mike

    Dennis, you are absolutely correct. There were rules set up at the start of the season and many of them were allowed to slide because they were thought of as less important. That is what lead to the final incident. The boys (some of them) got the idea they were too good for the rules and could do what they wanted, when they wanted. I have not let this situation go either. I have pushed it to the point where I am certain some severe discipline is going to be handed out.