I started running track in 4th grade. My coach was Mrs. Letourneau, and I loved her. She made me feel good, like I belonged on the track, like she was happy I was on her team. I continued running throughout junior high and high school, even branching out into cross country my sophomore year. Yes, I ran 100 meter sprints and 3 mile races, and I loved it all!
I grew up while running. I gained confidence, maturity, mental strength, and freedom. I learned about work ethic and responsibility and leadership and respect and success and failure. I met friends. I worked hard and fought hard - partly for me, but mostly for my team. I was part of something great! And, more importantly, I felt like I was a contributing part of that greatness. I was rewarded for all the aches and pains and bruises earned in the heat and rain and dust.
My coaches knew me. They knew what I did well, and what I didn’t. They built up my strengths and left the rest alone. I continued to get better and better at the things I did well, and my confidence grew; my self-concept grew too; and my performances improved. I was guided out of my comfort zone, I tried new events, and I pushed my limits. I was happy with the role I played on the team, and the effort I gave, and the reinforcement I was given. It was a two-way street.
I was encouraged to perform, but not pressured; I was rewarded for great effort, but not pushed; I was challenged to try, but not forced; and, I was free to be me.
I was never punished for a poor performance or for a bad decision, and believe me, there were plenty of opportunities. I remember feeling bad when I didn’t run well, but it was of my own doing. I was never yelled at or belittled or embarrassed by anyone - ever - at least not by coaches. Some of my teachers yelled and belittled and made me embarrassed sometimes, and I hated it, and I didn’t perform well for them. But that’s a different blog.
There were a lot of runners running “my” races, and the competition was there, but not the comparisons. I was genuinely happy for my team to win, even if it wasn’t me breaking the ribbon at the finish. That behavior was taught. Sportsmanship is learned.
Maybe times have changed, but as a coach’s wife and athlete’s mom, I am viewing the sport scene as something completely different than I experienced. I see stressed kids, upset parents and tense coaches. I see “work” rather than “passion”. I see a lot of frustration, and even if it’s because of “the game” it often appears to be because of “the player”. I’m confident that every athlete that risks playing a sport, unless they are forced to participate against their will, is giving their best effort. They might be burned out, from playing all year long; or tired, from getting up early most of the summer; or frustrated, from working hard all year for little playing time, but they’re there, and they’re doing the best they can do. We all need to remember to encourage our kids, to find what they do right, to remind them what they love about their sport, and show them how to react when all is good, and when it’s not so good.
What kind of seasons would we have if parents fully supported their kids coaches; and coaches encouraged their players through positive reinforcement and respect; and players had a little fun, played with passion, and brought the ‘game’ back into the sport?
Here’s to a great year!