Responsible Sports

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5 Steps To Being A Good Teammate

January 31, 2010
(for parents, coaches and athletes!)

It’s no secret. The most successful teams in any sport all seem to share one trait in common: superior teamwork. The no-look pass. The effortless double play. A beautiful give and go. The partnership between two players or the ability of a group of individuals to come together and work in concert as one to achieve a goal is the signature of winning teams.

But being a good teammate is sometimes difficult. As Positive Coaching Alliance Executive Director and Founder Jim Thompson comments, “It is an intricate dance of cooperation and competition. For example, you may compete with teammates for playing time even while you (ideally) cooperate with them to defeat the opponent. Lots of room for disagreements, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and competing agendas.” Those teams that can master this delicate balance of cooperation and competition find themselves more successful, both on and off the field.

Teammates can have a profound effect on each other. Boston Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers, commented on teamwork in the latest episode of the Responsible Sports Podcast Series, “Let’s say I give a great half-time talk or pre-game talk. [Or] any coach saying positive stuff to get the guys up. There’s an impact there, you know? But when you have teammates doin’ it, when there’s a teammate who other teammates can trust, they know he has great character and they know everything he does is for the team, you can’t beat that.”

As parents and coaches we oftentimes ask our youth athletes to “be good teammates” but don’t always give them specific suggestions and tools to fulfill that request. So this month we once again turned to our partners at Positive Coaching Alliance to help us outline some actionable steps that we can all take to be good teammates. (And an important note before we get started: parents in the stands and coaches on the sidelines are teammates of youth athletes just as much as their fellow athletes. If you think of yourself as a teammate, responsible for supporting these athletes, you’ll see that these ideas apply to you as well!)

How can we, as parents, coaches and athletes, be good teammates? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Cheer

Teammates cheer for each other. When someone makes a great play, encourage them – from the field, from the bench and from the stands. Our friends at ASA Softball have a terrific tradition of cheering from the dugout as a team for the player up to bat – and as a team, they stick together to cheer the balls, strikes and hits – regardless of the outcome. Cheering for your teammates is a sign that you support them – that you have their back. Particularly when you are going through a slump, it’s important to know – and hear – that your teammates are still behind you and believe in you.

2. Remain Positive & Maintain Control

Universally, good teammates are those people who remain positive. They remain positive about themselves, and positive about their teammates. They quickly “brush off” mistakes by themselves and others and focus on the next play, the next opportunity, and the next game. They also maintain control, keeping their cool in difficult situations and not allowing their emotions to overtake the task at hand.

3. Talk!

Ever notice how great teams talk a lot? The best hockey teams on the ice are calling out things like “Reverse”, “Man On” and “1 on Hard” all game long. They’re calling out “drop pass”, “boards now” and “Far side!” Even the bench is helping out, yelling “Got 2” or “Slot!” When you see these players talking all game, they are not trash talking. They are communicating, sharing, directing and cooperating. Great teammates communicate throughout the game. That’s why coaches so often yell out, “Talk to each other!”

And great players don’t just talk during games. They talk a lot during practice as well, discussing how to play better together or sharing ideas on what worked and what could use improvement. Outside of practice, teammates are also connecting on a personal level, focused on the key insight that knowing each other better will translate to their performance during the game. How often do you hear in professional sports about a new wide receiver joining a football team and spending time with the quarterback in the off-season? It’s about building a rapport that then influences their partnership on the field.

4. Be a good example

Good teammates lead by example. Leaders on teams don’t need to be designated as “Captain” to be an influential leader. Doc Rivers cites Kevin Garnett as the type of player who leads by example. Our favorite example of Garnett’s leadership came last season when he was struck by a season-ending knee injury. Instead of withdrawing from his teammates, Garnett could be seen cheering loudly for his fellow teammates from the bench for every game, charting during practice and games to share valuable insights with his teammates and coaches, working with Glen “Big Baby” Davis. Even Paul Pierce commented that Garnett’s leadership was so valuable to the team that his presence was important from the bench even when he couldn’t be on the court.

Coaches and parents can help athletes see that each and every one of them can be leaders for their team. Together with your youth athlete, develop a list of values that you believe a good leader of a team possesses. Then jot down some ideas for how your athlete can represent those values during games and practices and how they can lead by example. With this mission in mind, you’ll be surprised what athletes can do!

5. Take responsibility

When things aren’t going well or when they get tough, it’s sometimes easy to blame mistakes on others. It’s human nature – and we know, it’s hard to resist the temptation to blame others. But good teammates take responsibility for themselves and their actions – good and bad.

A good friend to Responsible Sports once said: “When you point a finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you." This is a great reminder that pointing the finger at someone else neglects what your contribution may or may not have been. Good teammates resist the temptation to point fingers but instead recognize their responsibility and take ownership of what occurred – and then moves forward. As Jim Thompson likes to say, “Next!”

Being a good teammate is an essential part of Honoring The Game and contributes to the opportunity to translate the lessons of sports to the lessons of life. (Imagine if we all applied these very principles to our work lives.) Our goal is to be good teammates for the youth sports team we support, regardless of our role. Parents, coaches, assistant coaches, trainers, administrators, and of course the athletes are all members of the team and have the ability to elevate our collective teamwork to achieve our goals.

Have suggestions for fellow parents and coaches on how to foster teamwork? Email us and let us know. Or join our dialog on Facebook and add your comments to our discussion! We update regularly, so come see what’s happening today!

The Art of Responsible Criticism

November 19, 2009
The Magic Ratio: 5 praises to 1 criticism.

It’s a model that the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance have shared with us to help us stay focused on filling kids’ emotional tanks as they learn the skills (and joys!) of sports. Oftentimes we, as parents and coaches, have the Magic Ratio in mind because we need to deliver that one criticism. But we’re looking for how to deliver that one piece of criticism, in addition to those five praises, to ensure that our athletes hear and understand. If you’re like us, it’s one of the toughest things that we as Responsible Sport Parents and Responsible Coaches have to tackle.

So this month we’ve once again turned to our friends at Positive Coaching Alliance to help us focus on the keys to delivering that one criticism in a positive way to ensure that kids truly learn and improve.

Avoid Obvious Criticism
Most times, kids (and adults!) know when they’ve made a mistake. If anything, we’re our own worst critics. So simply telling a youth athlete what he or she already knows – the obvious – doesn’t necessarily move them forward or help them learn from the mistake. Sometimes just acknowledging the shared understanding is enough. “Brush it off. You’ll remember to get that glove down next time.”

Deliver Criticism In Private
No one likes to be embarrassed, especially in front of others. It’s much easier to receive criticism when it comes one-on-one and not in front of fellow teammates, opposing players or parents in the stands. Granted, sometimes this is tough to do when you are in the middle of a game. But watch coaches like Doc Rivers (an upcoming Responsible Sports podcast interviewee), who has one-on-one conversations with his players before and after they check out of the game.

Ask Permission
Jim Thompson, Founder and Executive Director of PCA, oftentimes talks about ‘changing the dynamic’ by asking players if they are open to receiving constructive criticism before delivering the message. When asked, kids oftentimes say “sure” – and when they do, they naturally have opened themselves up to listening and hearing a bit better. Jim reminds us, though, that if a kid says “no,” then we need to respect that and look for another opportunity. “Okay, let me know if you change your mind” can sometimes pique their curiosity to come back to you some other time and ask for you to begin the conversation.

Information versus Control
How often in our adult lives have we heard someone say to us: ‘it’s not what you say, but how you say it’? This could not be more true for delivering constructive criticism. When we as Responsible Sport Parents or Responsible Coaches can deliver information in a way that doesn’t feel like we’re trying to control, we’ll find a more receptive audience. The experts at PCA talk about creating “if-then” statements as a way to stress that information component. Instead of saying “you need to release the ball sooner” (controlling), you could say “If you release the ball sooner, then you’ll give our offense a great advantage with a quick transition.” It’s subtle, but powerful, and begins to make it clear why you’re seeking change.

Try Creating a Criticism Sand-wish
The analogy is an easy one to understand – sandwich a criticism in the middle of two positive things. “Your checks look great. Now you need to release the ball sooner. Keep up the great work sticking to your opponent on D!” The wish part? Try rephrasing your criticism into a wish. I wish you would release the ball sooner” When you do this, you’re not only delivering the criticism, but you’re also filling your kids’ emotional tanks by demonstrating that you’re interested in their improvement and not just controlling them or the outcome.
Just like we remind our kids: practice makes perfect. These aren’t easy to do. But over time, they do become easier. Your efforts will be rewarded with youth athletes who will continue to enjoy the game they love to play as they improve and grow both on the field and in the game of life.

One last thought: these lessons seem to be just as valuable for adults participating in youth sports. These tips, the concept of the Magic Ratio, and realizing the need for filling emotional tanks can also be valuable tools for Responsible Sport Parents to consider when addressing a coach. Providing feedback and criticism in a way that the coach and the organization can truly ‘hear’ it allows everyone to improve and move forward. It’s this very need to provide a framework for positive feedback that led us, together with the experts at Positive Coaching Alliance, to develop Responsible Sports Season Evaluation. Through this new tool, parents are able to provide constructive feedback that allows coaches and administrators to improve. So this season as you continue to practice the art of positive criticism with your athletes, consider leading by example and putting these same principles to use in soliciting and delivering organizational feedback.

Keep up the great work! Your commitment to creating a Responsible Sports environment is appreciated by so many. And please continue to share your thoughts with us. We enjoy hearing from all of you!

Determining Goals for our Kids in Sports

November 5, 2009
The "life lessons" portion of Responsible Sport Parenting starts with getting on the same page with our kids.
Once you consider those answers and recognize where you and your child agree and differ, you can establish common ground for conversations that will help you and your child get what you want from youth sports.

To start, let's talk about possible goals that you might have for your child. (And keep in mind, this is the beginning of a list – feel free to add others to the list.) Consider ranking them from 1-10 – what would be your top 3?

1.Become a good athlete
2.Learn to play the sport
4.Gain self-confidence
5.Learn to deal with defeat
6.Physical fitness
7.Learn "life lessons"
8.Have fun
9.Make friends
10.Earn a college scholarship
11.Other (specify: ___________).

Now, consider asking this same question of your kids. What are their top 3? You might be surprised to see what they are thinking. Getting "level set" through this conversation helps both of you get on the same page. And in the end, that helps both of you get the most out of the youth sports experience.

The ranking exercise serves several purposes:

Helps us as parents articulate and prioritize our goals
Reminds us of the educational and character-development opportunities in youth sports
Helps us talk with our kids -- as equals and in a spirit of partnership -- about their goals.
What also is interesting about this exercise is the diversity of responses – of our fellow parents as well as our kids. Why did you rank what you did as number one? And what did you think of your child's number one ranking?

Responsible Conversation: Parent & Coach

November 2, 2009
Research shows when we as parents support our children's teachers, students learn more. This concept can be transferred to sports, where kids will have a better sports experience if we work in unison with the coach to create a positive youth sports environment.

Recognize the Coach's Commitment
Coaches commit many, many hours of preparation beyond the hours spent at practices and games. Recognize that they do not do it for the pay! Try to remember this whenever something goes awry during the season.

Make Early, Positive Contact with the Coach
As soon as you know who your child's coach is going to be, introduce yourself, let him or her know you want to help your child have the best possible experience, and offer to assist the coach in any way you are qualified. Meeting the coach early and establishing a positive relationship will make conversation easier if a problem arises during the season.

Fill the Coach's Emotional Tank
When coaches are doing something you like, let them know about it. Coaching is a stressful job, and most coaches only hear from parents when they have a complaint. A coach with a full Emotional Tank will do a better job.

Don't Instruct During a Game or Practice
Your child is trying to concentrate amid the chaotic action of a game and do what the coach asks. A parent yelling out instructions hardly ever helps. More often than not, it confuses the child, adds pressure and goes against the coaches' instruction, which undermines the player-coach relationship, the player-parent relationship and the parent-coach relationship.

Don't Put the Player in the Middle
When parents share their disapproval of a coach with their children, it puts the children in a bind. Divided loyalties hinder people. Conversely, when parents support a coach, it is easier for children to put forth maximum effort. If you think your child's coach is mishandling a situation, do not tell your child. Just take it up with the coach.

Observe a "Cooling Off" Period
Wait to talk to the coach about something you are upset about for at least 24 hours. Emotions can get so hot that it's much more productive to wait a day before contacting the coach. This also gives you time to consider exactly what to say.