Youth sports

One of the main reasons parents steer their children toward youth sports is so they can learn how to be part of a team.

Athletics is unique because it’s one of the few settings where kids are exposed to and actively taught how to work together with others in a group. Knowing how to do this is an important and valuable skill that has relevance in many areas of life, especially in relationships with family and friends, and later on in the workplace.

The first and perhaps most critical step in learning how to be a good team member involves the skill of getting along with others. This isn’t always easy for kids (or adults!) to do.

A team consists of a group of individuals who are different in many ways. It’s unlikely every youngster will be good pals with all of his or her teammates, either on or off the fields and courts. And there’s nothing wrong with that; players don’t have to like every person on the team. But they do have to, at the very least, respect and support each other.

• Make positive comments to teammates. Avoid negative comments. 

Some coaches believe “kids will be kids,” and that they’re just naturally going to say mean, nasty and ugly things to each other. While there might be some truth to that, it’s no excuse or reason for a coach to ignore negative comments or allow them to happen.

Coaches must step up and teach players that this kind of conduct is inappropriate and unacceptable. The last thing coaches should want is to create an atmosphere – or allow one to exist – where any youngster is bullied and ridiculed.

That’s why all players need to understand and learn that negative comments are out-of-bounds and will result in negative consequences. It’s up to coaches to preteach this expectation to players and to follow through with consistent teaching and consequences when kids misbehave and when they get it right.

• Ignore irritating behaviors. Don’t escalate a situation.

Almost every group of kids has its share of youngsters who mess around and do and say things that irritate others. When this kind of misbehavior happens, it’s important to stop it right away and not respond in ways that make the situation worse.

Obviously, coaches can do this through remaining calm and teaching, but players also can do their part. The best course of action is usually to keep quiet and/or walk away. When kids choose to do this, they’re doing their part to keep inappropriate behavior in check and prevent situations from escalating.

Sometimes, misbehavior from other players might get to be so bothersome that it’s hard for kids to stay quiet or walk away. If this happens, they should come to you for help. Once you’re aware of what’s going on, you can address and resolve the situation so players don’t feel compelled to take matters into their own hands.

Also, praise a youngster for asking for your help, and try to keep the issue between you and the youngster. This shows players they can trust you and your ability to take care of any issue, concern, or problem they might have with other kids on the team.

• Remember that everyone is here for a common goal.

Coaches, parents, and kids might think this tip is about winning. It’s not. What it’s about is why kids play sports in the first place: to have fun, to get fit, to be with and make friends, to learn skills and to be part of a team.

Off the fields and courts, it’s normal for players to have different likes and interests and to be different from each other in many ways. What kids must understand is that the moment they arrive at practices and games, they need to put aside their differences, come together and do everything they can to help the team and their teammates achieve common goals.

First and foremost, this means getting along with other players by respecting and supporting them. When this happens, all players have a better opportunity to achieve and succeed and to have the kind of positive athletic experience they want and deserve.

Teaching kids to get along with teammates is a key ingredient to creating a healthy and positive team where kids have fun and feel comfortable learning new skills.

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Kevin Kush of Boys Town wrote this guest blog for momaha.comKush has been a teacher and coach for more than two decades and is widely recognized as an outstanding motivational speaker. He has been honored as an ABC News “Person of the Week” for leading his Boys Town High School team of at-risk youth to an undefeated regular season. He is also the co-author of "Competing with Character," where he examines the good and the bad going on today on youth playing fields, along the sidelines, and in the stands. "Competing with Character" is a guide to creating an environment where character, sportsmanship and fun are once again priorities youth sports. 

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