Playing sports is number one about having fun. That we know. One of the most important aspects of having fun is having success. In sports, most success is based on the score: if you win it was a success; if you lose it was a failure. That focus on the score and the value placed on it at the youth level (you won and you lost) is why keeping score is oftentimes viewed negatively. Keeping score is not the problem, the problem is the disproportionate amount of emphasis placed on the final score in determining the success of a player or team. Don’t be mistaken, there is nothing wrong with keeping score and/or winning and losing. And there is nothing at all wrong with wanting to win. Experiencing and learning from both winning and losing is an important part of the sports experience, even at the youth level. It is the emphasis placed on the score and the inability of the adults involved to understand how to handle the score and effectively use it as a teaching tool, that is the true core of the issue. To change the “score/winning = success” focus that plagues youth sports, we have to learn to measure success in different ways and set goals accordingly. Setting goals is an important factor in providing consistent motivation, measuring development/improvement and taking the focus off of the score, which will allow the athlete (or team) to have measurable success no matter how the final score shakes out. Here are simple ideas/guidelines to keep in mind when setting goals for your team or athlete.
Set Realistic Goals:
Any goals you set must be realistic for your athlete or team. You don’t want to be too ambitious and be faced with a situation where the athlete or team can never have any success, that isn’t any fun, doesn’t teach them anything and will only serve to demoralize the group. Also, don’t set goals that are so easy that accomplishing them requires no effort or motivation, that offers no benefit to anyone. If your child scored 10 goals in the previous soccer season and is moving up to a higher level of competition shooting for 15 goals is probably not realistic. But if your child scored 10 goals during the previous season and is in the same league, the same level of competition with a year more experience and physical development, then 15 goals might be a realistic goal. Each case is different and has many factors but if you set goals too lofty they never learn success, set them too low and they never experience having to challenge themselves. Neither is particularly helpful in terms of teaching, development or encouraging participation.
Give the child a say in what their goals should be:
Ask your child their opinion on what their goals should for a practice, game or season. You know them best and can help them to set productive, realistic goals. If your child tends to be a little more apprehensive/cautious, challenge them a little more show them that they are capable of more than they believe they are. If they lean towards wanting to do everything and setting lofty goals, you can help them realize that what they are shooting for might be a little unreasonable. Consulting the coach also offers key feedback/perspective and also makes the coach aware of the specific goals and allows the coach to help support the player during practices and games. By giving the child a say and then discussing it with them, the child will feel more empowered and energized to achieve all they can.
Discuss what it will mean to achieve the goal/Why is this goal important
Context is important. If the child doesn’t know/understand the value, or the importance, of accomplishing a particular goal, then they likely won’t be as invested in achieving it. They need to understand what accomplishing the goal will mean, in order to become committed to it. Using the 10 goal example from earlier in this article, If you said: ” I want you to score 10 goals because I want you to score 10 goals” that doesn’t mean as much as: “scoring 10 goals this season, against better competition shows you improved tremendously and your hard work and practice has paid off.” The same number of goals, against the improved competition, likely means vast improvement.
Don’t pick too many/Focus on what your team needs most:
If you have more than three goals at a time, then you have none (and even three might be too many). You can’t focus on everything so focus on what your team/athlete needs most. The great thing about goals is they can be fluid and changing as the season goes on. You may start out thinking your baseball team needs major help in catching fly balls so you focus on it and during the first game, they are perfect at fly balls but made five throwing errors. That next week of practice you can bet that you should focus on the most common throws that need to be made in a game. Once the throws are under control, you may notice they are striking out an extraordinary amount of times per game. That next week you will focus on getting the team extra swings in the cage. Focus on what the team needs and never on more than three goals at any one time.
Make them 100% self-improvement based (not competing with anyone else)
This is crucial. The goals should be 100% about self-improvement. It should never be a competition against anyone else. Here is what I mean: Setting a goal of: “scoring 10 points a game this season vs. the 8 points they scored per game last season” is a healthy goal. Setting a goal of: “Scoring more than another kid in the league”, not so healthy. Both may very well lead to the increased scoring but one puts the focus on themselves (which they can control through effort and work) and one puts the focus on someone else (which they have no control over). Always focus on self-development and the results will happen.
Build on the goals each week/game:
This is very effective in promoting the development of skills and leads to exponential improvement. If the first baseball game of the season your child’s goal is to “get on base three times” and they accomplish it but in the process, they also struck out once, great! The next week add to that goal by setting the goal of “get on base three times and no strikeouts”. If they accomplish that then next game “get on base three times, no strikeouts, and steal a base”. This challenges them to keep what they accomplished and build on it. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect them to accomplish everything each game and that’s fine. The point is to challenge them to push their limits and show them they can accomplish more than they think.
Goals should ALWAYS be in line with the team goals (Don’t put your goals before the team):
I am a big believer in the power and experience of being a part of a team. Everyone bringing different talents and skills together to achieve a common goal. In a team situation, putting your goals above the team, to the team’s detriment, is not acceptable. Example: A child on a baseball team has a goal “to steal a base every game” and so every time the child gets on base they attempt a steal. Even if they are successful most of the time there is still a large percentage of the time that they hurt their team because they get thrown out costing their team an out and a base runner. They may get their “one stolen base a game” goal but it will cost the entire team a ton of opportunities. That doesn’t show respect for the team and won’t earn them any respect from the team either. This is where consulting the coach is a good idea to get input to as what some appropriate goals are for your child might be and how they can be in-line with the goals of the team.
Kids are never too young to learn the power and benefit of setting goals. Setting a goal, creating a plan, putting in the work and then achieving that goal is a tremendous feeling and can help them build the mindset of success. Setting a goal, creating a plan, putting in the work and falling short can help build a mindset of determination and perseverance. Experiencing successes and failures, and learning how to move on from both, are necessary, and important, in the development of children. BUT It’s not necessarily whether they succeed or fail (both are valuable experiences) it’s about the process. The process of setting a proper goal, working towards it, learning how to handle the result and moving forward.
Thank you for reading. If you have a topic/idea you would like me to discuss or thoughts on the article please feel free to reach out to Chris@coachchrissports.com.
“Try your best.” We have all heard this hundreds or thousands of times in our life, and like anything else that you hear over and over, it can quickly become white noise and lose its true meaning. Especially when you haven’t ever sat down and thought about what it means to truly “try your best”. It is the first part of the slogan for Coach Chris Sports. I mean if you don’t try your best whats the point of trying at all? Whatever it is, sports, school, life, art if you’re going to do it and care about the result you should give your best effort. One of the reasons I think sports are so powerful is that sports imitate life. I know, I know, the familiar saying is “art imitates life” but sports do too and often much more clearly. In one word, trying your best means: FOCUS! If you have truly tried your best and FOCUSED then you will have no regrets. To focus on something requires: setting a specific goal, planning, practice/sacrifice, performance, and reflection.
Setting a Specific/Realistic Goal:
This is the start of truly trying your best. You have to know what, specifically, you are trying your best to achieve. It sounds simple but without clear goals, children are just wandering. Your child will improve just by playing and participating but having a clear goal gives them benchmarks of achievement to strive for and helps them build confidence. Whether your child wants to score more points in basketball, make fewer errors in baseball or lower their time personal record time in a particular swimming event you must start with specific, realistic, achievable goals with a clear endpoint. Map these goals out and WRITE THEM DOWN! Help them to keep a log of how much time, effort and focus they allocated to the goal. For strategies and tips on how to set appropriate goals for your child, see my blog post: Setting Goals and Achieving Success
So now you have a clear goal, great! For your child to improve and achieve their goal, they are going to have to dedicate time, energy and effort to practice. Ask, their coach what the best way for them to improve on that skill would be and make a clear plan. If they want to bring their batting average up they will need to spend more time in the cage “taking cuts” so maybe 100 extra swings each day after practice is a solid place to start. If they want to improve their math scores they need to spend twenty extra minutes a night doing extra sample problems. Make the parameters clear and agree to what the minimum EXTRA practice will be to achieve their goal and agree to it. When they have met their end of the agreement (done their extra 20 minutes or taken their extra 100 swings), then they are done and the practice for that day is over. If they decide on their own that they want to do more, fantastic, but if they don’t, congratulate them on keeping their end of the bargain and let them walk away from that practice session. This way you acknowledge their effort and avoid burning them out because it is no longer “fun”.
With only so many hours in the day, it likely means they are going to have to give something up. They may have to spend less time playing video games or hanging out with their friends. It might mean getting up earlier to get extra work in before school. Whatever sacrifice they might have to make to reach their goal, make the sacrifice and the duration of that sacrifice as clear as possible beforehand. While they are in that period of sacrifice, use positive reinforcement to keep them energized and consistently remind them of how much they have improved. This is where a clear end or sacrifice/practice duration is key. If they have an endpoint in sight it will be easier to keep them on track if the goal is too open-ended, they might give up because it feels like it will never end or is unachievable.
This is where all the hard work comes together and it is time to see their efforts pay off. If it is their next basketball game (where they are trying to score more points) or the day of the math test (if they are trying to improve their grade) this is where it all comes together for the big finale. But performance isn’t just actually playing the game or taking the test, it includes final preparations leading up to the performance. Things like getting a good night’s sleep, making sure their equipment is in good condition so you are not scrambling the next day, having quality food the day of the event, reminding them of all the DOCUMENTED extra work they have put in and taking a moment to visualize their success. Setting them up in this manner will leave them feeling confident that what they are putting out is their best work. That alone can have a huge effect on the final performance.
Immediately following the game or performance, after it is all done, regardless of the outcome, acknowledge their sincere effort and tell them simply: “I love watching you play”. Do not poke and prod or even heap praise immediately following the game or performance. There is no need to analyze in that moment. Why? Because your child knows whether they achieved their goal or not and if you, and your child, have done the work, then they will want to discuss when they are ready. When that time comes be ready, willing and available to listen.
What If they achieve their goal:
One of the best things about setting goals is achieving them. If you child reaches their goal congratulate them, celebrate it and remind them that their dedication paid off. This should serve as a perfect example that they can accomplish any goal if they focus and give it the proper attention and effort. Make a big deal of it! Even a little mini celebration will reinforce their success and build confidence. Get ice cream at their favorite place, let them have extra time doing something else they enjoy, take them on a special outing whatever it is recognize these facts:
- They had a part in setting a realistic goal
- They agreed to the work that needed to be done
- They committed and did the work!
- The work paid off
This is a very powerful lesson and process for the child to be a part of. This blueprint will transfer to other facets of their life and will have a lasting positive impact on them, long after their sports career is over.
What If they don’t reach their goal:
Congratulate them on their effort but also be realistic. Failing is nothing but a step toward success so you don’t want to harp on the negative but you can’t ignore it either. You do want to drill down and analyze, what they could have done to better prepare? Did they put in the work they agreed to? Did they focus? Get their input as much as possible. Ask them if they feel like they truly committed to the process and if they held up their end of the bargain. Most kids, believe it or not, will acknowledge when they have been slacking or they didn’t give their best effort. If they admit that they could’ve done better in one aspect or the other, don’t admonish them for it, just acknowledge it and begin to work with them to offer ideas/solutions to how to get it done next time.
Now it is time to set a new goal and go through the whole process of setting a specific goal, practice/sacrifice, performance, and reflection all over again.
Trying your best in any activity whether it be school, sports, work or anything else is not just about what the child does in that the moment on the field, the day of the test or the afternoon of your big presentation: it is about creating a mindset that allows them to achieve the best result possible, as frequently as possible.
Anyone who has played any amount of sports has had games where you “left it all on the field” the game is over and you have nothing left; physically, mentally or emotionally. They had a clear goal, prepared, sacrificed, visualized and came up short but still walked with their head held high because there was nothing more they could do. Sometimes you come out with a win, sometimes with a loss but knowing that you truly did “try your best”, is extremely powerful and pays dividends in endless ways, for the rest of their lives, no matter what the “scoreboard” says.
If you are a parent, or parent coach, looking for some guidance on navigating the waters of youth sports. I offer online consulting to answer your questions and help you create a positive experience for you and your child to get the most out of youth sports. You can find out more information here: Youth Sports Consulting or email Chris@coachchrissports.com