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Oct 30

Five Keys to Character Development

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USA Hockey posted this article. I made several modifications for application to other sports. I believe this is very valuable information to share with parents in the beginning of each season, or you can use it to remind them throughout the competitive year. We all have dealt with overzealous parents!

Jim Thompson is the founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA), a national non-profit organization dedicated to building ‘better athletes and better people.’ He believes in helping athletes to develop positive character building through their youth sports experiences across the country (USA).

PCA wants youth and high school coaches to be “double-goal” coaches, meaning they should emphasize success both during and outside of practice and competitions to build “better people.” When Thompson meets parents for the first time, he poses the question “should you be ‘double-goal’ parents?” He knows that the majority is going to respond “yes.” However, after his reply, “no, no, the first goal belongs to whom?” they seem to get it, he says. “The parents should be ‘second-goal parents’ because they need to focus on life lessons – the actual ‘character piece’.”

  1. Clarify Parental Responsibilities

Thompson’s message to parents is that they are not responsible for what happens on the ice, arena, court, pool, rink, or soccer field. They are, however, responsible for the way athletes grow throughout their time in sport involvement. “We ask parents to focus on the character lessons that they want the kids to take away, and look for that.” This becomes really difficult when athletes are doing well in games or competitions, and parents go nuts. While this is fine, ultimately that success doesn’t really have much connection with the kind of people these athletes are going to be. “It is the effort they put into getting better; it is the support he/she gives to his/her teammates.”

  1. Manage Parental Emotions

This is never easy! Every time the child steps on the sporting field, he/she may be subject to questionable calls, disqualification in swimming, goals disallowed, and maybe questionable final results. Events and expectations also intensify when athletes age up. It is important to remember the real reason the child is actually involved in the sport. The way parents act in the stands, at the sidelines, at the pool site, in the lobby, or in the car after the game can impact the child’s development and motivation to continue.

How can you as the parent keep your cool during an action-packed game or competitive event? Thompson has tips for before, during, and after the game or event.

  • Before arriving at the sport venue, have a plan for ways to handle questionable plays, decisions, or frustrating situations. Thompson reminds parents that bad decisions by officials happen at every level, so it’s worthwhile to prepare.
  • “If you’re a person who’s really bothered by bad calls or decisions, and have trouble controlling yourself, you need to develop a so-called “self-control routine”, according to Thompson. If something happens that you don’t like, you need a “go-to routine” that you can actually practice. Maybe turn away from whatever is happening, take two or three deep breaths, count backwards from 100, or do something to keep from embarrassing yourself and embarrassing your child. “Believe me, kids are embarrassed by their parents when they act like idiots in the stands. Even if they don’t say it or don’t dare tell their parents that they are embarrassed.”
  1. Making Parents “Culture Keepers”

Thompson recommends that coaches meet with parents at the beginning of each season to remind them that coaches are the ones responsible for dealing with referees, decisions, and opponents. After setting forth a team philosophy, teams can also choose so-called “culture keepers” – a number of selected parents tasked with keeping other parents in check at events. The upset parent is more likely to respond positively if the coach wants the team to honour the competition, and when all parents have agreed to be “culture keepers.”

  1. Beware of Distorted Parental Perception

Thompson acknowledges that it is difficult to watch events that go astray, especially when parents care about their children’s athletic efforts. It relates to the psychology concept of “distorted perception”, particularly when parents really want their children to win and do well. If officials or referees make bad decisions that go against the opposing team or competitor, we don’t say, “Oh man, that was a bad call. We tend to see officials’ actions with a certain bias.”

  1. Stay Focused on the Child’s Development

Parents need to remember the most important factor, namely that it is about children’s development. The way they approach a given situation teaches their children certain character traits that last a lifetime. “If a child scores a goal, wins an event, everyone is cheering, and that is great”, Thompson said, “you can cheer too, but look for the “glue” action, i.e. things that build team spirit and membership.” If a child makes a mistake, your son or daughter should say, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get it back, you’ll do better next time’ and pat him/her on the back.” Look for those things that make an athlete a better person. You’re supporting your teammate(s) when he/she/they make mistakes. Children demonstrate resilience when they make a mistake but rather than hang their heads, they ‘hang’ in there.

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