Good coaches began leaving the profession ten years ago. Unrealistic parents with mutated priorities, administrators fearing these same priorities, and student-athletes using sport as a tool for self-promotion began to turn team sports into “me” sports. The inherent purpose of young adult sports – character development, teamwork, sportsmanship, and old-fashioned hard work – slid into a secondary position. The shift in priorities and the increasing distractions conflicted with servant coaches tending to their craft, leaving coaches to find new ways to make a difference outside of school sports.
Current Coaching Landscape
College football coaches Urban Meyer and Chris Petersen step in and out of coaching because they feel that teaching comes second to distractions. At his press conference where he stepped down as the head football coach at the University of Washington, Petersen spoke for departing players, parents, and coaches: “It becomes a lot of frustration and anxiety and stress. And some of the excitement and positivity and optimism can be pushed away, and that is never a way to lead your life.” Taming the chaotic minds of players, parents, and hangers-on creates pressure unrelated to the true purpose of sport. Coaches are stretched thin, parents are frustrated and student-athletes reported the highest levels of depression ever recorded. Few in sports are healthy.
The Next 10 Years
Should this trend continue, there will be a shortage of quality high school and college coaches that teach from the inside-out. As with broken systems, the intended benefactor, the student-athletes, will suffer. Mental health, true coping skills, and success habits will degrade for the next generation of parents, business professionals, and community leaders.
The void of core life skills will be filled by science and social media. The disproportionate reliance on science and data will mutate the core of our young adult's character. Recorded spin rate, dash times, and new personal records are chased and shared on social media. Being a good teammate and having the ability to fail, brush it off, and give one’s best effort to the team is not “liked” or “ranked”. Just as we see improvement when we record our stats, our collective choice to assign value adds pressure to the list of priorities. Where measurables are worshiped, the soul withers; student-athletes become commodities at their own expense. Sports, like the machines that measure them, turn games into mechanisms rather than preparation for life.
So, What Are We Chasing?
Less than 8 out of every 100 high school student-athletes go on to play college athletics, and only 2 out of every 100 make it on an NCAA DI roster. Of those that earn the opportunity to compete in college athletics, 2% are awarded some form of athletic scholarship – which are typically fractional scholarships.
Sports do not define the young adult. Sports are just one of many things they do. Young adults should be encouraged to pursue their dreams wholeheartedly. To give them their best chance at success, we need to first arm them with the necessary life skills team sports were intentionally created to deliver. Next, the dream should be their dream – not someone else’s. It’s easy to get caught up in the peer environment to chase the potential of a scholarship. In reality, doing the small things to create a good human being can create more opportunities to achieve success at the next level in sports and academics. High marks in the classroom and community service experience in high school can give student-athletes more opportunities to compete in sports at the college of their dreams, as these attributes can remove the dependency of an athletic scholarship. It’s time to reset our purpose as student-athletes, parents, administrators and coaches.
Change the Trajectory
An intense drive “down and in” rather than “up and out” means fighting for the person and the essence of sport; it's going past what can be gauged. The fight is scary because it's rigorous and dark where quantitative ends and qualitative begins. The abacus and brain study are not enough to define “good.”
What is the importance of contributing to a team? What is a person and what makes them healthy, thriving members of society? Tending to the human spirit is bolstering the untraceable. Designing a slick program to define “it” is as tough as understanding why Chris Stapleton sounds good or Michael Jordan transcends athletes of similar vitals. New information should prompt the simplifying questions. Driving down to ask more about human fundamentals is the job of the leader.
Extending questions to the most fundamental place means less infrastructure as we drive. What does the need for quality sleep and regimented eating tell us? Currently, it says that if you do “x” and “y”, you will perform better – a palatable truth. The question should answer more than just the ideal foods and length of sleep; it's not a simple equation.
Where in life does depth and discipline lead us to be better people, who happen to hit 22-foot jumpers? How do I eliminate crutches rather than polish them? If eating and sleep should be table stakes, what is a more critical area of life where I can embody both? One short answer is in conversations.
Conversations are reflections and premonitions. They take a team, even of just one or two, and real work. Each member of the team is better off if meaningful work has been done by all members. Clarity wins. Defining terms is the springboard of clarity. These brick pavers enable actions that create paths to integrity. This takes asking again, why? Keep driving.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain
Values, so hard to define, match small acts. This is less moral lecture and more truth from wise people before us. If the individual is a mind, a body, and a spirit, then is sleep more important than raw, thoughtful communication? A simpler question is, what should a person fight harder for; an ordered mind and tongue, or a nap at noon?
Athletes speaking to and being spoken to about “soul" fertilize primal and primary growth. The player is within the young adult. Reps begin with questions and words committed to bolster. Life’s simplest practice is what we read, how we train, and what we decide to give to others. This will take guidance from good old wisdom and good coaches.
To execute inside-out coaching, start with the reps of the mind, body and spirit. Value first what we Read, Train and Give for small private victories. Drill into these three areas to let honest conversations begin public development of teammates and teams.
"The two most important days for an athlete are when they start to play and when they remember why." – Team Sevwins
Create an Environment Focused on Development
Coaches enter the profession to make a difference in the lives of young adults. And at the same time, Athletes and parents view coaches as critical mentors. The building blocks to turn the tide are in place – we just need to get back to the basics. Use apps like Sevwins to train young athletes to be vulnerable by sharing their goals and reflections with their support network to keep everyone on the same page. The sports community can shift the trend by eliminating distractions, placing focus on young athlete life skills and opening honest dialogue between the athlete and those they trust.
Be present at sporting events and practices, provide guidance to parents, and enforce policies that support the coach and young adult character development.
Take a fresh look at the purpose of sports and the importance of your student-athlete owning their life. Dive deeper into conversations with your child to truly understand their perspective on why they play sports. Fuel their passion and growth by providing guardrails that allow them to learn by experiencing success and failure.
Understand that there is much more to life than sports. You define who you are, sports don’t define you. Learn from experiences outside of sports to better your performance in competition. Build intentional habits that lead to success in everything you do – for now and your next level. Strive to be better every day. Read daily to expand your mind and build strategic thinking, train to build a healthy body, give to elevate those around you and reflect often to learn from your experiences. Write down your goals and reflections. Use personal development, education and sports as a springboard to create opportunities.
Dive deeper in conversation to truly understand the young adults you are leading. Make it a top priority to engage in mutual conversation, communicate clearly, and understand the young athlete’s perspective. Spark reflection into the soul. Spread the love across the entire team by focusing on all individuals, not just those that reach out to you.
If you are a current coach – thank you for giving your life to the betterment of others. If you are a coach who left the profession, get back into it at your own pace. Your knowledge and leadership are needed. Use Sevwins to give your athletes direction, help them learn to reflect on experiences and grow by developing intentional habits that fuel the soul. Engage in clarifying conversations.