What makes a youth sport experience great?

Is it the games? Is it the coach? Is it the referees? Is it the skill development? Is it the snacks? Is it the league standings? What is it? Or is it a combination of alot things? What makes for a great youth sport experience?

I recently had the privilege to attend the Change the Game conference at Boston University and learn from the ideas of some great providers and innovators of youth sport. 

It got me thinking what defines a great youth basketball league/team/academy experience.  I realize this answer is going to vary depending on the lens you are looking through.  Depending on whether you are a participant, a parent, a coach, a coach of an older team hoping this league feeds players into them, or the provider of the program.  Each group has a different desire, a different lens they view the program through.  

Too often programs are created purely with the self-interest of one group and then other groups are convinced that this program is the most beneficial to them. This reality usually is loaded with unintended consequences for the other groups in satisfying the one primary desire of one group (ranging from frustration, slowed development, increased spending, to reduced number of participants continuing).

The answer to this question is not easy and definately doesn’t appear to be universal . However, I believe a great place to start is by looking at the situations you are directly involved and start asking questions:

  • What is important to our target audience? What do they hope to get out of  participating in our program?
  • What is our goal as a program? Does our programs actions and structures build towards that goal, our compete with it?
  • How could we ReDesign our program to better serve our participants and our mission?

I don’t have answers but I am passionate about this and would love to hear others ideas/experiences/opinions.

What Xavier vs Cincinnati revealed

I found the Xavier vs Cincinnati incident very disturbing but not so much because of the fight itself.  What disturbed me the most was how this fight started and how it was commented on and treated afterwards by some  involved.

This was not  a fight  borne out of  heat-of-battle conflict, it was not a case of a fight emerging from physical contact occuring during the course of a play.  It was pre-calculated and easy to see coming.  This was a fight along the lines of the 1972 Ohio State vs Minnesota brawl instigated on a pre-mediatated cheap shot by Corky Taylor during a dead-ball. 

The fight merely served to shine a glaring light on the real issues that need to be dealt with. The real issue is the actions by those charged with leading college athletics are not always living up to their stated goals and words, leaving players ill equipped to deal with pressures and expectations of being the faces and talent of college athletics. A college athletics landscape that has moved beyond being about spirited competition and school pride to being a high revenue sports entertainment  empire. This belief is evidenced by the following points:

  • This is Tu Holloway’s fourth in year in the Xavier basketball program and Mark Lyon’s third.  It is sad that during this period at Xavier they have learned so well  the many life skills that NCAA and college administrators and coaches espouse that some 20 to 30 minutes after an embarassing incident, after they have had the opportunity to calm down, be talked to by their coaches, teamates and administrators they emerge to a press conference and talk about this being what you get, about being disrespected and zipping people up.  Those comments reveal a total lack of perspective and remorse.  Those comments prove what Mick Cronin spoke so eloquently about during his post-game press conference a lack of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity they are provided. It also speaks to a disturbing sense of entitlement very well written about in this blog post by Mike Procopio  http://www.hoopconsultants.com/2011/12/my-thoughts-on-ate-xavier-cincinnati-brawl/

The cause of the fight is equally disturbing and has many culpable parties but here a few thought particularly disappointed me.

  • Lyons and Holloway running their mouths to the Cincinnati sideline throughout the game without intervention by Xavier coaches and the game officials.
  • Xaviers starters still be on the floor with the game decided, emotions high and running their mouths.  Come on Coach Mack don’t tell me you were oblivious to the fact your players were trying to show up the other team and that it was getting potential explosive.
  • The adminstrators of college athletics at these universities and conferences for their decisions on the suspensions after the fact.  In my opinion the announced punishments feed into the belief that revenue sports are more important than the mission and integrity of the college and do very little to teach a meaningful lesson to any involved. However,  it does remind us that protecting the future revenue streams by maintaining top basketball talent on the floor is very important to the colleges and conferences.

What I believe needs to be done long-term would need more space than this blog but I believe it starts with meeting the daily defining moments as outlined in this earlier blog post https://1010sport.com/2011/11/09/defining-moment/ .

Understanding Underachieving

Individual committment to a group effort – that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.

– Vince Lombardi

Why do sports teams who on paper are comprised of unquestioned talent fail to deliver in reaching their collective potential?  (The Philadelphia Eagles being the most recent in a long list of examples) Why do companies with tremendous initial capitilization, staffed with experience and talent never turn a profit? For both of these questions  quite often the failure to reach group potential is the direct result of individuals not becoming fully committed to the group effort and goals.

Let’s take a look at what I believe are leading internal team factors preventing  individuals from being committed to  group effort . Please note, the action that leads to these factors emerging will differ from situation to situation but it is vital as a leader of a team to understand what needs to be guarded against to prevent underachieving.  In the teachings of Dick Bennett victory starts with eliminating defeat.

  • Team members not understanding, simply misunderstanding, or naively believing their role would be different than the role the team needs them to play.
  • Team members feel their role and efforts are unrecognized and/or unappreciated.
  • Team members are unwillingly to alter their effort/role  to best align with the efforts/roles of their teammates.
  • Team members no longer trust in teammates committment to the group effort and their own personal best effort.
  • Team members feeling the role they are being asked to play was misrepresented at their front-end.
  • Team members feeling their role is being changed without understanding or being communicated to as to why.
  • Leadership not accurately understanding what is needed to cohesively blend the talent together to maximize the potential of the team.
  • Team members no longer unquestionably trusting in the sincerity and validity to the group cause of leaderships words and actions.
  • Team members feeling leadership is more focused on the best interest of a select few than the whole.

Looking at the factors listed above it is vital as a coach that you:

  • Communicate early, often, and clearly the roles of each team member.
  • You get in alignment each team members’ expectations and understandings of their role with their actual role.
  • You never stray from your unyieding committment and focus on the group interest and goal. 
  • Your actions and words never contradict a committment to the group and goal.
  • You never assume you know what team members are thinking and you never assume they understand your motives.  You need to constantly be in dialogue and relationship with team members to maintain the trust needed to reach full group potential.