Teaching Responsibility in Youth Sports
By Terry Zeigler
Being responsible is the ability to do the right thing and being held accountable to it. In other words, teaching responsibility teaches kids to follow through and do what is expected of them (i.e., following team rules). If team rules are not followed, then consequences need to be consistently adhered to. Consistency teaches responsibility.
Consistent Consequences for Young Athletes
Inconsistent consequences teach kids that being responsible is only applicable some of the time. The area where coaches can really make mistakes is with their star athletes. What do coaches teach the talented kids when coaches allow them to get away with poor behavior (coming late to practice, missing practice) and still allow these kids to have starting positions during competitions?
Coaches can start by telling their athletes that their goal for coaching is to teach them more than the skills of the game. Coaches can set the tone on the first day of practice by stating that one of the goals of the season is to teach responsible behavior. Kids that act responsibly with their time, language, and behavior will be rewarded with appropriate game time.
Young athletes that are late for practice, miss practice, come without their proper gear and/or equipment, use foul language, are disrespectful to equipment, teammates, coaches, and/or officials need to have consequences for their behavior. Kids need to be taught that responsible behavior is as important to the coach as learning the skills of their sport.
With that being said, grace needs to be applied to situations in which the child has no control (late because parent couldn’t get them to practice on time). Children should not be punished for the mistakes of the parent.
Consequences should be in line with the behavior. Consequences should be thought out well before the season and agreed to by all of the coaching staff. Parents also need to be informed of the standard of behavior along with any possible consequences.
Rewarding Good Behavior
Catching kids demonstrating good behavior and reinforcing the behavior with a reward in front of their peers is a powerful motivator. As important as accountability is in the teaching of responsibility, establishing rewards can be a powerful tool in guiding behavior.
Team awards can be handed out to kids that show consistently good behavior during practice and/or games. Special awards can be handed out to kids that are caught demonstrating outstanding behavior.
Modeling Responsible Behavior
Modeling responsible behavior is an integral part of teaching kids to be responsible. Coaches that are late, use inappropriate language, abuse the officials, and throw equipment will not be very effective at teaching this character trait. Actions speak much louder than words with kids.
The two keys in teaching kids responsibility are to model responsible behavior and to be consistent with what the coach will and will not allow during practice and game times. Coaches that model good behavior but vacillate with the severity of consequences will lose the respect of his/her athletes.
Talented athletes who are coddled by coaches and allowed to start and play regardless of their behavior are being taught a disservice by their coaches. They are being taught that good athletes are entitled to play regardless of their behavior.
Unfortunately this can carry on through their athletic career and carry over to their behavior in society. If not taught responsibility at a young age, these athletes can become problem athletes in high school and college.
Maybe the best lesson a coach can teach is that all athletes should be treated the same regardless of skill level. Entitlement should not be the lesson kids learn in youth sports.