Keep goals real for kids in sports |

Keep goals real for kids in sports

Column by Michael Traum

It’s time again for high school sports. The community’s children and coaches are diligently preparing on fields and courts for the upcoming seasons.

Amid the sweat and blood, drills and designs, talk of performance expectations inspire kids and mentors to push themselves to heights of accomplishment measured in wins, losses and postseason honors.

But all too often, these goals are unrealistic in scope.

We’ve got what it takes to win it all, says one coach, eyes scanning his players as they busily shuffle around the playing surface.

The athletes, too, regurgitate what they are told. The state title, they say, is what they’re shooting for.

It’s a frequently heard prediction, uttered all too often on youth fields and in varsity arenas. While the occasional team comes together, having combined talent and discipline in the perfect balance needed to reach the top, more often the dreams are left haplessly unfulfilled.

These kids and coaches are being set up for failure and disappointment.

Call it a sign of the times, although it seems to be a generation-crossing trait. We set the highest of goals, expect a championship in everything we attempt.

Typically, we don’t even come close to winning it all, let alone making the playoffs or producing a decent win-loss season. Teams mire in defeat, both on the scoreboard and in their attitudes, as the seasons quickly slip away into something not anticipated.

And with those results come feelings of inadequacy and failure. We dwell on what we could’ve done better, what could’ve been. One athlete best summed it up when he said, “I could’ve been a contender.”

It’s rare that a coach or player will say, “I just hope we do our best,” and really mean it. Our best, when it doesn’t deliver a state title, simply isn’t good enough.

On the flip side, a coach recently predicted his team, which perennially finishes at the top of the Northern Nevada prep football standings, wouldn’t even make the playoffs. This, too, is a disservice to athletic participation.

In the aftermath, children and adults carry a tangible sense of inadequacy. Sometimes it drives them to try harder, and the cycle is either repeated and fulfilled. Typically, it doesn’t go away. Any athlete or coach surely can recall a sporting moment that makes them cringe in disappointment.

Maybe it builds character. Maybe it fosters hard work. Maybe it draws families and teams closer together in an uncomfortable kind of way.

But it undoubtedly leaves a scar on our young people. It’s the way the world is – and is how it shouldn’t be.

Somewhere in the mix should be an honest assessment of a team’s ability, a qualified coach facilitating those accomplishments, and an ultimate goal based on realistic expectations.

We should try to win, give our all and maybe recognition will follow. Setting goals and expecting good returns are necessary requirements for any sporting endeavor.

But let’s try and remember that making the most of the experience is a far cry from where we stand at the end – that the skill to evaluate a person or team’s ability to achieve ultimately has a much greater impact than to simply say we’re going to win it all.

There are good coaches for whom wins and losses are a byproduct of hard work and dedication to doing your best.

In the end, youth sports are merely a pastime that should be fondly remembered. Very few athletes will graduate to play collegiately or professionally. And those who do succeed should be used to inspire, not idolize.

If the kids are truly capable of reaching a sport’s pinnacle, it’s a drive that needs to be cultivated with a steady hand and knowing mind. If they’re simply worthy of a good experience, don’t ruin it by making them think they’re capable of something that they’re not.

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