Youth Sports: Lessons Play With Your Mind and Soul

“Mom, why did coach bench me the whole game if I went to all the practices and was never late to anything?” asked my perplexed softball pitcher on the car ride back from a weekend tournament. “We lost all our games, coach only played me two innings and used the same pitcher for all three games. She was tired, and all I did was warm-up my arm for nothing”.

A variety of answers come to mind: “Because he thinks you suck”, would be the sarcastic but hurtful thing to tell this already-disappointed youngster. Or, “because she's the coach's daughter” would be another snarky reply, and probably a logical explanation she could readily accept. In this case, however, the coach clearly stated his reasons for the benching: “We are here to win”, he told the parents in the stands as he announced the line-up for the make-or-break game, letting us know four of the team members would ride the pine for the hour and twenty minute game. Try explaining that one-liner to the tender-hearted player after the team lost their third game in a row with the exact same players in the same positions.

“If the coach thinks I'm not good enough for the team, I might as well leave” is the common thought process of a dedicated player in any sport who feels the blow of little to no playing time. Bowing out of the team, regardless of how tactfully you'd like to do it, is called quitting. And the old saying “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” is more applicable than ever in these cases.  As a responsible sports-minded father, and long-ago baseball player who attended college on a full athletic scholarship, my husband constantly reinforces the message that  being a quitter is never an option in our home. Instead, when these situations arise, parents have to dig very deep to find a way to lift the youth's crushed spirits and learn from the situation in spite of the hateful feelings the adult actions conjure up.

“There isn't any other youth institution that equals sports as a setting in which to develop character. There just isn't. Sports are the perfect setting because character is tested all the time.”

– John Gardner, Presidential Medal of Freedom Winner and Founding Member of Positive Coaching Alliance's National Advisory Board

In this particular case, the lessons we tried to instill were decorum (for both parents and player), try harder, and earn your spot. But the real lesson here was for us parents: self control. When coaches play favorites, and political maneuvering with team parents are foremost rather than game strategy or fairness, the range of emotions circling about in the stands can reach a boiling point, but must be contained for the sake of the child. There's no worse moment than when a parent looses control and embarrasses themselves and the child on the field. We've seen it play out on TV; the dad who beat and killed a father on his son's opposing team over a hockey game; the Texas cheer mom who plotted to kill her daughter's rival in 1992. Who can forget the Nancy Karrigan vs. Tonya Harding leg-clubbing incident in 1994, that event was a low point in youth sports of Olympic proportions!

I can tell you from our own experience, those ugly feelings competitive sports evoke when ones own child seems to be the victim of foul play, unfair treatment, or outright rude or insulting behavior from team mates and coaches can get the better of us. Trying to find a positive side to these gut-wrenching moments are all part of youth sports and can be really difficult to do, especially for parents. If you find yourself in a quandary after a game-day situation with your child, is a website designed to help support everyone involved with youth sports; coaches, players and parents can find useful information to address the many character-testing as well as character-building situations you and your kids will encounter participating in organized sports.


On this particular hour-long drive back home, and once we settled down and rewarded ourselves with ice cream, we went on imparting a bit of wisdom to our broken-hearted slugger. “These are the real life lessons sports are supposed to teach you at this very young age. You see, you will encounter unreasonable, power hungry people everywhere: a boss at work, a teacher in the classroom, even your co-workers may not particularly care for you. But playing sports, and enduring these unexplained actions, will make you stronger so you can survive in the real world”, we tell her while swallowing hard.

As we pull into our home, our sanctuary from the sometimes illogical actions we are subjected to on the playing fields, we've covered every possible angle or reason why the relief softball pitcher wasn't called to the mound to try to save a losing game. “Are you ready to go to practice tomorrow?” we ask the understandably upset teen. “No. I don't want to go. Why should I? I don't play anyway”. I hear ya sista, I think to myself.

“We know, but stick it out for your own sake. In the long run you will be better for it”, all the while rolling our eyes on the inside as we say this.

Children our like our hearts walking around outside of our bodies, and when our kids are hurt, emotionally or physically, we feel it much more than they do, but they don't know it, and sometimes, it's better that way. With out a doubt, participating in youth organized sports has it's trying moments, but the questions remains: How much disappointment can a child or a parent take?

In youth sports, you better be ready for more disappointment than you can imagine, a lot more…

I've told you my story, what's yours? Tell me about that little league nightmare you conquered, or how you silenced a heckling parent. Each of one of your anecdotes and how you handled them could help someone in a similar situation.

So, go ahead and vent. I'm here for you.


  1. Anonymous says:

    No tengo la menor duda, que el deporte es una de las etapas en las que nos enfrentamos a la vida, que nos deja mayor enseñanza. La competividad, los favoritismos, la fuerza, ganas y coraje con la que te tienes que enfrentarte en cada juego y los más importante, saber aceptar el triunfo y la derrota. En la vida nos enfrentamos a muchas cosas y tenemos que tener todos éstos elementos, para poder triunfar y saber que una derrota, es una experiencia que nos ayuda a seguir luchando en la vida. Y un triunfo, saber que lo logramos y poder seguir en el camino y mejorar El deporte nos ayuda a forjar nuestro carácter, de eso estoy convencida.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Translation of comment:
    Without a doubt, sports are one of the stages we will face in lfe that teaches the most lessons: competitivness, favoritism, strength, will and courage are all needed to face each game, and most importanttly, learning how to accept triumph and defeat. We will have to face many things in life, and we need all of these elements to be able to succeed. Knowing that a loss is an experience that will help us to forge ahead in life, and winning, knowing we accomplished it, allows us to continue on the right path and improve. Sports help shape our character, I am convinced of it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Tienes toda la razon! Es mas facil quedarse en casa y evitar todas estas confrontaciones de chicos, pero como adultos, los desaires y retos no se pueden evitar. Las lecciones que nos proporcionan los deportes nos preparan para sobre pasar los obstaculos que nos presenta la vida.
    Gracias por compartir tu opinion!

  4. Anonymous says:

    You are so right! It's easier to stay home and avoid these confrontations when we are young, but as adults, the dissapointments and challenges are inevitable. The lessons sports provide prepare us to conquer life's obstacles.
    Thanks for sharing your opinion!

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