Prospect Communication's Youth Sports Blog - "Taking You Beyond the Game!", features our own articles and commentaries that deal specifically with youth sports. Browse the site to read any articles that may be of interest to your sports organization. The articles are copyrighted to the authors (Michael Langlois & Mary-Louise Langlois) and they may not be reproduced without permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the site's content please contact us at inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

Prospect has a unique and specialized approach to communications skills and issues management geared towards those involved with youth and minor sports. Michael and Mary-Louise's work in this area is ideal for parents and coaches who want to make the most of children's involvement in sports.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ronaldo wins “Ballon d’Or” but sometimes set a poor example for young players…

No one can dispute that Cristiano Ronaldo is an outstanding soccer player—clearly he has been one of the most talented in the world now for many years. But his antics on the field recently were a textbook example of not being a real team player.

Ronaldo was visibly upset when Real Madrid teammate Gareth Bale did not pass to him in a game against Spanish League foe Espanyol. Bale was in alone on the keeper and opted to shoot himself.  He had set up a goal and scored himself earlier in the game, but this time the goalie made the save.

Yes, he could have passed to Ronaldo for a tap-in goal, but Bale shot himself. Whether Bale was being “selfish” could perhaps be debated. But Ronaldo immediately reacted outwardly, throwing his hands up in the air, clearly indicating for all to see (in the stadium, and those watching on television) that Bale had made a mistake—and Ronaldo was unhappy about it.

The home crowd picked up on Ronaldo’s outburst and booed their own player (Bale). Afterwards, Ronaldo indicated he and Bale had spoken and were “fine”.

 But one wonders how fine Bale is, having been publicly admonished and shown up by Real Madrid’s superstar player.

Ronaldo’s reaction is not unique in soccer.  In fact, these kinds of dramatic gestures, intended for everyone to notice -throwing hands up in the air, questioning virtually every referee call, diving, etc.- seem to be, sadly, part of the fabric of what is otherwise a great game.

The problem with that on-field attitude is that it sets a terrible example for young players. We all understand that young people—including impressionable aspiring athletes—learn from adults, including players like Ronaldo. And in cases like this, what they learn is that it is acceptable to criticize teammates out in the open. As a result, we can see, at most any local soccer field, a mentality that shows itself in players at even the youngest ages acting out just like the professional stars.  They talk back to the referee, admonish teammates for a poor play, throw their hands up in the air and constantly dispute calls.

On a youth team, this tends to create a toxic mentality that erodes a true sense of team, trust and togetherness. It can also create a climate of blame—which is a harmful attitude that can infect a team and it difficult to get rid of.

If the coach at the youth level allows a culture where players throw their hands up in the air and show up teammates for every perceived mistake, eventually you end up with a roster where only some players feel comfortable on the field—and on the ball.

Players make mistakes all the time in sports. Decisions are made in an instant. Whether Bale, in that instance, should have kept the ball or passed it is debatable. But it was not worthy of a teammate’s over-reaction, as frustrated as Ronaldo might have felt in the moment. Bale had to make a quick on-the-field athletic decision.

Ronaldo, however, did not have to react the way he did. And when this type of thing happens at the youth level, the potential impact is devastating.

The opportunity for youth coaches is to take a ‘snapshot’ of moments like this one and explain to their players that Ronaldo’s reaction is not the way a team should operate.  Decisions and perceived mistakes are part of the game, especially at the youth level. Players only get better by trying things and being allowed to build their confidence. If they are belittled for every decision they make on the field (by coaches or teammates), it will be near impossible for them to gain the confidence needed to improve and help the team.

As an adult and a highly paid professional, Bale may not be affected long-term by Ronaldo’s actions, but we can’t say the same for those who play the game at the youth level when they are on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. Some kids never develop the confidence needed to be their at their best; others simply leave the game, which is a shame.

On any team, your “best” and most talented players also need to lead by their behaviour and the example they set. One way a player “leads” is by being a true team player and supporting teammates, not criticizing them constantly.  And a team player won’t publicly call out a teammate on the field of play.

At the youth level, it’s up to parents and coaches to instill the right kind of attitude in youngsters- and set the right kind of example by their own words and actions.

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Jersey high school bullying incident shows we still have a long way to go…

We have written here over the years about our concerns around bullying and hazing.  The attitude that creates that bullying mindset still seems to exist in the high school and youth sports culture.

A recent series of stories in the U.S. national media (here is a link to a story on ESPN) revealed that a decision was made to cancel the football season of a prominent local high school in New Jersey as a result of an investigation into bullying behaviour.

Sadly, too many still cling to the notion that sports is its own world, and does not have to adhere to the moral and ethical codes that the rest of society adopts.  How often have we heard phrases like “boys will be boys” as though that makes terrible behaviour acceptable?

Similarly, for generations youngsters have actually been encouraged by some adults to believe in the maxim, “What’s said or done in the locker room, stays in the locker room”.  In other words, there is a clear threat that if you want to be part of “the club”, you have to set aside personal ethics and norms of behaviour and not only tolerate but say nothing about behaviour that is, in some cases, morally bankrupt.

The added kicker is this:  if a young person witnesses or experiences hazing or bullying in a sports environment, they are not supposed to report it, because that breaks the old “code” cited above: that the “team” and the locker room is a brotherhood and everyone sticks together.

How many times are frightened young people put in a situation where they are abused and then threatened and told by their peers not to say anything? If the young person “tells”, they will be shunned or harassed by teammates.  If they don’t “talk”, they inadvertently cover up behaviour that should be revealed so those in authority can deal with the situation properly.

It’s unfair and intolerable that these youngsters are made to feel they are doing the wrong thing by reporting what they know to adults.

When it comes to intimidation, hazing, threats and bullying, the idea that “what is said and done here, stays here” is wrong-headed. That thinking—and that type of behaviour—was never acceptable and should never have been tolerated.

Ironically, we are sickened when we hear about professional athletes (e.g. Ray Rice) acting in a manner that is violent, harmful and unacceptable on any level.

Yet where does that kind of behaviour begin? 

Often times it is in a world where young athletes are treated as “better than” because of their athletic skill.  They have a sense of entitlement. They believe that they are above consequences for their behaviour. These youngsters are made to feel they are better than everyone else and can do whatever they want—without having to answer for their actions.

When that attitude leads to unacceptable behaviour, it cannot be tolerated.

For many, hazing is still “tradition”.  It’s acceptable.  It is not only OK, but it should not be criticized or even talked about. It should be swept under the carpet.

We should applaud that school officials in Sayreville, New Jersey took a stand.  Whether the officials should have acted sooner is difficult to determine, but a firm stand was called for—and evidently taken.

Hazing and bullying have nothing to do with team building. The New Jersey situation is one that we heard about. How often do we not hear about behaviour that should not be tolerated—because people are afraid to speak out?

Greater awareness has developed around the issues of bullying and hazing in schools, sports and society in general in recent years.  But there are some old attitudes that still need to change—and it can’t happen too quickly.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

You can’t play youth sports with a piano on your back!

Whenever I have the opportunity to conduct our seminar on how communication can help to build confidence and characters in young athletes, one of the things I stress to the youth coaches on hand is this:  a kid can’t play youth sports with a piano on their back.
I try to reinforce that message—and others—in a recent podcast hosted by Craig Haworth, from “Winning Youth Coach".
Craig launched his program earlier this summer and has been able to attract outstanding coaches to discuss a wide range of topics to assist fellow coaches in preparing to work more effectively with young athletes. I was delighted to be invited to appear as a guest, to discuss my perspective as someone who has been a sometimes coach but more importantly as a longtime communications professional and sports parent for more than 25 years.
Here’s a link to Episode 18 of the Winning Youth Coach podcast: ‪winningyouthcoaching.com/wyc-018/ 
If you visit Craig’s web site, you’ll see a link to all the other episodes. I hope you enjoy the programs.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Youth hockey coaches: you can inspire your players and help build confidence through better communication

We have written extensively over the years about a wide range of issues, from building organizational trust and credibility to how leaders can prepare to interact with the media in an engaging, thoughtful and credible manner.

One other area of significant interest for us remains the role of the coach in youth sports. 

The impact a youth coach has is enormous, and with this in mind, we have just released another in our series of eBooks on “Common Sense Communication” in youth sports.  Geared to youth hockey coaches, the book is entitled, You Can Be anInspirational Youth Hockey Coach!”.

The book provides a range of practical tips to assist coaches in recognizing some of the ways they can help build confidence and character in the players they work with. 

To be clear, this is not a book about “x’s” and “o’s”.  There are many great books available that offer hockey coaches that kind of information.

We hope to fill a gap in an area that we believe is crucial for coaches: communicating better with—and inspiring—young athletes.

The book is available on Amazon in Canada and Internationally as well.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Missing too many late bloomers in youth sports

In observing the youth sports culture over the past almost thirty years as a parent, it has been a relief in recent times to notice what I hope is a permanent shift in attitude.  There is at least a spoken commitment these days (we will have to wait and see if actions follow words) regarding the notion of developing young players for the long term.

That strikes me as a very good thing.

I raise this in part because it has been my experience over the years that, too often, youth sports coaches focused on building winning teams at the expense of helping all the players on their roster get better. This approach tended to include selecting and/or giving the most playing time to the biggest, fastest and oldest (those born early in the calendar year) kids and any youngsters who were really outstanding at the early competitive ages.

On the one hand this is understandable, I suppose.  Coaches naturally gravitate toward young athletes who stand out at those early ages (e.g. ages 9 through 14). They want to create a roster that will win games today if they are involved in competitive leagues.

That “win now” focus may create some short-term team success in terms of winning medals, but often at a much larger cost to kids who deserve better.

If coaches (and parents) step back and reflect, they will recognize that the vast majority of kids play sports for fun and to be with friends. Sure they like to compete, but most aren’t thinking (at least not seriously) of a professional career in athletics.

So what do most youngsters want, when it comes to their experience in youth sports?

They want to play, they want to have fun, and they want to improve their skills so they can enjoy the game even more and compete better.

If a coach is really doing his or her job, then they are also looking to build the skills of all their players.  Even the really good young players may suffer if a coach does not have the ability to really develop players to their potential, because the coach doesn’t help them improve their overall game.  Too often coaches with the “win now” mentality just focus on the things those gifted youngsters do well to help their team win today, when they could also be helping that youngster become an even better player.

And what about the other, supposedly less talented players?

Many young athletes develop later than others their age.  Physically or emotionally they may not “find their game” until they are older.  These youngsters often may be extremely coachable, have big hearts, work hard and do all the right things.  But maybe they may lack the technical skills, speed or size to compete at a high level when they are very young.

Over time, however, if their level of dedication remains high, they improve by leaps and bounds and become very good players.  By then, however, the system has often passed them by, and there is little or no chance to get noticed for opportunities to compete at the more elite levels.

Of course, really good players can sometimes find their way through that system later than others, thankfully.  But my concern is for those youngsters who may lack the confidence early on to continue on in their sport.  How many kids do we lose because they are deemed “not good enough” in various sports when they are only 12 or 13?

Hopefully the current focus on long-term player development in sports will have a carry-over effect that ensures youth coaches (and scouts for higher-level teams at the provincial/state and/or national levels) always keep an eye out for that player who may emerge later in life than some of the early obvious standouts.

Those coaches just have to know what to look for.

Sometimes the late-bloomer can win the race—if given a chance.