Wildcats News · Managing the Maze – Travis D


August 9, 2019


Whether you’re a parent or a coach, you’ve got an important responsibility to help the kids in your care learn, grow, and develop into the best version of themselves – their champion selves – on the playing field and beyond. And the truth is, whether we always like to admit it or not, the choices we make play a major role in determining who our kids become. The whole experience – choice after challenging choice – can feel a bit like a maze, and sadly today, managing this maze is harder than ever.
That’s partly because our youth sports culture has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. It’s gotten much more complicated, much more controlling, and much more cut-throat for kids than it was when we were young. My friend John O’Sullivan at Changing the Game Project refers to this change as the “adultification” of youth sports. The motivations for playing – where, with whom, at what level, and for how long – have all been complicated in recent years. There are so many choices to make today, and the fear of our kids missing out or falling behind makes those choices even more stressful and damaging than before. This is where the maze gets built – this journey filled with dead ends, wasted resources and negative experiences. It’s like we know our kid’s champion self might be…must be out there somewhere. We want to find it, of course, but knowing how to get from here to there can feel impossible.
It’s like we know our kid’s champion self might be…must be out there somewhere. We want to find it, of course, but knowing how to get from here to there can feel impossible.
If you’re a parent working to navigate this challenging journey today, I want to encourage you to step back and see the big picture. This is the most effective way to manage the maze. Instead of blindly making a decision and then just hoping for the best, changing your perspective offers a smarter approach. The big picture requires that you see more than just where your child is today; you’ve got to see where you want him or her to end up, too.
What is it exactly that you want this experience to provide for them, and who it is exactly that you want them to be when they arrive at the end of this sports journey? If you’re a coach, these are worthwhile questions for you to be asking, too. What qualities is it that you want those playing for you to develop? And who is it that you want your players to be at the end of their time with you, when they leave your team or program for good? Answering these long-term questions provides clarity for some of the short-term choices you’re making today.
When you see the big picture, it helps you rise above the mess – above the maze, above the dead ends, above the stress. When you know what you want your child to look like at the end of the journey, it clarifies the path you’re required to take in order to get there. From above, it’s easy to see that some choices – even ones that might look good in the moment – actually lead your child farther away from his or her best, not closer to it. A maze is so much easier to complete when you can see it all from a distance, including both where you started and where you want to end up. Instead of making a decision – about where to play, or with whom, or at what level, or for how long – and then blindly hoping for the best, now you can see the reality of where it’s taking you and your child.
The same method helps clarify your smaller, daily decisions, too. Who knows what it is your child will experience as an athlete today. It may be good, bad, or ugly. More importantly, what is it that they’ll need from you in order to make the most of today’s experience? Do they need to be supported and encouraged, or do they need to be challenged? Is what’s best for them today a pat on the back or a dose of accountability? Those choices are also a part of the responsibility you bear, and each one you make helps move your child either closer to their full potential or farther from it. Do your words and actions today line up with the goals you have for your child’s tomorrow? Stepping back and seeing the big picture before you speak or act is the most effective way to know for sure.
Managing the maze of youth sports is not easy work, especially if you’re trying to do it one singular, solitary choice at a time. Intentionally choosing a different perspective helps ensure that the decisions you make today align with the vision you have for your child’s tomorrow. Most importantly, it helps you avoid the dead ends in which so many young athletes and their parents find themselves, and instead helps you make it to your desired destination: your child’s champion self.