Top nine most important takeaways for youth and high school sports athletes

Relax, your kid didn't cure cancer. He hit a home run. Hope it isn't the best moment of his life.

Relax, your kid didn’t cure cancer. He hit a home run. Hope it isn’t the best moment of his life.

Stop thinking about a scholarship.  Right now!  If you have a talented kid playing sports, take the word ‘scholarship’, and delete it from your vocabulary.

Compensation in the form of a free education might come and it might not, but it is at the very bottom of the list of great things that can happen for your son or daughter as a result of the experience of playing youth or high school sports.

Watching the parents at the Little League World Series contort into tightly wound balls of parental energy is exhausting.  I want to shake them and ask that they embrace a reasonable level of balance in their emotional investment in whether a 12-year-old strikes out or hits a home run.

When I was a kid, some parents brought a book to the games to keep their minds occupied.  And we were really good.  Whether parents were emotionally invested in our success made no difference to us, and it doesn’t mean anything to yours, so drop the intensity.

Today, parents lose their minds as if the games are life and death events, rather than a few neighborhood (or area) kids playing  baseball as they engage in the more important process of making friends.

Here are the top nine most important positives that can be gained by your child as he or she participates in youth sports (note that scholarships are not among the nine):

9 – Dealing with failure.  Shots will be missed, passes will be overthrown, spikes will fly long, fumbles will occur, fly balls will be dropped, and face-offs will be lost.  Bad things happen in sports, but play doesn’t stop.  What happens next is often more important that the initial screw-up.  That’s true in life too.  How we respond to adversity as an adult is often developed when we are kids on the court, field, rink, diamond, pitch, and course.  Don’t cloud your kid’s response by whining, crying, or being disappointed.

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8 – Working toward a goal.  Without a goal, we are just spinning our wheels.  Kids have the opportunity to learn the importance of setting a goal through sports.  Want to win a sectional, state, or national championship?  What action steps need to be taken in order to accomplish that?  Building a workable plan as a 12-year-old is a hell of a step up in preparing for adulthood compared to kids who lay around binge watching old “Entourage” episodes.

7 – Discipline.  No kid relishes the thought of running an extra 10 gassers, shooting another 300 free throws or three-pointers, shagging 200 more fly balls, lifting for another half hour, or doing 30 more minutes of agility training, but those who do it improve more quickly than those who don’t.  They play more –  and win more.  The discipline to outwork opponents and encourage teammates to join them is where leadership is born.

6 – Consequences for bad decisions.  Good coaches don’t tolerate idiocy or laziness, so both are welcomed with serious disincentives.  Parents today spend more time negotiating with their children than disciplining them, so it’s good when coaches bring down a hammer to show kids there are swift and severe consequences for ignoring directions.  Adult real life involves a serious level of repercussions for screwing up.  You should welcome seeing that paradigm in action before they play for their careers and mortgages.  Complaining about a hard-ass coach is the weakest option for a parent who wants to raise a kid ready for a productive life.

5 – Time management skills.  High school sports require a kid study, workout, practice, compete, train, sleep, and little else.  Going to college is a breeze for most who play sports in high school because they understand how to build a schedule for a productive day.

4 – Learn the whole is greater than the individual.  Great companies succeed because members of the staff understand excellence requires embracing the concept of the needs of the whole being greater than those of the few or the one.  Team sports instill that notion very early on.

3 – Build positive fitness habits.  We see the studies of exploding numbers of kids with diabetes and obesity, and we cringe.  Heart disease and kidney issues are not far down the line for those kids.  A healthy diet and active lifestyle is a virtual mandate for young athletes.  Competition is a great carrot for building a generation of kids who move into adulthood without debilitating health issues.

2 – Controlled adversity.  Coaches work to build and stretch players in a way that teachers can’t and parents shouldn’t.  Part of that process is leading young men and women into physical and psychological discomfort – that lonely place that forces a kid to grind for the first time.  The concept of working toward personal potential among teammates doing the same is introduced  through youth sports.  The moment where a kid says yes to an impossible challenge is the moment he or she begins the life of a functional adult.

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1 – Friends.  If you are an adult who played sports, who are your best friends?  Maybe time and distance keep you from visiting former teammates as often as your neighbors or co-workers, but how long does it take you to reconnect in a profound way with them when you attend reunions or run into them?  Maybe the time it takes for your eyes to meet.  They have seen you at your lowest and highest moments – and have seen them at those same peaks and valleys.  That breeds trust, and trust is the foundation of deep friendship.

Remember that youth sports is not about you.  It’s about your kids.  Whether they win or lose doesn’t define them, and it sure doesn’t define your loving relationship.

Let coaches coach.  You focus on loving your kids, and understand the challenges will not always have a positive outcome.  That’s okay.  Life goes on, and the lesson and positives of participation are not negated by the result.

Kent Sterling hosts the fastest growing sportstalk show in Indianapolis on CBS Sports 1430 every weekday from 3p-6p, and writes about Indiana sports at

2 thoughts on “Top nine most important takeaways for youth and high school sports athletes

  1. brent mcniece

    I think back to my days of playing, and I was lucky to have my parents as ‘the steady hand’ at any football, baseball and basketball I played. Dad taught me everything but basketball, and left the playing up to me.

    He always gave me constructive feedback instead of negative feedback. He was a mean old sarg in WW II, and boy were we disciplined. I was always harder on myself than even the coaches were.

    I was offered a scholarship in baseball, but I opted to go to IU. I tell our kids, you get your scholarship in academics, and then work hard in any sport or club they are in. Very nice piece Kent.

    As info, I never shook anybodies hand until after a game, and unlike today’s parents I never cried when we won or lost.

  2. Joel

    Nice points. I am not sure a child’s latter success in life ,coping, reasoning skills.discipline can be totally tracked back to their participation in youth sports. I am sure it can have an influence, but having parents with their head screwed on straight, good moral values, strict but fair discipline, who are loving people I feel are just as important for the development in forming a person who has the values listed.

    I was at my nieces youth basketball game the other weekend. One lady had a daughter on the team who got fouled pretty hard, and she went APE! Yelling at the ref to throw the other 12yrold out of the game then went over to the bench to coddle her daughter who took a seat to recover from the blow she took on the court. An absolute circus and nauseating. This is the behavior our children are learning. Its embarrassing. To much emphasis is put on youth sports by these nut job parents. They need therapy.


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