Televised sports -- from a run-of-the-mill regular season game to this month's Stanley Cup Finals, NBA Finals and the FIFA World Cup -- provide great opportunities for youth athletes, coaches and parents to watch and learn together. So, how can coaches and parents help youth athletes get the most out of their viewing?
First, take the time to enjoy how sports bring you together. Don’t just sit like a couch potato; engage! These viewing appointments are bonding opportunities and a chance to help youth athletes become further inspired to pursue their dreams.
Through your own interest in whichever sport you are watching, you probably know some personal background of the competitors and dynamics of the teams. If not, a little research in those areas can yield great talking points to raise with your youth players. For example, “Didier Drogba, the player for Ivory Coast, helped unify his country by rallying them around the soccer team. What sort of character do you think he has needed to achieve that? Can you imagine a situation where you could use soccer to help others in need?”
Second, in discussing the games with youth athletes (whether as a parent watching TV with your own child, or as a coach taking practice time to talk about the televised games), focus not just on exciting plays, but also on moments when character is shaped or revealed. In Major League Baseball, for example, the recent near-perfect game by Armando Galaragga was a perfect chance for adults to talk to youth athletes about dealing with setbacks.
Finally, take great care to recognize and capitalize on "teachable moments." Teachable moments occur when a child tries to process an experience or an impression, and that is one of the best times for coaches and parents to turn even a negative incident, such as a brawl, into a springboard for discussing and teaching positive behavior.
Casting light on negative behavior and discussing it -- rather than ignoring it and hoping your youth athletes do the same -- can keep them from emulating the negative behavior. It is important not to let any poor sportsmanship go by without comment, because youth may take your silence as tacit approval.
Instead, you might ask questions: open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered “Yes” or “No”) such as:
• What would you do if you were playing soccer and an opponent tackled you too roughly?
• What do you think of players who show up their opponents with exaggerated celebration?
• How would you talk to a teammate who was not Honoring the Game?
Sooner or later, you may need to firmly tell players the difference between right and wrong and let them know exactly what behavior you expect. But the most important aspect of using televised sports in your coaching or parenting is getting athletes to talk about their opinions of both positive and negative incidents they witness.
Players who grapple with the right and wrong of a situation (rather than simply nodding their heads when an adult speaks) are more likely to internalize the life lessons and values on display on the world’s grandest sports stages.