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This Week in Athletics

How Do you Define Success? by Troy Urdahl

Within an InSideOut culture, significant time and attention are given to reflecting on how success should be defined in education-based sports. The final score or time is a measure of success—and it should continue to be a measure—as long as the scoreboard is kept within the proper perspective, balance, and is not the only outcome receiving our attention. Learning how to navigate a competition-driven society will remain one of many life skills gleaned through sports participation. The National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) reminds us that those who participate in school-based sports are also more likely to have better jobs in the future, learn collaboration and teamwork, elevate academics, expand leadership skills, improve time management, construct positive character traits, and sharpen fitness—each of these areas are important measures of success in life.

What facilitates and creates these valuable athletics participation outcomes are the experiences sports provide. As you think back, what did these experiences look like for you? What are the lessons and memories you recall? Take a moment to think back to your best memories of playing sports as a child.

For some of us, it might be when we made a big shot, a great time or score, being part of an exciting win, or having a chance to play in front of a lot of fans at a fun venue. My guess, however, is that for most of us our lasting sports memories are about having fun and spending time with our friends. Having a great time on the bus, overnight trips, eating together at restaurants, and the time spent joking around and laughing together. Without question, these are the types of memories I hold most dearly.

Specifically for me, it was building a wiffleball field and playing with my best friends. We learned about electricity as we wired lights for night games and played until the middle of the night. I don’t remember the scores of our games, big hits, or memorable pitching performances. I remember the fantastic time spent together with friends. Then, when winter came, we switched to pick-up hockey (shinny) and played until either our feet hurt too much or the goalie had to go home.

The time spent with my friends having the time of our lives is where some of the biggest learning happened for us. I’m not sure how much all of this time spent together helped the X’s and O’s of my sports skills, but I do know there are countless benefits that remain with me today. As coaches, we can gain a lot from our memories and experiences of the unstructured play many of us enjoyed as youth.

As I reflect back on some of the life lessons from which my friends and I benefited, the list is long.

  • We learned how to make and follow rules on our own. When a friend broke those rules, we found a way to negotiate an outcome.
  • We learned about conflict resolution and how to get along with others. Sometimes there would be disagreements.  We had to overcome our differences, even temper our anger, and say “sorry” when we went too far with a joke or said something we should not have.
  • We learned how to support each other and how much we needed one another. There couldn’t be a game without our friends.
  • We learned how to play. We were creative and tried different rules and different ways of playing. We tried ways of playing that were out-of-the box, keeping games fresh, lively, and fun.
  • We learned what healthy competitiveness looked and felt like. It was filled with friendships and fun.
  • We learned how to bridge differences among players. We had all sorts of gaps: age, athletic abilities, personal interests, etc. These differences didn’t deter anyone from playing—everyone was welcomed!
  • We learned how to organize people. We relied and depended on our friends to show up so we’d have a game to play. This required planning, communication, and some negotiating.
  • We learned how to tell a story and laugh. Some of the best stories of my life come from these games playing with my friends.
  • We learned about relationships. To this day, my best friends are the ones who share these same memories with me.

What does your list look like? Are you coaching to allow these types of memories? While we cannot always create the same care-free, unstructured environment of our youth, we must keep the fun alive and promote opportunities to help foster and build relationships. As coaches, we have the privilege of helping our athletes create lifetime memories. Are we allowing our players the chance to play for fun, let loose sometimes, and do we ever take the pressure off and let them be kids? As coaches and administrators, what role can we play to make sure our participants are reaping similar benefits and creating forever-memories while on our teams?

As we define success in our programs we must continue to use a long-sighted definition of what success in youth sports must look like. Right at the top of the list should be having fun and the importance of relationships. As I think back to my best memories of playing sports, this is what defined a successful night of playing with my friends.

Jon Goodman