Helping Athletes Express Identity

Kids want to be different, just like everyone else. The picture below was picture day, immediately after taking the "official picture". The Funny thing is, we spent 35 minutes in line waiting for the official pictures. Ironically, this is the picture I saw on the refrigerators of the families I coached that year. This picture took 10 seconds, and is a better representation of who they really are than some stuffy, organized team photo. 

 Suns Team Photo

Suns Team Photo

Notice the socks.

At the beginning of the season, I bought 9 pairs of socks. I made sure to give them out at practice and after games so that they all had some by the time picture day came. In my note about how to create the ultimate teammate, I wrote about giving the team some ownership in how they are to keep one another accountable. For this team, when I noticed a player was exhibiting one of the agreed upon characteristics of a great teammate, I handed her a pair of socks. The day before pictures, I made this announcement:

"Great practice, ladies. Emerson, you are getting a lot better at boxing out the shooter on defense, just want you to know I noticed. Alex, deep breath before the foul shot."

"…and two dribbles!" Alex interjects. (So, she is paying attention when I coach her…nice).

I see Cameron hunched over as she tries to catch her breath, "Cameron, are you tired?"

"Yes, super tired." (I appreciate the honesty though I know if we did a few more drills she would give me everything she had).

"Tasha, tell me something you noticed about Cameron today."

"She was here before anyone else and shot free throws until practice started."

Cameron gets a high-five from a nearby teammate.

"Can anyone tell me which attribute describes her pre-practice routine?" I ask while I hold out the sheet we designed the week before. The team decides "hard-working" best suits her behavior. I reach in my back pocket and hand her some crazy socks. The team cheers, we break, and practice is over.

The moral of this story is we must remember as youth coaches we are coaching children who play a sport, not athletes who happen to be children. The socks are not what Cameron will remember. She will remember that her coach noticed her and made her feel good about her effort, not her performance. Think back to a coach or teacher who made you feel good about yourself. It doesn't take much effort. A $4 pair of socks in exchange for building confidence in a young athlete is more than just a gesture of appreciation; it is an investment in a person.