Positive Sports Coaching

As soon as I returned from my fabulous vacation in Hawaii, school started for the kids and I have been oh so busy with all that that I haven’t found much time to sit still and just write. I have SO MANY OTHER things to blog about right now (race recap, more giveaways, gear reviews, Nike training update, et cetra) but last night, while I was attending a Positive Coaching Alliance workshop for my kids’ first season in soccer, I was inspired to share some of the things I learned…

After a long day of work and school followed by a hour and a half kiddo soccer practice, I was not too thrilled to attend a workshop from 7pm-9pm last night. Not. At. All. Further, as I didn’t participate in organized sports growing up I couldn’t really relate to or answer any questions that applied to the game of soccer or competition among youth. My mind kept wandering out of boredom but then I found myself taking notes and started applying the principles I was learning towards running.  (I’ll work on applying it all to the kids’ soccer too, I swear!)

The guiding principle behind positive sports parenting is to maintain the fun- and the same can be said when it comes to running. According to our presenter, 70% of kids quit organized sports by age 13 because they are no longer having fun, they get burned out. I’ve had oh so many moments when I’ve lost the fun and felt burned out from running, and many more times when I wanted to quit and take up, say, cycling instead.

There are 3 stages of learning a sport: first, the Romantic phase when it’s new and all is fun and novel, then the Technical phase where you learn how to play, and finally the Mature phase where you work towards mastery, mentally and physically. Most athletes- youth and professional alike- stay put in the Technical phase, working and working to get better only to win, losing the “fun” of the sport in the process. The more you work at it, the more it becomes a job, and the more you want to quit when you don’t get the results you want.

In order to surpass the Technical phase, you have to set your sights (okay, yes, the KIDS’ sights, right, it’s not about me ALL the time I guess!) not on the scoreboard but on mastery instead- mind and body. In training purely for the win, you focus only on results and compare yourself to others in the process. If you train towards mastery, you instead focus on your own personal effort towards learning and improving.

With running, I’ve found that when I focus on a certain pace and how much faster my friends are, I feel like a complete and total failure when I miss a time goal. And on the other hand, when I train for my own pleasure, for the joy of running alone, I let time go and cross that finish line happy and proud of my accomplishments no matter what the clock says.

Of course, with running, time goals are extremely important. Especially if you are trying to BQ or go to the Olympics, are a seeded runner or are trying to win a purse. Then, yes, by all means you must focus on your time and seriously compete with those around you, work your training like its your job, and stay results-oriented. I get that.

But if you are a novice runner, like me, not an elite, yet you train like its your job, analyze every single split and constantly compare yourself to other runners… I gotta ask… why??? Where’s the fun in that???

In youth sports and in running, one must work to separate identity from performance. If you lose the game, you are not a loser. Give 100% of your effort and you win- no matter what that timing chip may say.

“The person you want to compare yourself to is you. Are you better than you were two weeks ago? Will you be better at the end of the season than you are now? If so, you will be a winner, regardless of the temporary results on the scoreboard.”
Jim Thompson, Positive Sports Parenting

Yes, all of this is so much easier said than done and if you’ve read this blog for any extended period of time, you know I am certainly proof of that! Physical ability is one thing but remembering to also work the most important muscle- the mind- is the hardest challenge there is, no matter what sport you play. And all that comes down to character. As a parent, the hardest task I have is building strong character- beliefs that shape our purpose and thereby motivate our actions- in my children.

Last night I learned to remind my kids that the most important play of the game is the next play. And for me, what’s the most important race?  The next one. Why? Because you can’t get that last play or that last race back. While teaching my kids not to dwell on “mistakes”, I’ll also be coaching myself to be in the moment, honor the game, find the fun, and always keep moving forward.

How do you define healthy competition?  How do you define UNhealthy competition? And if you have kids in competitive team sports, have you taken any lessons from their training and applied it to yours? 


4 thoughts on “Positive Sports Coaching

  1. Thanks Laura, I needed to be reminded of that now. Battling some burnout, but reminding myself to find the fun. Hopefully I can find 25 miles of fun this weekend!

    • I know you can! 🙂 Are you racing this weekend or training? I miss running with you and really hope to join you sometime soon- we ALWAYS have fun together!!!

  2. Great post, Laura. I 100% agree that focusing on pacing and time goals can be counterproductive. Lately, I’ve tried to approach races with all types of goals — not just time-based, but also concentrating on effort, mental strength, form, etc. There are so many different things that can affect my finish time that I have NO control over, like weather, GI issues, and health/injuries going into the race, but I know I *can* control other aspects like attitude and effort.

    Recently, if I do set a time goal, I’ve been trying not to do it too far before the race so as to set a realistic goal and to not put too much emphasis on it. I’ve also put a piece of tape over the pace display on my Garmin to keep my focus on effort, not pace. It helps!

    As far as competition goes, I try not to compare myself with others as much as I seek people who I strive to become. Like, if I see someone with an amazing race progression, and they were in my shoes 1-2 years ago, it gives me hope that I could one day be as fast as that person.

    • Personally, I don’t strive to become anyone other than a better ME and I want my kids to feel the exact same way. Other novice runners are certainly a source of inspiration but I can’t/won’t/don’t compare anyone else’s race progression to my own and if I ever go down that slippery slope, I have to ask myself, “Why is it so important to you?” Because, at the end of the day, it’s really not. Running is something I do, but it’s not who I am- living a happy, full, super fun life is my ultimate goal. Winning, not so much. I’m always trying to achieve more with my running but not in reaction to others’ achievements, only my own personal goals. Knowing what *is* truly important- living this life to the fullest- keeps me grounded and has helped me to always find the fun in the run!

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