Reliability In Youth Sports

If you think coaches are not paying attention in youth sports, don't. They are. Things like being reliable matter. If you think I'm talking about just consistently hitting a crispy seam pass through defenders, I'm not. I'm talking about a players ability to make an honor commitments. Seemingly little things matter: being late to practice or games, not keeping promises to show up at a special events, failure to follow through with a promised email or not responding at all. 

Players need to learn how to sweat the small stuff, because if it comes down to two players: one who's always reliable, communicates well, and follows through - or one that doesn't - the one that is reliable gets the money. Let's get behind the scenes and learn what's going on with the people who support our players. 

Reliability by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Being Reliable In Youth Sports

For young athletes, being reliable is one of those things that youth sports provides great opportunities to learn. I think most coaches would agree that we don't expect kids to understand the importance of reliability right away. Learning this lesson is something that moms and dads can help with a lot - once they understand the opportunity and know how to tap into it. By the end of this episode, you will. More importantly, you'll know why it's so important for our kids! They may be missing out on some great opportunities for silly reasons. 

There are many ways to define reliability in youth sports. Being fit and being able of running the full period of a game is one way. Fitness is something all coaches are looking for. It's also something that isn't going to come entirely from the practice or game environments. After say, ages 12 or 13, if the only fitness a kid gets is at practice, they're going to fall behind. 

Having reliable skills in a game environment is another way. As a coach, I've had players I know are consistent on the field and some who seem to bring a different player every game. I've heard some players tell me they're going to do something in a game and I've watched with delight as they did it. I've had other players tell me they're going to do something in a game and I've gone home afterwards wondering why they said that. 

Reliability is important and coaches come to rely on certain players to anchor the team strategy or informs the playing formation. unreliable field players need contingency plans. A coach might find themselves thinking: if this player is on today, then A. If they're not on today, then we need to do B. Reliable players on the field make a pretty big difference in the overall experience. 

Now you may have expected me to say something about reliability on the pitch, but what I'm about to say when we come back may come as a surprise. Don't worry when you hear this. The good news is that moms and dads can have a direct and profound effect on player reliability on the pitch and off - in youth sports and in real life. 

Reliability Off the Pitch in Youth Sports

Coaches are looking for solid people for their soccer teams, but let's not stop there. Employers are looking for solid people to work for their companies. See where I'm going with this? The youth sports environment is a great learning environment. Kid's will do well to do their best to learn reliability while the adults supporting them are still understanding about mis-steps. Employers are not so forgiving. 

The reality is, coaches can lose patience too. This should never be in the sense that players get lesser treatment on the soccer pitch, but there are a lot of things that happen off the pitch that are affected by player reliability. 

It's well known in the coaching community that coaches tend to go above and beyond for players. We spend so much time thinking about and working towards making players successful, that when we see a good chance to help someone, we jump on it. 

Producing a show like this puts me in front of all kinds of people: other coaches, club presidents, college recruiters, league officials, directors of coaching, parents with connections, etc. etc. When I know that a player I know is looking for something and I can help them get it, I generally jump at it. There are times, however, when jumping on an opportunity on behalf of one of my players is going to add a bunch of work to my plate. It could mean developing relationships, traveling, composing emails and following up, or making / taking phone calls. As a general rule, I'm happy to do these things, but consider this:

Two players want the same opportunity. Only one can have it. The person on the other end of the phone or email exchange is asking me for my recommendation. Which do I choose? 

Decisions like this happen with more frequency than people probably think about. Who would you choose? 

The Importance of Reliability and Reputation

On Friday evening, we did something unique in our community. We marched to in the second largest parade in the state of Maryland.

I’ve personally been doing this for probably 4 years now. Our club used to march in this parade every year for a while, but volunteers faded away and the club lost someone to set it up and see it through, so this event disappeared for a while. When I was elected President, I brought it back as a way to bring some excitement back into the community.

Coordinating our participation in the parade takes a bit of work. Paperwork need to be filed. Props purchased. Recruitment emails typed and distributed. Social media posts written and posted. Signs and banners printed. Etc etc. We used to hand out flyers, but I think they ended up as litter along the parade route, so I stopped doing that this year.

We had giant 6’ inflatable soccer balls, 3’ balls... the kids really enjoyed interacting with the people along the sidewalks and I think the crowd enjoyed playing back.

Mission accomplished, right? Well, sort of. As with most things, the stuff we don’t see is stuff worth talking about.

I have no real issue with the parade itself. If anything, my issue would be with the people who were not there. My goal is to see every one of our teams turn out in uniform and march together as teams. Each team might have a special thing they do / that they practice in the Spring. Coaches all march with their players. Players all wear the same uniforms. They might try try to outdo one another with juggling, or passing, a song, or maybe some crazy dance moves. We have talented kids. Who knows how cool that might be.

I don’t really take big issue with the majority of our community who don’t march with us. They don’t know yet how much fun this could be and I have a communication challenge to get the word out. Lack of people is partly my responsibility.

It’s the people who RSVP’d that they would be there, but then didn’t show. Some of those people were my players. Some of them have established a record of making promises, then not keeping them.

Keeping promises and being reliable in youth sports are important characteristics that all kids should learn as they advance into adulthood. It’s key to getting and keeping a good job. It’s key to gaining trust of superiors in order to advance. In everything we commit to, our reputation is tied to how well we honor commitments and follow through.

I don’t want to pull the generation card here, but it really seems like the current generation of kids doesn’t seem to appreciate that the extent to which people in senior positions (me, in the case of my club and my teams) are willing to help young people - and how our willingness to help is influenced by little things like keeping promises.

I have a couple of kids on my team who told me they would be there. Neither one was. I was looking for them. I like these boys and really want to help them find success, but they consistently don’t show where they say they will be. That’s disappointing and makes me want to go help someone else who actually follows through.

Listen. This isn’t just me. All throughout our professional lives, those people who are reliable and consistently follow through on their commitments are going to attract more attention in a positive way. Those who consistently make promises, then fail to keep them are going to attract attention in a negative way. Many people will not want to help a young person who doesn’t show up to work, is always late or otherwise fails to keep their word.

And don’t think ignoring it is going to make things better. If you break a promise, own it. Reach out to the person you promised as soon as you can. Apologize and explain why.

In the case of this parade, one of my players reached out right away. He apologized and despite talking about it the night before, said he just forgot. I think he was honest and just irresponsible. The other RSVP’d, didn’t show, then made no attempt to own it. He just ghosted me and pretends like nothing happened.

Trust me. Coaches notice this stuff. We file it away. When people come looking for well rounded athletes, we not just looking for kids who can kick a ball straight. We’re looking for those talents that we don’t mind getting behind and endorsing to college coaches.

Think about this for a moment: do you think your coach is going to want to endorse a player he or she knows is going to always be late or not show up to honor commitments? Heck no! That would hurt the coach’s reputation and promote the wrong person! Nobody wants to recommend someone who will cause problems or neglect their responsibilities.

Think about this when considering player behavior. Is a player presenting themselves as a person who will always honor their commitments, or someone who can’t be counted on?

Being reliable and keeping promises are things that really count in life. If you're a mom or a dad listening to this episode, how can you use youth sports activities to help your player to learn this lesson? 

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The Soccer Sidelines

Soccer Dad, Coach, and Club President who is devoted to developing kids and their families. With a diverse background in leadership in other settings, David is focused on empowering parents, players, and coaches to focus on the stuff that really matters in youth sports.