Several years ago I sat in wonderment at the National Athletic Administrators conference. Greg Dale Ph.D., a sports psychologist from Duke University, addressed the pressures on youth athletes. He offered a simple way to alleviate them: Let them play.
I invited Greg to visit with us at Moses Brown last month. His session with the students started the momentum for the afternoon, and involved the children as active participants. He advised them that pressure comes from within, and the release of that pressure also comes from within. One technique Greg introduced to help students move on from making mistakes and avoid dwelling on them is to “flush” them away. Many of the teams have already reported that they are beginning to use this method.
Greg’s message in the coaches’ session was to be open-minded, and to keep lines of communication open. He pushed us to think about the culture that we create for our student-athletes. In one particularly interesting activity, Greg asked coaches to move to opposite sides of the room if we agreed or disagreed with a statement. Given the statement “openly gay students are fully accepted by their team,” many moved to the agreement side. However, when one coach suggested that “fully” is certainly not the norm, healthy dialogue convinced some that perhaps we need to think more carefully about this particular situation.
The parents’ session was by far the most lively and provocative of Greg’s presentations. With more than 70 parents in attendance, his message to them was simple: Get a life. He showed a slide titled: “You know you need to get a life when…” The first response was “You attend practices.” Greg asked which parents attend practices, and why. Raising his hand, one parent answered: “Because it’s fun.” Greg responded, “For you or your son?” He advised that parent to go home and ask his child if his father’s attendance at practice was fun for him. Another parent suggested that she attended practices to provide her daughter with comfort and to make sure she was safe. Greg suggested that this mother had “trust issues”. While Greg delivered some tough messages to the parents, his presentation was light, fun, and filled with energetic interaction.
In the days following, I received many emails and phone calls praising Greg’s presentations. Several parents attended because they’d been told to do so by their children. My most veteran coach (with over 300 wins) told me that Greg’s presentation was the best professional development activity she had ever attended.
As a community, we need to remember the messages Greg Dale delivered: Let them play, communicate, and get a life. Keep youth sports in perspective. Kids play sports to have fun. If we contribute to their experience in a negative way, then we need to re-think our involvement.
– Jeff Maidment
Jeff Maidment is director of athletics at Moses Brown School and first heard renowned Duke sports psychologist Greg Dale speak at a National Athletic Administrators conference. Jeff invited Dale to share his important message with MB students, coaches and parents at the start of this school year. Dale spoke to parents about helping their children excel at athletics while keeping things in perspective for long-term well-being and healthy development. He consults with collegiate and professional teams and organizations around the world, including The World Bank, Habitat for Humanity International, Airports Council International, and Pfizer. Dale has written four books on leadership and performance, including The Fulfilling Ride: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Athletes Have a Successful Sports Experience, and has offered expert advice in a series of videos for coaches, athletes and parents. Featured on Good Morning America, MSNBC and numerous national radio programs, Dale also is a member of the sports psychology staff for USA Track and Field.