What Sticks?

Kids are sponges.
Last night, a friend texted me about her son’s experience at baseball camp. The boy is a very active, athletic seven-year-old. He’s bright and fun, and loves to play “shark tag” with me at Catalyst. He swims, climbs ropes, does pull-ups and wanted to try baseball.
In the middle of his first practice, a coach asked him, “Why do you run like that?”
“It’s how I run,” he said.
The coach laughed. “All the kids from Catalyst run like that.”
The boy told his mom later, “The coach made fun of how I run.” He’s not going back. Even if the coach was joking, kids don’t understand adult sarcasm. So professional coaches don’t use sarcasm with kids.
I was lucky enough to get some bad coaching early in life.
I can still hear a baseball coach telling me, “We get three outs in an inning. You got out twice this inning. Think about it.” I quit baseball soon afterward, and wouldn’t tell my parents why.
I can see a hockey coach standing over me while I tied my skates on the ice saying, “Hurry up, I know you’re faking a loose skate to get out of this drill.” Sure, he was a volunteer. And heck–it might have been true. I don’t remember. But 35 years later, I still remember the comment.
No one will remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel. And when you make them feel bad, they’ll also remember how you did it.
I say I was “lucky” to get bad coaching as a kid, because the volunteers who coached me meant well. They were good people. They probably coached 12-15 kids in their free time after work, when they were tired and hungry. Their minds were probably elsewhere. But I do it for a living. I’ve coached thousands of kids, and I’ve had the opportunity to say things that will stick with them forever.
Riley is on my little Misfits hockey team. She’s probably the toughest kid on the team, even though she’s the smallest.
Riley wears a full John Deere hockey suit to practice. Sometimes, in a game, she fires her fist in the air just because she got a shot on net. She doesn’t get many shots on net, because she’s usually in the corner fighting with some boy twice her size.
We were away on a tournament last weekend. Riley needed a new stick. So mom took her to a hockey store  and said, “This kid needs a new stick.”
“Great,” says the sales kid. “Composite?”
“No,” says Riley. “Wood.” Cause she’s an old-school 8-year-old.
She picks out a cheap stick.
Mom: “Can you cut it for us? We’re in town on a tournament.”
Saleskid: “Sure. What’s your position?” Meaning: forward or defense?
Riley: “Coach says I’m his digger. Cut it to digger length.”
Saleskid: “Digger length, coming up!”
I don’t remember saying to Riley, “You’re my digger”, but she does.
When you’re coaching a kid, imagine this: a big “record” button on their head, and it’s always flashing. They’re ALWAYS recording. And they’re never erasing: your comments are indelible. They’ll hear your voice for the next 50 years. What will it say?


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