As coaches, we’re preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders. Leadership comes in many forms, and our athletes are not only reflections of those various forms, but they’re also an exciting preface of what’s to come. Here at Twisters in Warrensburg, MO, we don’t look at our jobs as just coaching. Instead, we see ourselves mentally preparing children to go out and take on the world as doctors, teachers, carpenters and entrepreneurs. But we’re not doing it by giving them the skills needed for the job. We do it by helping them embrace the character traits of a leader. We know cheer jumps and back handsprings won’t be the most important skills that prepare children for a happy and productive life, but do teach life skills through sports that will.
Our athletes learn courage.
When our athletes push past their “I can’t” fears and they take the step (or leap) toward the next skill, level or goal. They have a theoretical team of cheerleaders along the way rooting for them: Primarily being their families, coaches and their teammates. When a new skill seems challenging, our coaches sit back and mentally assess the situation with the athlete. We discuss what’s holding back the athlete and causing the hesitation. We then talk to the athlete about the skills he or she has already displayed that have demonstrated they have what it takes. It looks a little like this, “Suzie, I know doing your back tuck by yourself seems really scary. What makes it feel that way?” Then, we listen to the athlete and either help them mentally and physically prepare for the skill, or we show them we believe in them. “Suzie, you’ve been working back tuck drills for about six months. You’ve conditioned your body, and you’re strong. You know what the process looks like and what movements your body needs to make to accomplish the skill. Your back handsprings are strong and you have excellent rebounding skills. When we spot you on the skill, you’re hitting every area of it without much help. I’d like to see you try it on your own, and I’ll be there if you need me.”
By reminding the athlete of the preparation they’ve already put in, the hurdles they’ve overcome in the past, and providing the support they need, we’re teaching them to be courageous. We are able to take them beyond what they thought they were capable of doing.
Our athletes learn humility.
Not every child who tries a skill – despite the mental and physical preparation – gets it the first time. In fact, no matter how much we prepare them – it usually takes a series of repetitions and corrections to meet their goal. For any athlete, this can be discouraging, but it’s also a valuable lesson in humility. As adults, there are times we prepare ourselves for something and it doesn’t quite work the way we expected. As a result, we course-correct and try again. It’s OK to not reach your goal the first time. In fact, it’s a healthy part of life, but it builds humility. It teaches children that hard work doesn’t always equal success. Sometimes it gets your closer to your goal, and then you have to work even more to meet your goal. Human nature often tells us that if we prepare for something and don’t achieve it the first time – it’s just not possible. Humility tells us that if we prepare and don’t achieve something, it’s OK. It’s not a failure. It’s an opportunity.
When an athlete has to try over and over before achieving a goal, they develop empathy for others. They learn perspective. They become humble.
Our athletes learn self-discipline.
Sometimes people are shocked when we tell them how much children crave self-discipline and routine. They like knowing what’s coming next. While routine is comfortable, some children also look forward to the opportunity for change. In tumbling, we focus on perfecting a skills before progressing to another. That allows athletes the comfort of the skills they’ve already achieved, along with the opportunity to work on new skills. But, they also learn that they remain at the level of comfort much, much longer if they haven’t had enough discipline to practice. This holds true in any sport. As athletes learn self-discipline, they progress more efficiently. Those who lack self-discipline often won’t progress at the same pace as their peers.
Self-discipline is learned through various facets of sports – not even singly related to one’s physical condition. In fact, a child waiting in line for the water fountain must demonstrate self-discipline to wait his or her turn. While the water fountain is not in use during those seconds of transition, children demonstrate the ability to wait patiently in line rather than stepping in as soon as they see the opening.
Our coaches focus daily on developing athletes. But what many people wouldn’t guess, is that we’re far more focused on the character development that happens at each practice rather than the physical development of the athletes. We know we’re building the next generation of leaders to build our community here in Warrensburg and beyond. We value leadership that demonstrates courage, humility and self-discipline so much that we focus on this growth every day.