Sports and Life Lessons


by Coach Ronn Wyckoff, Author/Producer

Basketball On A Triangle

This article deals with parenting and youth sports--how we support the child and facing our own outmoded choices about competition.

Sports are a great metaphor for life. The dynamic of how we deal with our participation in sports mirrors how we live our lives. Supporting the child is a very important parenting choice.

Whether they are just beginning to learn the game or they are already on a team, the child needs a parent’s unconditional support. It’s not just about basketball either. It should be across the board for any activity a child shows interest in. It may not even be something the child seems to have any natural affinity for. The child just needs to know they are okay, that they are being given the opportunity to explore and expand, and that the parent is supportive and interested in whatever the child is attempting.

While the parent is watching and supporting the child, the child is
“watching” the parent. The child has an awareness that records every action and reaction, every word of encouragement or discouragement. All the while, the child is measuring whether they are okay or not okay in the parent’s eyes. In a book about Coach Wooden, “Wooden: A Lifetime of Observation and Reflection On & Off The Court”, the Coach wrote, “Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating. Youngsters need good models more than they need critics. It’s one of a parent’s greatest responsibilities and opportunities.”

When I work with coaches or parents, I always encourage that they bring this positive role modeling and image creation into their work with the children. Guiding youth to be the best they can be requires that coaches or parents be aware at all times of how they’re being perceived.

In my more than a half-century of playing and coaching basketball, I’ve probably been witness to every kind of parent—the supportive, the no-show, the loud, the ugly and the abusive. We have to ask ourselves, what’s important in our child’s life right now, and be supportive of the child’s choice. If we make the choice for the child to play basketball, is it also the child’s choice? So many times parents, even when well meaning, push their children to perform. Perhaps the parent thinks the child would be good at the game. Maybe the parent is trying to fulfill an experience they didn’t complete and now wants to live vicariously through the child. There are also parents who may have played well and enjoyed the experience and want the child to enjoy that experience too. Whatever the reason a parent might have for getting their child into the game, the decision needs to be made with the child. Don’t force them into something they aren’t ready for or willing to work at. Talk about choices with your child. Do they want to play? Are they willing to do what it takes to learn the game well? Help them get started, if that’s what they want. Find a program like those at the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, recreation leagues, church leagues, etc. Many times, children are sampling activities to see if one resonates with them. Allow them to see if they have a fit with basketball. If they get started and find it’s not for them, allow the child to withdraw from the game with grace, without any negative feelings surrounding the decision. Be just as understanding and supportive here as you would be if they continued.

When getting started, what is the child being taught and how is it being taught? Who’s teaching the child and how much do they know to be able to ‘get it right from the start’? If it’s you, the parent, do you have the words and skills to teach the game correctly? Do you have the patience? Are you willing to commit to the time and energy it will take to teach the game skills? It can be quite a checklist of things to do and know to get started, and quite a challenge for the parent. Getting the child off to the right start is as important as it is to just get started, maybe more so. What the child learns early on will influence their subsequent growth in the game.

And what about changing the future of the way we compete?

Parents have the opportunity—the gift—to be able to help direct the child’s future. Before that can happen though, the parents must be willing to change many of their old beliefs. That’s not an easy thing to do. We resist anything that challenges our current beliefs and our established comfort zone, yet the only constant in life is change. And change is the hardest thing we do. Change is not merely necessary to life; It is life. Positive change will require faith in a whole new shape-shifting for a future where children can come to accept that there is no need to feel superior to or need to be better than anyone else; A future where they recognize and accept the Oneness between people rather than separation; A future where we realize that there is enough of everything to make us happy and fulfilled; A world without the need to compete but where they can co- exist with cooperation and mutual respect.

Golly! Sounds really drastic, doesn’t it? What are the alternatives? Adults can continue the current way of thinking and acting where everything is about competition and to be better than others. We can continue this idea of separateness. Which kind of future sounds better for our children?

Changing the paradigm begins within the family. Since the child mirrors the attitudes of the parent, this exposure to parental actions and expressions shapes the child’s choices. If we can teach our children to celebrate our differences rather than to denigrate them; If we can teach them to live without hate, anger and fear by teaching them to come from a place of love, how might we change the future?

I introduced a set of concepts at a local YMCA branch where I was Sports Director. These were intended to bring a more spiritual approach to coaching and playing basketball, and to parenting. I wanted to encourage a change in the way we view winning. I felt that by coming from love and compassion rather than from trying to be better than one another, we could teach a valuable lesson in cooperative living. I used these concepts in teaching the coaches, during team practices, and in parent meetings. I gave this new element to both my life and coaching the acronym, F.U.N.C.T., in order to remember and be able to teach it more readily. I realized too, that I must have the qualities represented by these letters before I could ask them of others. F= Forgiveness of myself and others. U= Unconditional love. N= Non-judgmental. C= Compassion. T= Truthful at all times.

This simple but powerful lesson for being and becoming is now part of every lecture, team handout, and indeed, my way of life. Living and teaching these spiritual ‘laws’ is, by far, more difficult than teaching any other aspect of the game.

Until next month, Yours in Sport & Spirit,
Coach Ronn Wyckoff