Before I talk more about hard work and why it is so important for youth athletes to learn an important work ethic, let me say this: Kids should be having fun in sports too. That’s what will keep them coming back to the game. But having fun and working hard can both be part of the youth sports experience.
In an effort to be sure that kids are having fun, I fear that we’ve forgotten the value of teaching kids a good work ethic. And that is something that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
British marketing guru Simon Sinek explains that one of the results of not teaching kids to develop a good work ethic is a generation that’s given everything for nothing and faces a crisis of unmet expectations in the workplace: “They’re thrust in the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their mums can’t get them a promotion, that you get nothing for coming in last – and by the way, you can’t just have it because you want it.”
Youth sports gives coaches and parents an amazing opportunity to teach children a strong work ethic. This is so important because kids who develop a good work ethic in sports tend to understand the importance of hard work in other areas of life.
Over and over, I’ve seen (and it’s been proven) that youth athletes are more likely to succeed in school, and this is partially because of the work ethic they learn in sports. Student-athletes learn to push themselves and try hard in sports, so they are more likely to do so out of the game.
When playing sports, children learn to diligently practice and set goals, and this can spill over into the rest of their lives. They become responsible for doing their homework and making good use of their time. Because they learn to work hard in youth sports, they may grow into teens that do well in their jobs because they’ve learned how to commit to schedules, follow through with tasks, and submit to authority.
The connection is clear: kids that work to become better and learn how to work well with others will be more successful at bettering themselves. They may not always be in first place, but youth sports can teach children that success doesn’t just mean you win the trophy. Sometimes success means your child grows as a leader, learns how to persist, and sometimes it just means that they are better than they were the week before.
How to Encourage Your Child’s Work Ethic
Here are a few suggestions on how to grow your child’s work ethic:
- Praise efforts, not just results.
- Show your kids what hard work looks like. Be an example.
- Don’t give false praise, which congratulates a child for doing a good job when they obviously weren’t putting forth a good effort.
- Remind your kids that success is not just based on skill, but on steady, persistent discipline.
- Help your children learn to “let go”; they cannot control outcomes, but they can control effort. Help them focus on what they CAN control.
- Reframe success in this way: they are a success when they put forth all their effort to prepare to be their best.
I hear a lot of complaining about millennials and their weak work ethic, and it causes me to take a second look at my own three kids, now 25, 28, and 31. They grew up playing sports and played in college, and all three of them, although not perfect by any means, exhibit a strong work ethic. I truly believe sports helped teach them that.
This is not to say that every athlete that grows up has a strong work ethic, because I’ve seen plenty who don’t. But youth sports can and will do that for athletes if coaches and parents work together to nurture the mentality of a strong work ethic both on the field and court and at home.
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