Good versus Evil. Right versus Wrong. Morality versus Immorality. Shoulder Angel versus Shoulder Devil.
All of these capture the inner struggle we all have to do the right thing. This struggle is characterized as our conscience, and we all have one. Yet, for young players their conscience, like themselves, is immature. This is not to say that young players do not have a conscience. Just that is is currently undergoing construction.
Parents and immediate family members lay the deep foundation of conscience. My father and mother constantly told me that being a good person meant doing the right thing when no one was paying any attention. Those messages permeate deep into the minds of young players, as it went deeply into mine. The next level of conscience-building comes from forces outside the immediate family. Friends are the first that come to mind. Players, have your parents ever told you to choose your friends wisely? My parents told that to me constantly, and I chose friends who liked me for me and always had my back. I avoided the kids that wanted to party all night, drink, and try drugs. Instead, I was lucky to have friends that cared about me and I continue many of those friendships to this day. It is my hope that your teammates become close friends to you today and remain that way for years to come. Because I believe that good friends will keep you on a good path.
The last force that helps to develop a good conscience are teachers. I use that term broadly to encompass actual teachers, coaches, church-leaders, role-models, etc. For the purposes of this post, I will be focusing mainly on coaches and our responsibility to ensure that kids listen to their Shoulder Angel.
I have said before that sports are a microcosm of life. It allows kids to experience victory and defeat, and all the emotions and feelings that come with each. However, every sport has a dark side which if left unchecked, will ruin any kid’s experience on the field. That dark side is evident when players don’t listen to their conscience, and allow anger, rage, and frustration to rule their minds. When that happens cheap hits and fouls are committed, often with an intent to get back at another player for a perceived slight, or, even worse, to injure another player. These moments have happened, do happen, and will continue to happen. Sorry to say, but players lose control over themselves sometimes and will occasionally do something that is just plain wrong. So how can coaches use these dark side situations to their advantage? How can we teach young players to control themselves when everything around them seems so chaotic?
Option 1, Fight Fire With Fire:
Sometimes, a player will do something so blatantly unsportsmanlike that the only thing to do is call the player out on it. Put simply, there is a lot of power behind a coach using his own dark side and scaring the heebie jeebies out of the player. For example, I did something downright ugly in a game many years ago. My coach (also my dad) got right into my grill and demanded that I explain myself. I was so taken aback by how angry he was that I chose to be the most sporting player I could be after that. Do I remember what I did that set my father off? Not at all. I just know that I’ll never do it again and I’m incredibly sorry that I did it. The point here is there is a place for anger as a coach, so long as it is used effectively.
Option 2, Create A Safe Place
Every player should feel comfortable coming to their coach with a problem. Especially if that problem is occurs during a game. If communication lines between players and the coach remain healthy, then players can talk through their issues with their coach. Coaches, especially at the youth level, should strive to become a safe place where players can voice their opinions and concerns. If you do this, players will think to tell their coach about unsportsmanlike behavior on the opposing team, so that he can handle it properly, and without the player having to get revenge against their opponent. Work on ensuring that players can come to you with any issue, and they will come to you if they have a problem in a game. Tell your players, “if someone is playing dirty against you I want to know about it, and don’t take it into your own hands.”
Whichever option you choose, remember they are not mutually exclusive. You are more than welcome, and encouraged, to use both.
To all of the players reading this blog, I want to request something from all of you – Do Not Sully This Game. That means, when you are fouled in a game, you don’t go looking for retaliation. That means, when one player calls you a bad name, you don’t reply in kind. That means when you step onto the field you leave the game better than you found it by your actions on the field.
Finally, I will leave you with a great and humorous video that showcases the contrast between the Shoulder Devil and the Shoulder Angel. Here’s a hint, the best part of this video is when Kronk tells his Angel and Devil to leave him alone and he goes with his heart. That is what conscience is really about.