Recently, I wrote an article about confidence inspired by a friend’s answer to a question I had asked, “What is the most important thing you learned playing youth sports?” There is no doubt our children learn a great deal through their involvement in sports. While I was impressed by my friend’s stories about his youth sports days, I had no experiences to share or reflect on. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to play any sports until high school, so I was unable to answer this question myself. Fortunately, we never stop learning. I am a volunteer youth coach and coaching kids has been among the most enlightening and enriching times of my life. This led me to ask myself a slightly different question, “What is the single most important thing I have learned coaching youth sports?”
The answer is Grace. Grace is undoubtedly the most important thing I have learned through my years of coaching kids. Sharing grace is the greatest opportunity I have had as a coach. Webster’s 1913 Dictionary defines grace as:
Grace grās n. 1. The exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor; disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.
While there are many definitions of grace, this one was so inspiring to me that I was tempted to simply share the definition and leave it at that. Adding words seems redundant, but I will try nonetheless.
Take a minute to picture a youth baseball team at their first practice. Imagine 12 eight year olds who have never met before, showing up with their parents in tow (or in some cases, the other way around). There is anticipation, excitement, fear, pride, insecurity and the list goes on. However, from the moment mom or dad hit “SUBMIT” on the registration website weeks earlier, their child has been 100% on the team. For the faithful, grace cannot be earned, it is a gift, provided of course, that the recipient accepts it and all that goes with it. Playing youth sports is a gift to any kid that is registered to play. The financial burden of participating in youth sports is a topic for another article. For the sake of this point, the child does not have to earn his or her way onto the team. All 12 kids who showed up for that first practice are on the team and will play in practices and games regardless of their individual talent, ability or experience. No exceptions.
Instead of feeling like I am simply complying with mandatory minimum play rules, I understand that I have the opportunity to coach by grace. It is through grace that I am able to coach each one of my players based on his or her individual talents and gifts.
Some kids will work hard in practice and some will not. Some kids will excel under pressure and some will cry. Some kids will laugh and make friends while others will remain shy. The grace offered by and through the coach is the thread that will stitch this diverse group of kids into one team that cares and plays for each other. The coach who exercises love, kindness, mercy and favor is working to benefit others.
Let’s face it, we all want to win games and championships. This includes kids, coaches and parents. But when all is said and done, can there be any greater joy than seeing a child experience true grace? I promise you this; there is no trophy that will outlast the impression that the grace of a coach will leave on a child.