Youth Sports: What I Care About

My kids love sports. Currently, my oldest daughter plays club volleyball, my two sons play in a YMCA basketball league, and my youngest daughter goes to “practice” (say it in an Allen Iverson voice) once per week to learn how to play volleyball. They play other sports too but these are our current “seasons.”

I love that they love sports. I watch when I can but when I’m not there, life does go on. I don’t want my presence to have any impact on the joy they receive from playing or the effort that they give to their teams. Don’t get me wrong, I go to as many games as I can but if I have a conflict, neither I nor my kids are bothered.

When I watch, I watch. When a good play is made by any player on either team, I clap to acknowledge the play – that’s it – the game isn’t about the parents who are watching from the sidelines. I like seeing kids learn things on their own, discover how to interact with teammates and coaches, and get better at winning and losing. Gasp – losing. I want them to lose? No – I don’t WANT them to lose but I have been involved in sports long enough to realize it’s a potential outcome of competition. So, if I don’t truly care if my kids win or lose their games, what do I care about?

I care about how they respond: To wins. To losses. To injuries. To mistakes. To sitting on the bench. To bad calls. To conflict. To fatigue. To feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, or lacking confidence. I care how they respond and sports provides a fantastic experiential learning opportunity.

I care about how they learn: I want them to become good learners. I want them to learn skills, team concepts, and the rules and strategies of the sport they are playing. More importantly, I want them to learn how they learn.

I care about how they communicate: Real human communication. I want them to communicate with their teammates, their coaches, and with other adults like referees, tournament directors, and volunteers who make their experience possible. There has been nothing in my children’s lives that has helped them to become better communicators than their participation in sports.

I care about how they lead: Sports provide my kids with opportunities to speak publicly, to motivate those around them, and to teach others. In addition, sports allow kids to play different roles which is an essential leadership skill as they continue to grow.

My kids have won and lost plenty to know the difference and to also know that the sun has always come up the next day regardless of the result. The outcomes I am most interested in are the joy they give and receive to their team through competition, the relationships that develop and last a lifetime as a result of being on a team, and the experience they have of being part of something bigger than themselves. I also want them to recognize that hard work is its own reward and never guarantees a successful outcome.

-Mike Schall

Why I Love Tryouts – Really

In my role as a Club Director at Triangle Volleyball Club in Raleigh, North Carolina, mid-October through mid-November mark the most difficult time of the year. And I love it.

Here is what I love about tryouts:

  • Every year, I see kids do things in moments of intense pressure that they have never done before. Pressure and their desire to perform at their very best bring out the absolute best in some kids. I love the opportunity I have to witness them taking a step in the direction of fulfilling their potential.
  • ‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’ – When tryouts are run well, when people (athletes, parents, and coaches) are treated well, and the process is fair, it is a reflection of the club as a whole and the people who want to become part of it. It’s a reflection of the club as a whole when those things are done poorly as well.
  • As leaders, we have the chance to shape the culture of the youth sports experience. I am fortunate that I work with so many coaches who understand the importance of professionalism in the tryout process. I’m also grateful for parents who exhibit trust and respect to the coaching staff during tryouts.
  • We get to teach kids about honesty – when it’s really hard. They may not like the message that we have to deliver sometimes but they deserve honesty. When honesty can be delivered with compassion and with empathy, it allows young people to process the truth in a helpful way. In a way that provides an opportunity for growth in the future. They may not agree and that’s ok but we always want them to feel that they were treated fairly and with respect. This goes for their parents as well.
  • Everyone involved has the chance to learn about courage. There are players who walk in the gym and are obvious selections for one of our teams. There are some players who are not so easy to identify. Then, there are some who may be in over their heads. It is those kids who I respect the most. They come back for three days, getting better every day, and despite the long odds of making a team, they thank us for the opportunity. I am the one who is grateful to them – for showing me year after year what courage looks like.

Tryouts are difficult for everyone involved. In every case, there are difficult decisions to be made. Whether it is 12 kids trying out for 10 spots or, in our case, more than 650 kids trying out for about 320 roster spots, there are tough decisions to make. Our intent every year is to do our best – to be fair in the process and to treat people well. We are not perfect at it but I love that it is meaningful to kids and to their families.

This is why I love tryouts.

-Mike Schall

[Full disclosure – I typically lose 10 pounds, don’t sleep, and feel stressed out for most of the tryout period. I still love it.]

We Hereby Agree to Be Nice to People

The following post is from Jason Curtis. Court and Classroom is especially thankful for Jim Garman of Garman Homes for allowing us to post this. More importantly we are thankful for the example Jim sets in how he leads his company and treats his customers. 

This is the most unusual contract I’ve ever seen:

Good Attitude

At Garman Homes, We believe a good attitude can change the world. We insist on a good attitude…from Our employees, Our vendors, Our cooperating Brokers, Our Legal & Lender Squad and from You, Our Buyers. We insist.

Mistakes happen all the time. So do misunderstandings, miscommunications and the dreaded perceived mistakes and assumptions. All are likely to put Our Good Attitudes to the test. At some point during construction on Your New Home, We are likely to stumble upon something unexpected. In fact, You should expect the unexpected. We have built hundreds of homes, We know to expect the unexpected.

Our good attitudes can make the difference between working through something unexpected in a collaborative way or stewing about it and trading ‘he said, she said’ emails. Those emails never end well. The gist is, We don’t promise to make any fewer mistakes than other homebuilders. But We DO promise to be honest, sincere and propose ways to move forward. In return, We expect the same from You.

We don’t respond well to yelling and screaming. And We don’t respond well to threats. We prefer working with people who want to find a winwin for everyone involved. If You feel You may struggle with this approach during the building process, We’re not the builder for You. Be honest with Yourself about whether You can commit to a Good Attitude. There is no faking it. We can tell when You’re faking.

We feel so strongly about the importance of a Good Attitude, We reserve the right to terminate Our Agreement at anytime prior to Closing if We feel Our relationship has gone off the rails. The last thing We want is for You to move forward with Your New Home if You are no longer able to offer Us the benefit of the doubt or if You’ve lost the ability to trust Us. It’s tough to imagine now but it happens. In this rare situation, We will return to You the Builder Deposit and, depending on the timing, We may be able to refund Your Option Deposit also.

We love what We do for a living. It is more than a job for every single one of Us. It’s not business, it’s personal. With Your help and positive support, We are confident that We can build a great home for You.


You:____________ Date:____________ Us:____________ Date:____________                 

Jim Garman, the owner of Garman Homes, was introduced to me by a colleague who was fortunate enough to have a home built by Jim’s team.  We invited him to campus because we were looking for someone who could stimulate new ways of thinking about IT customer service at our school.  Jim is a thoughtful, reflective, creative and passionate “serial entrepreneur,” who is taking advantage of his position as owner to serve as purchasing manager for the year (instead of running the company).

In the frequently contentious world of construction, the Garman Homes team seeks to create the best possible experience for both the customer and the building team.  They seem to have hit on a winning formula: seek to create a partnership and don’t be afraid to be specific about expectations from both the builder and the homebuyer.

The most important thing about a contract is that it demands something from both parties.  It extends a promise in exchange for another promise, and is supported by specific action (or “consideration” in legal terms).  The language of the contract keeps both parties honest, while laying out what is to be expected throughout the transaction.

What if we were to create a “good attitude” contract between coaches and families at the beginning of the season?

Here are a few ideas, and we’d love to hear your comments and additions:

At ______________ Volleyball Club, We believe that we have a most important responsibility to partner with You, parents, in helping raise your child.  We believe that the only way that We can effectively help You raise Your child is by both parties agreeing to act with mutual respect and appreciation.

We know that the upcoming season will include some wins and some failures, that every player will not be able to play as much as they want and where they want, and that We will make some coaching decisions that will not be successful.

In those inevitable moments of potential disappointment, You and We will react in a positive manner because it is the best response for Your children to witness.  Both parties will allow space for each party to be the best version of themselves [Growth Clause], will always assume that the actions of the other party are initiated with best intentions [Optimism Clause], will understand that errors will be made by You and Us, both of whom are human [Forgiveness Clause], and will always endeavor to leave the other party happier at the end of every interaction [Joy Clause].

You love your children, and We do too.  Therefore, both parties promise that:

We You
will react to disappointment with professionalism, kindness and positivity will be open-minded about the learning process and embrace adversity for our children
will understand that families are doing their best to attend practices and games and will seek to decrease to a family’s scheduling stress by being empathetic, patient and kind about tardiness and absences will be patient with schedule changes and endeavor to bring my child to practice with more than a full stomach and necessary equipment: they will come armed with gratitude, optimism, openness and joy.
will continue to challenge our players by giving them opportunities to stretch and grow, especially when they struggle or fail will bring cheerfulness and kindness to the bleachers at games, and will extend genuine hospitality and welcome to other parents
will always build up and encourage players and families through conversations with other coaches will always build up and encourage all players and coaches through conversations with other parents
will cheerfully conduct ourselves as exemplary role models and supporters for our players will consistently enjoy and appreciate the sacrifice of supporting our children in athletics
will treat my players and opponents as if they were someone’s child (which, incidentally, they are) will treat my child’s teammates and opponents as if they were someone’s child (which, incidentally, they are)

Leading With Vision

Last week, I wrote about the importance of vision in a post titled, “What You Will Become.” Jason Curtis then wrote “Growing Trees” in which he describes the role leaders should play in the lives and the development of young coaches and teachers. It got me thinking in a practical way about how coaches, teachers, parents, and leaders can model, encourage, and collaborate with one another to change the atmosphere and ultimately the impact that participation in sports can have on the lives of young people.

Here are a few examples of statements I have heard over the years and how teachers, coaches, parents, and leaders with vision can change the narrative and perspective.

She can’t.” A coach with vision replies, “yet.

I give up.” A parent with vision encourages, “stick with it.

It’s his fault.” A leader with vision states, “let’s do this together.

It’s over.” A teacher with vision inquires “when can we start again?

We did it!” A leader with vision questions, “what’s next?

Where can I hide?” A friend with vision pleads, “where can we go?

We made too many mistakes.” A coach with vision wonders, “what did we learn?

That’s not fair.” A parent with vision answers, “how will you respond?

It’s mine.” A teammate with vision corrects, “it’s ours.

That’s impossible.” A teacher with vision answers, “what a great challenge.

We need this.” A leader with vision compels, “let’s give this.

It’s too late.” A mentor with vision exclaims, “it’s the perfect time to start.

There is no way.” A coach with vision begs, “what is possible?

We’re no good.” A leader with vision implores, “how can we get better?

-Mike Schall

Signs Aren’t Enough

There’s been a lot of discussion about a high school in Arkansas that posted the following sign on their front door:

It was covered in August in a Washington Post article and revisited again in a very popular blog post this week by Tim Elmore, one of my favorite leadership thinkers.  The coverage and comments are largely supportive of the school’s stance, reflecting popular opinion that schools need to help helicopter parents reform their coddling ways.

I appreciate the sentiment.  There are times that we parents move so quickly on behalf of our children that they are unable to problem-solve, advocate for themselves, or even risk and recover from failure.  I also believe that schools have a responsibility to help parents and families learn this lesson, even if we need to challenge them.

It’s the delivery method I’m not excited about.

We are educators: we teach, coach, mentor, challenge, engage, care, support and inspire all within a relationship we have created with our students and parents.  Nobody has a relationship with a sign.

A sign doesn’t recognize when a family is struggling or a student needs additional support, while an outstanding coach notices when an athlete isn’t ready to be pushed that day, and understands performance might be affected by personal challenges off the court.

A sign is unyielding, repeating the same message over and over, while a great teacher adjusts the lesson plan when the class needs something different, and understands when a talented student isn’t fully stretching their abilities or a struggling student needs a different teaching method.

A sign takes all the blame (“Hey, didn’t you read the sign?”) while a committed educator knows that to personally challenge a student or a parent takes guts and love, and it’s only in that personal risk that our families come to know how committed we are to them.

We create all sorts of “signs” in the form of school policies, team rules, and classroom expectations.  It’s necessary to have common expectations, but at the end of the day our primary calling is to educate, not simply be rule enforcers.

No teacher believes that students can fully learn simply by completing a worksheet, no coach believes that a player will maximize their abilities by reading a drill book, and no educator should believe that school culture will be healthy because of the signs we post.

I hope that my students, athletes and parents are willing to be challenged because they know that I care for them and want what is best for their families.  The only way they’ll know it is if I have the bravery to stand in front of them and deliver that challenge in person, even at the risk of personal rejection.

By putting ourselves at the front door, our students will come to know that the most important lessons are taught in person, by a person, and that what is right is always worth standing up for.

-Jason Curtis

When Your Child Is Trying Out

Dear Sam,

Today is the last day of your middle school football tryouts. I hope you make the team.

I hope you make the team because of all the things that being part of a team can teach you – but also for the things you can contribute to a team.

If you make the team…

  • I hope you love it – the sport, your teammates, your coaches, the competition, and your school. When I see people who love what they do, it brings me great joy and it becomes contagious.
  • I hope you display great courage. It takes courage to do what is right, to stand up for yourself and more importantly, for others. Being on a team gives us countless chances to display courage. I know you are prepared.
  • I hope you give your best effort regardless of the situation. I think that is the right way to do anything.
  • I hope you are thankful for the opportunity that you have to play a game with your friends. I hope you are thankful to the coaches, officials, your opponents, and anybody else who makes this possible.

If you don’t make the team…

  • I hope you accept the decision of the coaches with class even though you might be disappointed.
  • I hope you are still grateful for the chance that you had to try out. Not everybody has those opportunities.
  • I hope you learn about some ways you can improve and then work to get better for next year. We are all disappointed at times in our lives but the important thing is how you respond to disappointment.
  • I hope you go to the games and support your friends, your classmates, and your school.

I can’t wait to hear how you did. Regardless of the outcome, I love you.



-Mike Schall

Watching Your Child Play

Play Ball

Down 2-1. The heart beats faster. 2 outs. Palms get sweaty. Runners on 2nd and 3rd. Muscles tense. Bottom of the 6th. Grip tightens. My son Andrew was up to bat in this exact situation in his Rec League Baseball game just last night. The beating heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and tight grip were mine. Andrew – he was fine.

It’s difficult watching your child play or perform, sing a song or do a dance. It’s difficult because we all want to see our children do well. However, it is in the tough moments, challenging situations, and difficult losses that your child is given the experiences that are so important to helping them learn, grow, and mature. IF we allow it to happen.

Here are a few things to remember – that I have to remind myself – when watching your child play:

  1. It is your child’s experience. Your career is over. Better yet, their performance is not a reflection of your parenting ability. Their response to the many lessons that sports offer to them, however may be a reflection of your work at home.
  2. They are going to strike out, serve a ball into the net, miss the wide open goal. They are also most likely going to get a key hit, make a great save, and score at some point in their careers. Be more concerned with their reaction to the failure or success than the actual act.
  3. They don’t need or want your instruction. Your seven last minute batting tips while junior is on his way to the plate will be forgotten just like the socks on the floor and the lunchbox on the counter. Your genuine attempt to help your child is actually causing more harm than good. Take a seat and let them play.
  4. When the game is over, put your arm around your child and walk back to the car.

In a fantastic article about the dreaded car ride home, John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project wrote, “Many children indicated to me that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents’ eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team.”

I have personally made it a practice after games to ask my kids what the best part was. Then I tell them I love them. Not because I saw them play. Not because they played well. Not because they won. Simply because they are mine. I never want my love for my children to appear to them connected to their performance on the field or on the court.

By the way, Andrew walked. They lost. I walked back to the car with my arm around him. I asked him what the best part was – he said how exciting it was to be at bat in the last inning. We went home and had ice cream.

-Mike Schall

p.s. On this topic, I highly recommend the new book by Dr. Jerry Lynch. Dr. Lynch has worked closely with Steve Kerr, the Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors. He also speaks with the Changing The Game Project. His new book, titled Let Them Play, can be purchased through this LINK.

Coaches and Parents

When I met with my team for the first time this season, I told them that my personal vision as a coach is for us to be playing as near to our capacity as possible…in June. Our season began in November and while we have different competitions and milestones along the way, I’ve struggled to find anything more fulfilling than having a team reach its peak at the end of the season. It takes quite a bit of work to get there as well as patience and I’m thankful that the players and parents trust me, my assistant coach, and the many other coaches who contribute to our athletes’ success.

It sounds great on day one. Players understand why this is my vision and parents love the sound of going through a long and difficult process – really they do. Maybe it takes some of the pressure off of them. Coaches tend to say things that are similar to what parents say…but it sounds different coming from a non-parent authority figure that they trust.

Coaches and parents have more similarities than differences.

As a coach, I want my teams to be ready to move on at the end of the season, ready for what the next season may bring. I want them to rely on me less and less as the season moves along and the best way to do that is to be an example of how we want to treat each other. We talk quite a bit about freedom and I have to be willing as a coach to relinquish control and allow players to make decisions on the floor that I don’t always agree with. If I have done a good job though, the decisions that the players make at the end of the year will be a reflection of the work we have done throughout the season.

As a parent, I want my children to flourish – to become all that they are capable of becoming. To love others. To be honest. To have courage. To give great effort. In order to do that, just as in my coaching, I must relinquish control. This is of course done incrementally. For example, I have not allowed any of my four children to drive yet. The oldest is fourteen so I’m thinking that I should still maintain control of the car keys. There will come a day though when I am charged with teaching my children to drive and eventually handing them the keys to go on their own. Soon after that, they will be off to college and I have no intention of moving back in to the dorms to live with my children – I believe strongly that they have no intention of me moving in with them either.

My most important moments as a parent and coach are performed away from the crowds and the spotlight. They occur in the quiet of my home, in my own personal time, or in the various forms of communication we have as a team that nobody hears but US. It is in those moments when my children and my players build the capacity to handle bigger things – and I as a parent and coach best prepare them. I’m so grateful to have the two greatest jobs in the world.

-Mike Schall

Youth Sports Parents, What Are We Going to Do With You?

A quick google search of ‘youth sports parents’ will clearly highlight that YOU are the problem. Among the titles of links listed in the search:

  • ‘How Parents Are Ruining Youth Sports’
  • ‘Overbearing Parents Add Stress To Coaching’
  • ‘Crazed Youth Sports Parents: You’ve Gotta Ease Up’
  • ‘The Race to Nowhere In Youth Sports’
  • ‘What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent?’

Coaches and teachers have piled on. I speak frequently with youth, high school, club, and college coaches and there is no question that they place the problems in the sports world (as well as the future of humanity) squarely on the shoulders of youth sports parents.

For all of that, I am sorry.

See, you are doing your best. You love your child. You have known your child longer than anybody. You know what makes your child tick. You know how to communicate with your child to get the most out of her. You bring your child to practice on time (usually). You want the best for your child. You hurt when you see your child fail. You pay [in some cases a lot] for your child to play. You travel when you can to see him compete despite the fact that you have other children that require your time and attention.

I don’t think YOU are the problem.

I think WE* are.

WE* are afraid to communicate with each other. Coaches have read all the articles, heard about the bad parents, and taken a defensive posture at the sight of seeing your email address show up in their inbox. Parents don’t want to be labeled as “that parent” so they vent to each other – and worse, to their own children. So, in the absence of communication, assumptions are made. Stories are created. Rumors fly. Trust is questioned.

One of the most common questions I receive (from those inside and outside of the coaching world) is ‘how do you deal with parents?’ Here are a few thoughts:

  • I don’t ‘deal with’ parents, I partner with them. I communicate with them. I thank them for their trust but recognize trust is not a given. Trust is earned from communication, from demonstrated character over time, from honesty, from respect.
  • I talk to parents periodically throughout the season. I thank them for their support and encourage their children to display their gratitude to their parents.
  • I email the parents every few weeks to give them updates. I provide information that I feel is relevant.
  • I give a lot of responsibility to their children – after all, the sporting environment is a very safe place to learn responsibility, accountability, and working out our differences. I coach 16 year olds but I wouldn’t change my approach if I coached 12 year olds or 20 year olds.

As a result of communicating in a way that builds trust, I have not had to deal with parents feeling the need to coach their children from the sidelines, parents flipping out on referees or coaches, or pulling their children out of practice. None of this is based on my resume or experience. It is based on mutual respect and trust that only occurs through healthy and consistent dialogue. I work to get a little bit better at this each year. After all, I work every day with someone’s most prized possession. It’s the least I can do.

*by “WE” I mean all of us – coaches, teachers, parents, kids

-Mike Schall

Your Paid Admission To This Event Challenges You To…

This is a 4-part challenge for anyone—but particularly geared toward parents— watching a youth or high school sporting event.

I’ll quickly summarize the event that gave rise to the challenge.  I was watching my son at a 4th grade basketball tournament this past weekend—a game in which my son’s team was outmatched.  His team was a collection of kids who assembled from a community league to play in a tournament; the other team—judging by their supporters and coach—were gearing up for the NCAA tournament.  The opposing coach paced feverishly despite a more-than-comfortable lead throughout the game, riding the officials with every possession: “Body checks are legal, now?”  “You can’t let that go!”  “He just ran over my guy twice now!”  The fans mirrored the coach’s demeanor.  They could not understand why the 11th player on the 11-kid squad that was down 14 got away with shuffling his feet with just under 2:00 left in the game.  They questioned the refs eyesight (Are people still really using this line?) and his awareness of what a travel is.  Unfortunately, this is now what we’re calling normal—part of the culture.  My dad, from another time and culture, came to see his grandson play.  (A quick bio: My dad has played in, coached, and officiated more games than the anyone in the gym—and it’s not even close.)  The senseless whining from the opposing fans was enough to cause him to relocate and offer up two qualifications for complaining to officials:

  1. If you are yelling at an official, you must be a certified official of that sport.
  2. If you are not, you must stick an entire sock in your mouth and then say what you’d like.

Enough of the toxic.  Here are four things I hope you’ll do at the next event that you attend.  And the one after that.  And I hope the people around you adopt your behavior.  And I hope this becomes the new normal instead of the one above.

Challenge 1: Talk with a parent from the opposing team.  The opponent becomes incredibly more human when this is done.  You’re much less likely to see the foul committed by some reckless heathen whose sole mission is to inflict bodily harm and more likely to see the foul as a misguided attempt to get the ball, committed by a kid who has a Gatorade mustache and ate a record seventeen orange slices after their last game—or so you found out by having an actual conversation with another parent.

Challenge 2: Compliment the other team.  A good play is a good play.  A kid is a kid.  And praise feels good—especially when it’s not expected.   “Good hustle.”  “Great pass.”  Wow—nice shot, #24.”  Say it for your team—not just your kid.  But give it a try for the other team too.  And if you’re in it for the social experiment angle, see if the other team’s fans reciprocate.

Challenge 3: Tell the ref he made a good call.  Some sports are more conducive to this than others: the ice is separated by glass in hockey; the football official is quite a distance away from the stands; the MLB replay control center is in New York, allegedly.  But the basketball official is nearly in fans’ laps as he hands the ball to the in-bounds passer.  They can hear everything, and I am continually amazed at the license that fans take to say things they would rarely say to another human being.  So while you have the ear of the official, let him or her know it was a good call.  When they’re leaving the gym, the field, the court (rarely are they being whisked away to their limo; they are more than likely getting into their Buick), give them a quick compliment—no grand production.  Just be the right kind of human.

Challenge 4: Seek out the unsung.  Most people notice the kid who scored a hat trick, went for 23 points and 11 rebounds, or hit the walk-off.  They should and will get a five, an “attagirl,” or a headline.  But let’s be equally good at seeking and finding that which doesn’t get highlighted.  Here are some starting questions: Who played great defense?  Who passionately supported their teammates from the sidelines?  Whose play could be described as “unselfish”?  Who opened the gym or mopped the floor?  Tell him; tell her.   Do you think they’ll appreciate their role being noticed?

What a different place the sports arena could be if this became normal.  Why can’t it be?

-Dan Schall