Sport is a gift, a gift that provides us all with opportunities that we might otherwise never encounter. Parents who register their children for youth sport give their child an opportunity to be active, develop skills, and socialize with friends in a fun environment. A coach who takes a kid without parental support under his wing and provides the opportunity to compete can help that individual experience a sense of family through the team experience. That coach gives the gift of hope to that child. Administrators who schedule and facilitate games and tournaments give the gift of providing high quality competition experiences that provide a learning environment that effectively includes a multi-dimensional test for all who play. High school coaches provide the gift of continued growth through sport. At a time when there are more questions than answers for teenagers, scholastic sport provides a venue where skills can be further developed and tested with immediate feedback. In most cases this is the last chance to compete at a high level, a gift still cherished by many former high school athletes.
As you reflect on sport as a gift, think beyond the extrinsic emotional gift attached to winning. I urge you to continue to think about the gift of helping athletes develop discipline through sport. Consider the value of this gift that helps them in school and later in life. Think about the way that you as a coach or administrator influence how athletes under your direction grow. For example, reinforcing the importance of respect that results in sportsmanship is a gift that extends beyond the field of play in a way that makes whole communities better. Think about all the untold good news of your athletes performing community service through their volunteer efforts. You are providing the consummate gift that you may never witness. You are helping to develop the future, a future of hope that will be led by individuals who have learned so much through sport under your direction.
In turn think about what your athletes give you. They give you their best in practice and during competition. They give you satisfaction when your relentless pursuit of acquiring a skill finally pays off when they execute it successfully. They give you joy when on the field of play they demonstrate maturity as a team by talking to one another rather than looking to the sideline for coach instruction. The ultimate gift may also be the simplest, when away from practice and the field of play athletes make choices and behave in a way that demonstrates respect for the coach and the program.
We tend to hear about and focus on the negative behavior that sometimes invades sports or is exhibited by athletes. Given the time of year, I think it is valuable to keep the positive in full view. It’s easy for me as the Executive Director at ASEP to espouse the Athlete’s First, Winning Second mantra. During this holiday season I would urge you to reflect on your proudest moments. Think about the greatest gift that you have experienced through sport during your lifetime. What is the greatest gift that you have given? My hunch is that most of you will point to helping a particular athlete, maybe even in a non-sport environment. What is the greatest gift that you have received? I am guessing here that it is not necessarily a championship or a particular win as much as it is team or individual that gave you so much in practice, showed respect and thanked you for all that you did for them.
It’s hard to imagine the world without sport…a world of empty playing fields and quiet gyms. But if not for you and countless others who dedicate themselves to young people, that is exactly what we would have. So, whether you are covered in two feet of snow in the northeast, enjoying sunny warm southern California weather, or somewhere in between, in the spirit of the season I thank all of you for delivering the gift of sport. Thank you for making lives better and communities stronger through sport. Happy Holidays.