For the Fun of it: The Power of Positivity in Youth Sports

"I coach with unrelenting positivity and boundless optimism. And when the kids reflect that light back onto you, that’s just the best feeling in the world." - Matt DaSilva

I’m new to coaching youth sports, at least as it pertains to being a parent and member of the community in which my kid participates. Long-time US Lacrosse members may recall me writing about my previous experience coaching lacrosse with my friend as something we did in our mid-20s solely for the fun of it.

When I get together with our 6- and 7-year-olds, I try to bring myself back to that time when I didn’t have a dog in the race. I didn’t know any of the parents personally. We didn’t run in the same social circles. (Those would have been some really fun dads, considering the shenanigans my friends and I got into at that time.) And the thought never entered my mind that how the kids performed on the field was somehow a reflection of me.

There was such freedom in that. We laughed when the opposing coaches got all riled up, foaming at the mouth because these little dudes in oversized jerseys dropped a pass or dozed off on defense. We coached because it was fun for us. The players picked up on that. It was contagious.

I’m a bit more of a stress ball these days. I’ve got two kids, more responsibility in my work here at US Lacrosse and the financial anxiety that comes with a mortgage and child care costs. But when I reconnect with my mid-20s self, I coach with unrelenting positivity and boundless optimism. And when the kids reflect that light back onto you, that’s just the best feeling in the world.

For example, our U8 soccer team had a rough fall, results-wise. In one close loss, one of our strongest players was devastated after he scored an own goal trying to boot the ball out of the box. I could see the tears well up in his eyes as he came off the field at the end of the quarter. I proceeded to extol everything he did right on the play, and assured him that even professional soccer players mistakenly score on their own goal on occasion. He soon smiled, and I’m sure he had all but forgotten it happened when we rallied around him to sing happy birthday on the eve of his seventh.

We’re all kids at heart, especially when it comes to sports. I was reminded of this during my interview with U.S. U19 training team member Graham Bundy Jr. (“The Sweet Spot,” page 52), who coaches youth lacrosse back home in St. Louis. “Energy balls like myself,” he said.

Coaching presents an awesome opportunity to connect with your inner child. Just don’t yell at him.

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