Sports Education

Why build teams & communities?

In 2003, David Robinson and Tim Duncan were proclaimed ‘Sportsmen of the Year’ by the prestigious US-based weekly magazine Sports Illustrated for their many achievements on and off the basketball court. In the accompanying narrative of the cover story, the author noted that talented as Robinson was, his basketball team San Antonio (NBA) never came close to winning a title until Robinson and Duncan teamed up. The fact that two players with grit and talent were able to play together effectively transformed San Antonio into a championship winning team. There’s a lesson in this story for coaches and teachers in charge of school and community sports programmes because in these days of celebrity worship, too often the spotlight tends to focus on brilliant individual players. There’s diminishing awareness that teams which encourage and enthuse their most low-profile players are the ones that win championships.

Robinson and Duncan provided a perfect example of what is possible when talented and accomplished players set aside their egos to work together for the good of the team. With so many youth and school teams struggling to establish their identities and hit winning streaks, it’s time stakeholders in sports educ-ation learn to set aside their egos to work together for the good of all parties — children, coaches, parents, officials and administrators and teams.

A few years ago, Parents for Good Sports (a non-profit that I co-founded with  college teammate Dr. David Epperson) partnered with the National Federation of High Schools, USA to launch a Partners for Good Sports programme across the US. The programme is designed to strengthen school sports by getting parents, coaches and athletes to pledge to work together towards common goals and standards, and equip parents with the skills they need to contribute effectively to the creation of supportive communities.

Why should coaches spend time to build supportive team communities and develop parents into committed team supporters?

Because by promoting positive parent participation, coaches reap benefits that enable them to help teams realise their potential. For example, when parents are on the same page as coaches, the latter are empowered to develop strong relationships with their athletes and wards. There is also clear understanding among coaches and parents of their respective rights and responsi-bilities as they build supportive communities. Coaches can also establish grievance procedures in collaboration with athletes and parents and get better acquainted with them; parents can attain a better feel and understanding of the sport and their children’s level of development as sportspersons and team members; and lastly they can enthuse team communities to take full advantage of their assets. The pay-offs to parents are by way of:

• A harmonious team community

• Knowhow to provide effective support

• Clear understanding of what the coach is trying to achieve

• Creation of forums for children to discuss different types of parenting behaviour that might interfere with performance and joyful experience of sports

• Better understanding of what their children want to get out of their sports experiences

• Managing common sports parenting problems

• Getting a perspective on the broader objectives of participation in sports

• Learning to fall in line with team goals

• Learning to mobilise support within the larger community for youth sports

• Building closely-knit team communities in which all stakeholders in children’s sports become closely connected, differences in socio-economic status, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, age, notwithstanding.

Through the Parents for Good Sports programme, we have learned there is a greater chance of influencing the values, attitudes and behaviour of athletes and parents by dialogue and empathy rather than through strict directives  intended to control parents’ and athletes’ conduct. This type of healthy partnership is vital to building and strengthening youth and school sports programmes which are now under seige.

Currently, (in my country) school sports are being threatened by club sports which single out and focus on high-performance athletes and sportspersons. Therefore there’s an urgent need for school sports programmes to be restructured to allow parents to build and manage supportive communities in collaboration with athletes and coaches. Providing parents with a sense of ownership of team communities can lead to improved school-community relations and community strengthening initiatives. This in turn, provides value addition to school sports programmes, whose future may be clouded by economic forces.

(Dr. George A. Selleck is a San Francisco-based advisor to EduSports, Bangalore)