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Youth Lacrosse is Not a Zero-Sum Game

March 18, 2014    6120 Views

Gordon Corsetti | @atlantayouthlax

Youth Lacrosse is not a Zero-Sum Game

Scott McCall

Sometimes, we lose sight of our true purpose as coaches. We get so wrapped up in winning that we forget our job is to serve the players on our team.

Why does this happen? I have a few theories:

  1. The allure of winning is intoxicating. It means your team is better than the other team. By extension, it means you are the better coach.
  2. Losing is painful. It hurts. Our society puts a lot more stock in winning than it does in losing. So the fear of losing is a powerful motivator for a coach.
  3. Reputation. Winning coaches get more respect than losing coaches. Case in point, how many perpetually losing coaches do you see in professional sports keeping their jobs for more than three years?
  4. This is how it has always been done. Coaches before you and coaches after you coached to win. Nobody coaches to lose because nobody was coached to do that.

All of these theories can be boiled down to winning is better than losing. Therefore, we all coach to win.

But at what cost?

In every game, coaches are faced with an unavoidable conflict. One coach is going to win and one coach is going to lose. On any given day, the roles may be reversed. Coaches get lost in the goal of winning to avoid washing up on the shores of defeat. Does any of this serve the players, or is it all just a zero-sum game?

Zero-Sum Game

This cannot be what coaching youth lacrosse is about. Unfortunately, it is how many coaches approach the youth game. If your purpose for coaching is to win and win only, you need to seriously rethink if you have the proper mindset for coaching youth lacrosse. If two opposing coaches approach a game with the purpose of just winning, they have done a disservice to the game and their players by turning the contest into a zero-sum game.

Non-Zero-Sum Game

The solution to the zero-sum game in coaching youth lacrosse is to make it a non-zero-sum game, where both coaches acknowledge their divergent interests in the outcome, but find common ground.

What is that common ground? Here’s a short list:

  • Sportsmanship
  • Fair play
  • Honoring the game
  • Playing to the best of your ability
  • Respect for your opponent

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it illustrates what all youth coaches should be focused on instead of just winning and losing. In a non-zero-sum game, you create a win-win situation. Sure, one coach may win and the other may lose, but if both approached the game with the above list in mind, then they have served their players and done well by the game.

A short story will illuminate my point:

I had the distinct privilege of coaching the U11 Atlanta Coyotes Travel Team this past summer. They were, and still are, a tremendous group of young men. I made it my job to give them my best in every practice and every game.

I had the pleasure of coaching against some coaches who shared a very similar coaching philosophy to mine, and those games were always fun to be a part of, win or lose. I also had the unpleasant task of coaching against some individuals who, in my opinion, just didn’t get it.

These were the coaches who were yelling bloody murder at their kids. Grabbing them by the face mask, lifting them up on their tiptoes, and screaming in their face, “Why did you do that?!” Or calling a timeout to berate their players about their lack of effort, hustle, or intelligence. Mainly, these coaches complained to their players constantly about everything they were doing wrong. In these games, I found myself praying that the clock would run out so I could get as far away from the opposing coaches as possible.

My assistant coaches and I always shared an incredulous look at one another after watching the opposing coaches lose their minds over the performance of a kid who wasn’t even eleven yet. I am happy to report that these coaches were the exception to the rule. Just about all of our opponents were coached by individuals who stood by a positive coaching credo. These coaches knew that their philosophy would be reflected in their player’s actions. They knew that one of their jobs as coaches was to honor the game.

I have always thought that one of my roles as a coach was to “do no harm.” Yes, I took that from the Hippocratic Oath. Then I thought, maybe I can expand on that mantra.

Here is my take on a “Hippocratic Oath” for youth lacrosse coaches:

I swear by the game of lacrosse, and those that coached before me, and I take to witness all my fellow coaches and all of my players, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following oath and agreement:

To consider dear to me, as my parents, my fellow coaches; to live in common with them and, if necessary, to share my goods with them; To look upon their players as my own players, to teach them this game; and that by my teaching, I will impart a knowledge of this game to my own players, and to my fellow coaches.

I will create practice plans for the good of my players according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to any of them.

I will give no bad advice to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; and similarly, I will tell my players only truths about this game.

But I will preserve the purity of my coaching.

I will not berate or dress down a player, even if that player makes a mistake; I will instead always strive to build up my players and impart my love of the game to them.

In every game that I coach, I will enter it only for the good of the players, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and the seduction of winning at all costs.

All players and parents that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and never reveal.

If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art of coaching, respected by all humanity and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.

I believe all coaches need to have a positive coaching philosophy that emphasizes their players instead of just winning. If we could get every youth coach to buy in, just imagine how much better our sport would be.

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