One of the advantages of youth sports is playing on and bonding with teams throughout the years. Taking this benefit even a step further, kids tend to play against the same local or regional teams from year to year. Your kids start recognizing the same faces and before you know it, they have made friends beyond their team borders.
So how do you coach your daughter to play against friends? Young girls tend to feel that emotional connection with friends, sometimes to the extent that it is hard for them to play the game the way it is supposed to be played – AGAINST the other team.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the coach instruct their players to “go after the ball – take it away.” And the young girl exclaims, “But she is my friend!”
I offer a few tips that have proven useful over the years:
1) Always great to begin with an example of role models that are close friends but compete hard against each other when it comes to finishing on top.
Take for example “The Fab 5,” our USA Gymnastics Olympic Gold Medal team. Individual events force them to compete against their teammates and best friends for that top step on the podium. Consider part of an article written by USA Today: ‘Though many think rivals must be enemies, former U.S. Olympian Shawn Johnson has said that’s not necessarily the case. ‘In everyone’s mind, they think, ‘Why would you be best friends with your biggest competitor?’ What they don’t see is we grew up with each other, we push each other, support each other, room together. Yes, there’s rivalry. Yes, there’s tense times. We’re all teenage girls, all going through teenage drama, we fight and love each other like sisters.’
For Wieber and Raisman, that has always been the case. ‘We always room together and always have the best time,’ Raisman said. During their journey to London, Wieber, Raisman and Maroney have chronicled their friendship in Tweets. One picture of all three crammed together in an ice bath post-competition, shivering, huddling together, perhaps captured their friendship the best.”
2) Teach that line between on the court and off. Friendship and competition can exist side by side. It’s about giving your all while competing. When done, leave it behind.
3) Respect, Respect, Respect! True friends will always respect each other as long as intentions are good and values are in line. Remind your daughter that rivals on the courts does not translate to taking on a “mean” demeanor or attitude. In addition, “sports opponents” are not synonymous with “enemies.”
4) Help your daughter understand that her friend would not appreciate it if she did not play her best. Explain that athletes like to earn their victories.
5) Explain that friends like to help each other to improve. By playing hard, you are helping your friend to get better. Again, think of the Fab 5. They push each other in practices and compete fiercely during meets. And they appreciate the contagious motivation and drive that results.
As always, I would appreciate hearing your feedback and additions to this list. Let the discussion begin.