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Five ways to have a healthier whole child: Character Development

At that moment I thought to myself, this is what it’s about.

At the end of our last Wednesday practice of 2016, Jr Black (the jr three team I coach) was super eager to give me the Christmas gift that they had gotten for me. They handed me the bag with smiles on all of their faces impatiently waiting to see my reaction. To my surprise, it was a picture frame with the picture above inside of it. All of their little arms reaching toward the middle, with the various character words we’ve been trying to teach them this season. As I’m looking at the picture, the kids are beaming, all telling me which arm is theirs, and what word they have written on their arm. At that moment I thought to myself, this is what it’s about. I love being a part of helping our younger generation maximize their potential inside and especially outside of the gym. Over the next several months I’ll be writing about the five ways to have a healthier, and whole child. Since we’re in January and this is the month where we do our personal reflections and make statements like New Year New Me, I figured character development would be a great place to start.

Our culture today

The divorce rate hovers around 50% in America, while about 40% of families today are eating three or fewer meals together per week and the stay at home mom virtually doesn’t exist. So, while family time is dramatically down, social media and entertainment are significantly up. Tweens and teens are spending six to nine hours a day either on their phones, computers or in front of the TV. When I look at those numbers I realize how important it is for me to be not entirely focused on the wins, losses, x’s and o’s, but on the bigger picture for our athletes as people. We as coaches are one of the most influential and authoritative figures in the lives of our athletes. Today our positive role models aren’t as available as they once were and they are often drowned out by negative influences. So to narrow down this month’s talk on character development, I’m going to speak more specifically on winning and losing, and why it’s so important for our young people to develop character in regards to both of these areas.

No Participation Awards

Think about this question, how competitive is life nowadays? We compete for college acceptance letters, we compete for jobs, job promotions and against rival businesses more than ever before, and when is the last time you saw a participation award at your job? Our young people need to understand the true meaning of achievement, and what it takes to get there. Youth sports is a great place for our young people to learn how to set goals and how to work hard to reach them. It’s where structure, discipline, and integrity are reinforced outside of the home. Sports teach our young people how to achieve, and not just for the sake of achieving but so they can appreciate the drive & passion that achievement takes. I love teaching our athletes that success is a choice, something that won’t just happen on accident; that they can apply the principles they learn in cheer to any area of their life that they want to find success in.

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Participating in sports practically my whole life, I understand that one of the ways to have a healthy whole child is to put them in sports. Sports taught me how to strive for success on and off of the field, court, and mat, and that true success is built on the foundation of character.

As much as sports teach us the characteristics needed to achieve, youth sports team can’t have a complete focus on winning. I’m not saying that striving for winning isn’t important because I believe very much that it is. However, if your whole foundation is built on winning, losing will be disastrous and detrimental. It’s like the man who built his house on the sand when the rain and floods came it fell, and great was the fall.

Why Failing is Good

Even though achieving is really gratifying. I know a major reason why I’m not shaken to the core when adversity comes my way is because cheer specifically has taught me that life isn’t always fair (being a subjective sport that is left up to judges, I’ve lost a few competitions in my life that I think the judges just got wrong). We all know that life isn’t always easy. Our youth need to be exposed to failure, they need to be exposed to tough situations and someone holding them accountable to their potential. They need to learn how to take criticism and how to be a coachable person.

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“Uncoachable kids become unemployable adults, let your kids get used to someone being tough on them.” –Patrick Murphy, softball coach at the University of Alabama.

 

If our young people are anything like you and me at some point they are going to miss the mark. They aren’t going to get into that school they wanted, get the job they applied for, or the rival business is going to corner the market, and a participation award won’t be coming their way. At one point in my life winning was my everything, when I won, life was great, but losing was truly devastating. So our young people need understand that at times they are going to fall short and that’s ok. “Life isn’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward,” –Rocky Balboa. So as old and cliché as that is, that is what character is all about and I truly believe that getting our young people involved in sports is one of the best ways to invest in their character development.

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Taking a year off to tumble

It’s tryout season again, and Suzie has had her eyes on the level 2 team for two years now, and she and Mom are hoping this is her year. With anticipation, they refresh the email inbox waiting for team placements to arrive. “Mom, are you sure you put down the right email, shouldn’t it have been here by now?”

The phone dings and everyone knows what just arrived, 2019-2020 Team Placements. Mom and Suzie can’t open the email any faster. However, unfortunately for Suzie, she finds her name on the level 1 team again. Disappointed and full of emotional thoughts, Suzie tells her mom, “I don’t want to cheer this year.” Mom, even more, hurt than Suzie, agrees, and suggest Suzie takes the year off of cheer to focus on tumbling and try out next season ready to make the level 2 team.

The theory on the surface is decent. You figure you’ll spend the year specifically training your tumbling, and by this time next year, you’ll be more than ready to go.

The big problem is that it NEVER works.

I’ve been involved in cheer for almost two decades now, and I’ve seen one athlete, take the year off of cheer and then level up their tumbling skills following season. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I honestly think I’d see it happen more often. However, as you know, life happens, and things never go exactly as planned.

So what are the biggest problems with this plan and why doesn’t it work and why it won’t work for you?

The biggest reason it doesn’t work is the same reason 80% of people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions by February- No Follow Through. Suzie starts super motivated and determined, but as the emotional surge wears off, the desire to train fades.

It’s November, so you figure, let’s take this and next month off to save for Christmas, we’ll be doing a lot of traveling for the holidays and probably will miss a few classes anyway, we’ll start right back up January, tryouts are still 6 months away from now, plenty of time you figure. But before you know it, it’s MARCH. Life gets busy, and with no accountability to teammates, or from teammates, it’s super easy to skip out on this week’s tumbling. Do I want to drive across town for only one hour of tumbling?

And here is the saddest part, a lot of these athletes NEVER return to the sport. Suzie finds herself (if she’s lucky) in the exact place she left off a year ago. However, because of how big of a fuss you made when she didn’t make level two, and how you swore she’d be ready this season, the shame of walking back in the gym and not being ready is too much for both of you too bare, never to return.

Even if it worked 100% percent of the time, here’s the biggest issue. What are we teaching our youth?

When you ask parents WHY they put their children into sports in the first place, this answer always finds itself in the top three- Teamwork. However, when athletes are taken out of the sport to train tumbling for the year, it’s not done in the spirit of advancing the team, it’s in the spirit of advancing oneself, the complete opposite of teamwork and why the athlete was put into sports. So, as we head into tryouts have honest conversations with your coaches and set realistic goals with your child, and if they fall short, as they will from time to time, use it as a teaching moment, no matter how hurt or disappointed they or you may be.

However, if you’re reading this, don’t assume you’re the exception. I’m not a betting man, but one in twenty years doesn’t sound like good odds to me.

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Your Daughter Won’t Fly Forever

My first year of coaching all-star cheerleading, on the first day of practice, we walked into our team of 20 girls ready to get things started. It was your typical first day of practice; we started off with introductions, eventually got into a little tumbling, and finally, it was time to stunt. Again, however, being our first day, we really didn’t know any of the athletes on the team; we didn’t know who the flyers were, who based, or anyone’s strengths, or weaknesses.

So we did the classic coach move, “Alright ladies, line up shortest to tallest.” That’s when we found out that most of our girls were the same height. Ok, plan b. “If you’re a flyer, step forward.” That’s when we found out that most of our girls were flyers as well. Hmmm… And this is not an exaggeration, every athlete who stepped forward as a flyer, who eventually didn’t fly on that team, resulted in a parent meeting, literally. Every. Single. One. And it’s been happening ever since, at every gym across America.

What’s the big fuss?

As coaches, we make personnel changes all of the time, last year you were a main base, now we’re going to have you secondary; last year you were a secondary, now we’re going to have you backspot. Last year you were a front spot, and now we’re going to have you fly. All of those things happen regularly, and no one complains about a thing or thinks twice about the move, but when a flyer is asked to try a new position, at best it results in a parent meeting, at worst, a Facebook bash and the athlete cheering at another program entirely. I now know that if I decide to take a flyer out of the air, I should be prepared to lose her as an athlete altogether.

So why does this happen?

Check your Instagram bio or your daughter’s twitter bio, and most likely they look something like this, “Mom of two wonderful angels 👼👼,” and/or “American Cheer Jr Blue 💙, Justin is bae 😍.” The things we put in our bios are how we choose to identify ourselves, and our self-identity is how we view that we bring value and worth into this world. What I’ve noticed over the years is that flyers, more than any other position in cheerleading, root a lot of their personal self-worth and self-identity in being not just a cheerleader, but being a flyer. And I hate to say this, but a lot of parents root their self-identity in the athletic success of their children. Which is why when a flyer is taken out of the air, coaches have an email in their inbox that night.

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What can be done?

Parents, help athletes understand their true value, that they are significant in this life whether or not they are a flyer or not, whether or not they cheer or not, and that they aren’t any more or any less important, valuable or significant because of their position or status on the team.

Parents, my challenge to you is that you prep your little flyer that she won’t fly forever, and that that’s okay. The reality is that life is ever moving and ever changing. We’ve all heard the mantra, only the strong survive! But I don’t agree with that, it’s not always the strongest or the smartest who survive, but those who are most adaptableBe sure to read my blog on team sports, because that’s what team sports are about, sacrificing the Me for the We. Sometimes what’s best for the team is for an athlete to fly, and the next year it’s best for her to base, and the next it’s best for her to go from a Sr team to a Jr team (that’s a whole other blog in itself). But parents, based on my experience, few cheer athletes fly their entire cheer careers and I really think coaches and parents alike need to help our flyers realize that because the day will come when she is no longer a flyer. Either because the position has become too stressful for her, too advanced, she’s outgrown the position, or just flat out she isn’t cheering anymore, either way, the day is coming, don’t let it sneak up on you and devastate your little princess.

Five Ways to Have a Healthier Whole Child: Teamwork

Every week my staff and I have our weekly cheer meetings. We go over what the week should look like, talk about any problems or issues we’re facing, and just the general operations that make American Cheer, American Cheer. I also talk to them about the word competent, and how they can make themselves competent members of our team. If you were to get a hold of one of our staff agendas for the week, you would read, “Competency is more than just the simple ability to accomplish the task. Competency involves HOW the task was accomplished.”

What I am really trying to say is that I want team players. I don’t simply want you to count 5-6-7-8, and then go home and repeat it the next day. Competency involves our synergy as a group. Was that the best decision for everyone in the group, or just the best decision for me? Did I invite others to share their new ideas or criticisms with my ideas, or was it my way or the highway? Did I listen more than I spoke, or did I do all of the speaking? No islands, no isolation, I want people who want to learn and grow with others.

IMG_0163Life is People

Very rarely in life do we work alone, most of our lives involve working with at least one other person in some way or fashion. Children have brothers and sisters growing up, students do group projects while in school, and eventually, we have jobs and careers which involve working with others as a team. Life puts us on teams as leaders of non-profits, book clubs, or just organizing the Thanksgiving Day plans with several other families. The problem is that we’re not born team players. Dale Carnegie once wrote, “A person’s toothache means more to that person than a famine in China which kills a million people.” Meaning that naturally we think of ourselves first before anything else. So being a good, loyal and trustworthy team member is a learned habit. It’s a learned habit that our youth learns by joining team sports.

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Team sports teach us that in order to reach goals bigger than ourselves, we need to learn to work with others. No matter our own personal talent, two heads are better than one. One of my favorite illustrations of the power of teamwork is demonstrated through draft horses. One single draft horse can pull up to 8,000lbs, so naturally we think, well than two can pull 16,000lbs, but you’d be incorrect. Two draft horses can pull up to 24,000lbs, that’s TRIPLE what a single horse could do alone. However, this is where it gets even better, two draft horses, that grew up together, and therefore having a better chemistry can pull up to 32,000lbs. The teamwork and synergy between these horses can produce quadruple the pulling power of a single horse. Think of the implications of what I’m trying to say, if we truly want to be the best versions of ourselves we need to take that journey with others. No matter how talented we may be in certain aspects of our lives, learning how to work with others is a trait that we have to tap into and hopefully master if we’re going to maximize our own potential.

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The video below is one I can watch 1,000 times and never grow tired of seeing it. It’s a team my wife and I coached a few seasons ago and to me, it’s the perfect demonstration of what team sports teach our youth. They teach us how to work together and be a family. It’s seven minutes long and worth its weight in gold. You will clearly see a band of sisters who understood the meaning of teamwork and family.

As the video mentions, that was shown to them while we were at NCA All-Star Nationals, and in a perfect fairytale that team would have won NCA, but they didn’t, they placed third. However, because they had such a strong bond with each other, their placement at a competition couldn’t and didn’t tear them apart. That team kept doing things the right way as a family and went on to win The Summit that year. So parents, to have a healthy and whole child, put them in team sports so that they can learn the very important life lesson of working with others.

Five ways to have a healthier whole child: Accountability & Commitment

 

Our current generation of children is projected to be the first generation NOT to outlive their parents.

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As I am writing this, my wife is treating herself to a side of french fries, one of Ashley’s favorite guilty pleasures and definitely one of mine. So I am not surprised that it’s a common favorite for many American adults. What is surprising is that french fries are the number one most eaten vegetable for toddlers. Not potatoes, but french fries – potatoes with the skin peeled off (removing a majority of the nutrients), deep fried in oil (killing off the rest of the nutrients), covered in salt and most likely dipped in a sugary condiment like ketchup or barbecue sauce. This fact only underlines today’s reality: childhood obesity is pervasive and at an all-time high. Since 1980, the childhood obesity rates for children ages 2-19 have tripled; with the rates of obese 6 to 11-year-olds more than doubling (7% to 17.5%) and the rates of obese teens quadrupling from 5% to 20.5%. And if you think that’s bad, this is even worse: Our current generation of children is projected to be the first generation NOT to outlive their parents.

My college professor made this really easy for me to understand by explaining that our health works on a triangle like the one pictured below. Our health triangle is made up of our Sleep, Diet, and Exercise, and we need all three if we’re going to maximize our health. health-triangleExercise seems like a waste if when we leave the gym we devour nachos doused in refried beans, sour cream, and cheese, all washed down with the fun of a soda. Furthermore, eating right and getting our daily exercise is surely good, but isn’t beneficial if we aren’t getting our proper rest.

Cell Phones are Killing our Sleep

Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. However, proper rest contributes to the repairing of our heart and is a major contributor to having a stronger immune system, sharper memory, and better weight control. Adequate sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of our hormones.

Because it boggles my mind how much time we spend on our phones, I have to bring this up again: as I mentioned in a previous blog (click here to read part 1), our youth is spending anywhere from six to nine hours a day in front of a screen. Smartphones, tablets, and computers emit what experts call blue light, which interrupts the production of melatonin, the natural sleep hormone of the body. Sunlight is the main source of blue light, which is why we wake up when the sun comes out.

cell-phoneExposing ourselves to blue light and reducing melatonin after the sun goes down makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. One thing that I put into practice last year was putting my phone and iPad completely away once I got home from work. But, if you don’t want to be weird like me, research suggests that you give your child at least a 30-minute gadget-free transition before calling it a night.

The Water Challenge

I use to be a huge juice fan, lemonade was my all-time favorite, and lemonade from Chick-Fil-A, was my all-time, all-time favorite. I loved juice so much that I remember waking up several nights a week just to have a glass; I was like a juice zombie in the middle of the night. For a month I decided to put down the juice box and pick up the water bottle. I loved how I was feeling and how my physical body responded. After that, the challenge was to drink a gallon of water a day and that was even better (minus the fact that I’m in the bathroom ALL of the time now; a small sacrifice for my health, I guess)!

Exercise, or lack thereof, and how we fix it

Studies show that more than half of our youth between the ages of six to 11 are not getting their daily recommended exercise, and that statistic is even worse for adolescents. Less than one out of ten adolescents, ages 12-19 are getting their recommended 60 minutes of exercise, and that includes their PE class in school. One way to combat this problem so that you can have a healthier and whole child is to get them involved in organized sports.img_2741-1

The two things that I have found to be really beneficial in my own life have been having other people that hold me accountable, and having a financial commitment. When I moved to Bakersfield in May of 2016 one of my priorities was to join a workout gym and get back into shape. While I had been working on the other two parts of the triangle, I wasn’t totally committed to the exercise part of it the way that I once was in college. At California Baptist University (my previous coaching job), we had a brand new gym facility on campus and every so often would go on little spurts of working out, but nothing lasted. It never lasted for two main reasons: first, I didn’t have any financial investment. The gym we had at CBU was free for the staff and faculty. When I didn’t show up, I wasn’t losing out on spent money. Second, I didn’t have people holding me accountable to my gym attendance or results.

Wake Up, Let’s Go!”  Accountability and Commitment

Without accountability, I would come and go as I pleased, and it was really easy to make an excuse not to go to the gym. Now, if we compare that to today, I’ve made sure to build both financial investment and external accountability into my work out routine. Ashley and I are now members of In Shape fitness club, and better than just being members, my attendance has been regular and better than ever because of these two factors. When we first signed up, we voluntarily committed to the biggest down payment option because I wanted to put my money where my mouth had been for years. The second reason this has stuck is because of my accountability partner in Ashley. Ashley loves Zumba and goes gym-picreligiously every morning and doesn’t miss a class. They offered Zumba on our recent cruise and there she was, in the front row. I knew that with Ashley by my side, I would be just as dedicated to the gym as she was. So, as time has gone on, we have stayed committed. There are mornings when I don’t want to go and she makes me get out of bed. And on the mornings when she doesn’t want to go, I remind her of that down payment. That’s exactly what team sports do for us. There’s built in accountability because you’re on a team and there is no longer a choice to come to the gym.  Your team is waiting for you, they’re depending on you, and believe it or not, that financial investment is real. How many times have you finished something solely because of the money already invested?

Not only are children who do team sports much healthier than their counterparts who aren’t involved in sports, but the health benefits also continue into adulthood. Research shows that adolescents who play sports are eight times as likely to be active at age 24 than adolescents who do not play sports, while 77% of adults aged 30+ who play sports today played sports as school-aged children.

So, while the health benefits are typically the reason parents initially have their children join sports, be sure to catch my future blogs on the additional benefits and why parents KEEP them in organized sports.