10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports

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We just finished another season of youth sports in our household. Over the years our kids have participated in a variety of team sports including soccer, football, wrestling, softball, baseball, and basketball.

As a larger family with five children, we need to be intentional both with how we invest our time as a family and with the activities in which our kids participate. This includes the need to be intentional about involvement in sporting activities.

As a family thinking through the stewardship of our family time, it is helpful to think about youth sports not only from the angle of what is fun, but also from the angle of what is meaningful. In light of this…

  • In what way are youth sports meaningful?
  • How do they contribute to the development of children and youth?
  • What life lessons may be learned from participation in youth sports?

On the heels of another season, a few members of the Irving household sat down to think through the value of youth sports. Out of this conversation came our list of “10 Life Lessons from Youth Sports” that fall into five main categories: Physical Lessons, Emotional Lessons, Relational Lessons, Mental Lessons, and Spiritual Lessons.

Physical Lessons

Lesson 1: Physical Health Is Important

To begin, youth sports remind us as a family, and remind our children in particular, that physical health is important. As parents we really do not care about what specific sports our children engage. We just want to them to engage a sport, or an activity, because through this engagement they are able to stay active and physically fit. When their days of youth sports end, we hope that they take the value of physical activity with them into adulthood. Care for our physical bodies is not the only part of life, but it is an important part. Youth sports help children value the importance of physical health.

Lesson 2: Athletes Are Born and Made

Youth sports also make it clear that although each individual is equally valuable as a person, not everyone is equally gifted with particular skills. To say it another way, athletes are both born and made.

People are born with gifts that differ from others. Those engaged in youth sports quickly see that not every person on a mat, field, or court has equal abilities. Youth sports provide an opportunity to face such realities, and these are realities that are true in other areas of life as well.

Although everyone is born with different levels of specific gifts and talents, everyone has the opportunity to make the most of what they have been given. Discipline and hard work go a long way in the realm of sports and in the realm of life.

Regardless of the level of talent that one has at the start, everyone can take the talent they’ve received and make it grow through discipline, hard work, and practice. Youth sports teach such lessons. Youth sports help young people to recognize that athletes, and mature humans in general, are both born and made.

Work with what you have been given and then take this talent to the next level.

Emotional Lessons

Lesson 3: How to Lose, and Win, Well

As with recognizing different levels of gifting, youth sports also provide a chance to recognize that not all outcomes are the same. Some teams win and some teams lose. Such realities raise emotional lessons for life as well and provide powerful opportunities for maturing. While defeat is difficult, youth sports generally provide a safe environment where children can learn how to both lose, and win, well.

Another way to talk about this is how to win and lose graciously. As individuals and teams battle it out on the mat, field, court, and beyond, they encounter the need to face deep emotions such as fear, disappointment, sadness, joy, excitement, and more.

Through defeat and victory in youth sports, children are able to face diverse emotional experiences in a structured environment. Although the world of youth sports may not always feel gentle, the adult world will likely be less forgiving. Learning to engage both loss, and victory, is ultimately a gift and a key life lesson that youth sports provides.

Lesson 4: How to Press through Perceived Barriers

Along with the flood of emotions noted above is the reality of facing both real and perceived barriers. Whether it is in a challenging practice or in the heart of a sporting event, youth sports provide numerous opportunities to bump up against barriers. In these moments, when it feels like quitting or giving up is the easiest solution, children are challenged to dig deep emotionally and find a bit more to offer to both themselves and their teammates.

The feeling of wanting to give up, and the feeling of being so tired that you can’t go on, is not limited to the world of sports. It relates to life in general. It relates to the world of study and academics. It relates to the world of family and relationships. It relates to the world of work.

Youth sports provide a place for children and youth to recognize that the feeling that there is nothing left to do or nothing left to give is not always the reality. The emotion is real, but the emotion is not always accurately expressing reality. Sometimes there is more that can be done. Sometimes the barriers that are felt are perceived rather than actual. Youth sports teach how to press through such perceived barriers.

I’ll stop at Lesson 4 today and pick up next time with Lessons 5 – 10 in the relational, mental, and spiritual domains.

In the meantime, how have youth sports contributed life lessons to you or the youth you know well?

8 Keys for Building Trust as a Leader

Trust, by Terry Johnston, Flickr

Trust, by Terry Johnston, Flickr

Leader trust is a powerful currency in today’s world. As we continue to see examples of leaders who lose trust in the eyes of their people and stakeholders, it is easy to see how a lack of leader trust quickly erodes businesses, organizations, and relationships.

And, while leader trust often takes years to build, this trust can be lost in a moment.

So how can leaders build and maintain trust? In his book The Trust Edge, David Horsager provides his readers with the 8 Pillars of Trust:

  1. Clarity:People trust the clear and mistrust the ambiguous.”
  2. Compassion:People put faith in those who care beyond themselves.”
  3. Character:People notice those who do what is right over what is easy.”
  4. Competency:People have confidence in those who stay fresh, relevant, and capable.”
  5. Commitment:People believe in those who stand through adversity.”
  6. Connection:People want to follow, buy from, and be around friends.”
  7. Contribution:People immediately respond to results.”
  8. Consistency:People love to see the little things done consistently.”

What steps are you taking to build your trust as a leader? As your most powerful currency in today’s world, intentional trust building is well worth the investment of your time and effort. For the sake of your leadership effectiveness, and for the sake of your organization’s health and results, invest in building your leader trust.

For those interested in a deeper look at The Trust Edge, check out David’s website at: davidhorsager.com

11 Lessons for Those Feeling “Stuck” or “Trapped” in their Careers

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Limitless, by David Melchor Diaz, Flickr

Have you ever had the feeling of being “stuck” or “trapped” in a career or job? Most people have at one time or another.

The question of what to do with this “stuck” feeling is vital for anyone facing a challenging season, and is at the heart of what I’d like to engage in this brief reflection.

Changing Your Work Context

Sometimes this experience or feeling leads toward a shift away from one’s current role, whether this shift is dramatic or more subtle.

One expression of this might be the bold step of quitting a job even though a next step is not in place. Another expression of this might be putting your résumé out and getting a feel for other options. Still another expression of this might be going back to school in order to eventual make the jump out of a current role.

Changing Your Perspective on Your Work Context

Other times, the answer is not a shift away from a role or organization, but rather a shift in perspective within that role or organization. This path is about taking a proactive posture toward the stuck feeling. Rather than seeing this as something brought upon you by the organization or others, this is about shifting to take ownership and responsibility for what you have control of as you face this feeling.

Advice for Getting Unstuck

On this point, Robert Steven Kaplan provides thoughtful reflections in his HBR article entitled Reaching Your Potential. Here are some recommendations and reflections drawn from Kaplan’s work for those desiring to move out of this feeling of being “stuck” and “trapped.”

  1. Understand Your Strengths and Weaknesses
  2. Use this Understanding to Guide Your Career Choices and Goals
  3. Identify Three or Four Tasks that Are Central to Your Work Responsibilities; Make Sure You Excel at These
  4. Show Character and Leadership within Your Role and Organization
  5. Put the Interests of the Company and Your Colleagues ahead of Your Own Interests
  6. Be Willing to Speak Up, Even Voicing Unpopular Views
  7. Don’t Play It Too Safe
  8. Identify Your Dreams
  9. Develop Skills to Realize these Dreams
  10. Demonstrate Courage to Pursue these Dreams
  11. Remember their Will be Bumps Along the Way

What Are Your Next Steps for Getting Unstuck?

Although we could identify other recommendations to add to these, Kaplan provides great insight here for those wanting to move forward from this place of feeling stuck. The key is to move away from a passive posture and on toward an active posture of taking ownership in moving toward your career potential.

What steps have been most helpful for you in getting “unstuck” in the context of your job?

Model what Matters (Leadership Practice 1)

U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program runner Capt. Kelly Calway of Fort Carson, Colo., finishes second among women in the 2010 Army Ten-Miler with a time of 57 minutes, 10 seconds on Oct. 24 at the Pentagon. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs, Flickr

All-Army runners take top trophy … U.S. Army, Tim Hipps , Flickr

Last week, I provided an overview of 9 Effective Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works. The 9 effective leadership practices highlight various dimensions of servant leadership that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

Beginning with Authentic Leaders

The first grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasize the importance of beginning with authentic leaders who are able to foster collaboration. In this first cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) modeling what matters, (2) engaging in honest self-evaluation, and (3) fostering collaboration.

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

In this post, we will spend time briefly unpacking the first leadership practice: Modeling what Matters.

Modeling what matters is similar to the leadership practices that other researchers have identified as well. Bass and Avolio engaged the concept of “idealized influence” associated with transformational leadership theory. Kouzes and Posner engaged the concept of “model the way” as a key practice exemplary leadership.

Inauthentic leaders can demand of followers what they as leaders are unwilling to do. Authentic leaders, however, must model what matters and be willing to “practice what they preach” when it comes to expected organizational behavior.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

On this point, research participants noted that modeling what matters “is the primary and most effective way to communicate the organization’s mission, values, and ethos,” and that “actions communicate much more loudly than words” when it comes to organizational values.

Reinforcing the importance of this leadership practice, Max De Pree argues that “clearly expressed and consistently demonstrated values” are often the most important factor in facilitating the important relationship between leaders and followers.

Model what Matters for Your People

While it may be tempting to just dictate or tell followers what to do, the best leaders understand the importance of action. Leader behaviors provide a powerful example for followers. Are we modeling what matters when it comes to expected organizational behavior?

Leaders don’t just use words in their communication. Leaders communicate, for better or for worse, through their actions. So leader, be sure to model what matters for your community. Allow your actions to provide a crystal clear message that is consistent with your words and calls followers to a higher level of engagement with your organization’s mission.


Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability


Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

You Are Not Alone — Interdependence and Dependence in Leadership

Steering Wheel from a Vessel, Wilderness Kev, Flickr

Photo Credit: Steering Wheel from a Vessel, by Wilderness Kev, Flickr

How do you begin your day as a leader? I recently heard a friend share his leadership challenge of “waking up with the steering wheel in his hands.” Perhaps you can identify with this metaphor.

As leaders, it is all too easy to mentally and emotionally dive into our daily to-do list the moment we wake up. This level of all-in leadership engagement often continues throughout the workday and beyond. While understandable, such engagement can adversely effect us on multiple levels — our personal well-being, our interpersonal availability, and our team/organizational productivity.

In light of this challenge, we need to be intentional in finding time for pause, perspective, and refreshment in our day-to-day leadership responsibilities. I plan to write on several pathways for this intentionality in future posts, but I begin with this point — Remember You are Not Alone

Awareness of Our Finitude

Leaders are often wired toward independence … toward going it alone in the task of leadership. Thankfully, the practical nature of human limitation reminds us that we cannot do it all on our own. Leaders are reminded daily that there are only 24 hours with which to work. Leaders are reminded daily that our bodies need food to eat and the rest of sleep. Our finitude reminds us that going it alone is neither practical nor beneficial within the context of leadership.

You Are Not Able to Do it Alone”

Moses faced such limitations multiple times in his life and leadership. At one point, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro stepped in and challenged Moses’ independent approach to leading: “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).

Thousands of years later, leaders are still battling this reality Moses faced. So how can we work against this tendency? A quick answer to this is we need to remember that we are not alone.

Interdependence and Dependence

First, as with Moses, we have other people within our communities with whom we are able to partner in meeting the goals that matter to our organizations. As with Moses, we need to learn healthy interdependency in our leadership. We rise to greet the day with a community of people who are likely much more willing to partner with us than we think. We rise to family, friends, and associates with whom we may link arms and work toward the goals that matter most to our organizations.

For some communities, cultivating this interdependency means that leaders need to equip and empower volunteers. For other communities, this means equipping and empowering staff and coworkers with whom we serve on a common mission. As with Moses, we need to resist our tendency to go it alone. We must look for authentic partners with whom we may work and serve.

Second, as with Moses, we may rise to greet the day with a heavenly father who is ready to lead and guide us. As with Moses, we may learn our healthy dependency on God in life and leadership. Although leaders have a tendency to “wake up with the steering wheel in their hands,” leaders who are mindful of God’s presence recognize that they are not alone even when no one else is around.

On this point of remembering God’s presence, I appreciate a prayer of St. Patrick. Here are some excerpts from this prayer:

I arise today through the strength of heaven….

I arise today through
God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me….

Christ shield me today against wounding.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me….

I arise today
through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation”

Though sometimes drawn toward independence, leaders need to remind themselves early in the day that they are not alone.

  • I arise and awake to a God who is ready to “pilot me,” “uphold me,” and “guide me” through the demands of my day.
  • I arise to a day where there are opportunities to partner with others in work that matters.
  • I arise, and I remember that I am not alone in my leadership journey.

Watershed Moments and Leadership Development

Just yesterday I passed a sign along the side of the road that caught my attention.


Photo Credit: Justin A Irving, purposeinleadership.com

The sign indicated a geographic point of separation between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds in Colorado. Watershed in this sense of the word points us to where water will drain from these mountain tributaries.

Watershed Moments

While this is a literal watershed place, leaders are often faced with figurative watershed moments in their development as leaders. Dictionaries define this sense of watershed in the following manner:

…a time when an important change happens

…a crucial dividing point, line, or factor:  turning point

…a critical turning point in time where everything changes that will never be the same as before

Watershed Moments and the Level 5 Leader

Leadership theorists point to related concepts as they describe how leaders develop. Jim Collins talks about events such as a battle with cancer, changed war orders, or religious conversion as creating a watershed moment for developing “Level 5 Leaders.” Collins explains that such experiences allow the level 5 seed to sprout in their lives. Robert Clinton engages integrity checks developing leaders face in his discussion of leadership emergence theory. These integrity checks are often watershed moments, shaping and defining the character of the developing leader.

Watershed Moments and the Twice-Born Leader

Abraham Zaleznik puts forward what he calls “twice-born” leaders in a 2004 HBR article. Zaleznik points to “once-born” and “twice-born” personalities, and argues that it is twice-born personalities who tend to be leaders. According to Zaleznik, while “once-born” individuals have fairly straightforward and relatively peaceful experiences in adjusting to life, “twice-born” individuals often do not having an easy time. Their lives and upbringings were often marked by continual struggle to attain some sense of order, and this struggle created “twice-born” occasions to grow as leaders.

Watershed Moments and You

If you look around at leaders we generally respect, they are often leaders who have faced watershed and challenging moments in their lives. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s overcoming of failure before leading the US through its historic watershed season. Consider Nelson Madela’s time on Robben Island. Consider Martin Luther King’s “Letters from a Birmingham Jail.”

Although the experience of difficult circumstances is not something we wish upon ourselves, these circumstances often define watershed moments in our own leadership development journey.

  • How will we face them?
  • How will we face opposition?
  • How will we face failure?
  • How will we face an opportunity to “get away with something”?
  • How will face physical pain such as a life-transforming accident or a battle with cancer?
  • How will we face the loss of a job or position?

Will we face our challenges as watershed moments? Embrace your challenges in life and leadership as opportunities to develop your character, courage, and conviction.

As you think through your own leadership journey, what have been your watershed moments in life and leadership development?