By Greg Bach
Today’s youth sports landscape is drastically different than the one former NFL great Greg Olsen traversed during his youth and teen years growing up in New Jersey.
“It’s a very different world from what I remember growing up in,” says Olsen, who played 14 seasons in the NFL for Carolina, Chicago, and Seattle and ranks fifth all-time in receptions by a tight end. “And I don’t know how far that pendulum is going to swing but there’s no question that youth sports is getting younger, and it’s getting more competitive and more specialized at younger ages than it ever was when I was growing up.”
The dad of three – he has a 10-year-old son and 9-year-old twins (boy and girl) – is a busy volunteer coach of baseball, basketball and flag football these days.
And he’s the host of the new podcast Youth Inc., where he sits down with sports greats, coaches, psychologists and authors covering all different aspects of youth sports.
“Now it’s come full circle where I’m the youth coach and trying to navigate what sports to play, how many sports to play and all these decisions that parents are struggling with that never existed before,” he says. “So we’re trying to provide a lot of different perspectives.”
Among the guests that have already appeared on the Youth Inc. podcast include legendary NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice, Olympic gymnastics champion Shawn Johnson, college basketball Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, and U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team midfielder Sam Mewis.
Check out these insights Olsen shared about his experiences on the youth sports sidelines guiding teams, and being a supportive parent, too:
THE VALUE OF FAILING
Parents naturally want to protect their kids from painful experiences and disappointing moments throughout their childhood.
And that’s especially true in sports.
But Olsen remembers how valuable those setbacks were in his development growing up, and how important it is for kids to experience them, learn from them, and move forward from them.
At the conclusion of Olsen’s practices with his teams he has the parents gather around so they can hear the messages he’s sending the kids home with.
“I want them to hear what the final thought is before they leave the ballfield or they leave the gym,” he says. “I want them to be able to get in the car and carry on that conversation with their kid. I don’t want the parent to say ‘hey Johnny, what did Coach say at the end?’ That translation from a 10-year-old is probably not going to be great. I want the parents to be part of the process and carry the messaging from practice into the home, into school and into the next season’s sport. We’re not just doing 10-year-old baseball, we’re trying to build core values.”
COACHING YOUR OWN KIDS
Olsen, like most volunteer coaches around the country, has his own kids on his teams.
And he makes it clear from the start to everyone that his focus is on every child.
“I set the culture and the tone of the team that we’re doing this the right way and that I’m out here to coach every single kid on the field,” he says. “And what I find myself doing is I end up spending the majority of my time with everyone but my own kids. You’re trying to get the entire team better, so if I need to spend some extra time helping other kids I can fill in the gaps with my own kids on other days, or at home. But while I’m out there I have to pour myself into the entire team in order to elevate everybody and it’s a fine balance; it’s very hard.”
MESSAGES THAT MATTER
“There are so many positives that can be taken out of the youth sports experience aside from the sport, and I always say to the families and to the kids that 90 percent of what we’re doing out here has nothing to do with the sport,” Olsen explains. “Teaching kids how to shoot a basketball or how to field a ground ball is the easy part. Everything else is why I’m out there. Teaching kids at a young age how to compete, how to be accountable, how to be good teammates, how to deal with failure, how to deal with success, discipline, and all those tools that youth sports, in my opinion, teaches better than anything else is why I’m out there and is the part that I really enjoy.”
When soccer season rolls around Olsen enjoys being a supportive parent, watching and cheering from the sidelines as his daughter runs up and down the field.
“I love going to her games,” he says. “I get to sit on the sidelines and cheer and clap and be the dad and be there to support her and her teammates. I try to remember what her coaches tell her and echo that at home and be an advocate of the coach at home.”
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Add these tips to your coaching toolkit to help young athletes broaden their outlooks, enhance their emotional health, and compete with honor