Why do kids play sports?
The responses can vary from a college scholarship to spending time with friends and everything in between.
That question asked of about 150 coaches and administrators from around the area who gathered April 14 at Coon Rapids High School for a training event called, “Why We Play.”
The Minnesota State High School League partnered with the Anoka-Hennepin Education Foundation to help kick off the Student Athlete Leadership Project with an ultimate goal of developing a student-first approach to athletics.
Jody Redman, Associate Director of the Minnesota State High School League, led the discussion that the district hopes will influence a culture, approach and philosophy that is intentionally focused on students first and athletes that want to challenge themselves beyond winning.
The session was a condensed version of a broader coaching conference hosted last July, and will be held again this July, at the University of St. Thomas.
About 700 coaches and administrators gathered to develop a method to improve the experience for students, coaches, administrators and parents.
Realizing the difference between transactional and transformational coaching is one way the workshop helped attendees begin to modify their approach.
Coon Rapids head track coach Russ Sullivan also coaches various youth sports in the community. He went through both workshops and said coaching is really teaching and building relationships with kids.
“I’m fortunate to learn from some really good coaches over the years,” said Sullivan, who grew up in Texas where he saw both styles of coaching.
“It’s really about creating awareness around doing what we do,” Redman said. “What is our purpose? It’s two things. Its human growth and development of kids and connecting them to their schools.
“Our goal is to win. We’re going to plan, prepare and do all those things to try to win but it is not our purpose.”
Separating the goal and purpose from educationally-based athletics was a theme from the evening.
Winning is a goal whereas the purpose is focused on students challenging themselves emotionally, socially and behaviorally to compete and grow beyond winning.
Coon Rapids Activities Director Kelley Scott is a faculty member of the workshop, who also has children involved in youth sports throughout Coon Rapids.
He said Coon Rapids was the first site to host this event and hopes other schools will step up.
He added that youth-level parents and coaches might benefit even more from answering the four questions asked in Joe Ehrmann’s book, “Inside Out Coaching.”
Those questions are: Why do I coach? Why do I coach the way I do? How does it feel to be coached by me? How do I define and measure success?
Knowing the ups and downs of coaching, Scott said one of the things he does now is look at an index card where he has a coaching purpose statement written down.
“You’ll have the days where you ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ and that’s when you go back to that purpose as a reminder and mine sits on my keyboard and I recommend our coaches share that with their parents,” Scott said.
“Our culture says we are all about winning but our schools need to be all about education,” Redman said.
Anoka-Hennepin opened the workshop to all coaches in the area.
“Which I think is brilliant because it allows that common message to be shared among families from the time they start the sports culture through high school,” Redman said.
She added that 97 percent of high school students will not play competitive sports beyond school.
“So if we are only concerned about how a kid dribbles a basketball, then we are missing an opportunity to teach kids that will sustain them for their lifetime.”
That opportunity ultimately comes at the first levels of competition.
“Our youth coaches are in need of this,” Scott said. “The thing that is frustrating is answering the question, ‘What are we teaching our kids?’ Are they contributing members of society or is it wins at all cost?”
His son’s fifth and sixth grade football team didn’t win a game until the regular season finale. They lost in the first round of playoffs, won the next game but lost in the final playoff game by a narrow score that beat them during the regular season by many points.
“Was that season a success even though they won two games?” Scott asked. “I know they played hard and learned something and can answer why they play – to have fun.
“We’ve got to get that across to people that it is about what can that sport do for the kids, not visa-versa. We are here for the kids.”
Jason Olson is at