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  • Writer's pictureKevin Anselmo

Distorted Views of Success at Work and in Youth Sports

By Kevin Anselmo

Parenting has come with many surprises for me in raising my two sons, ages 11 and 9. Among many areas, I never imagined that I would be in contact with so many parents whose kids are destined for the Hall of Fame in various sports!

I have always loved sports and am grateful that my kids enjoy baseball and basketball. We spend many days engaged with sports in one way or another. When my kids are all grown up, I am sure we will look back at these times and cherish the moments.

For all the fun and great learning and development that happens with youth sports, there is also varying degrees of bizarre behavior, particularly from parents.

In the process of bring up the next Michael Jordans and Derek Jeters, many parents have taken extreme actions to protect their talents. When their young stars aren’t producing optimal results, parents are frequently taking out their frustrations on officials and umpires. From time to time, we watch such spectacles grace our social media feeds in the form of all out brawls between coaches, umpires and fans.

Such behavior comes at a cost – not only in terms of the embarrassment the unruly behavior grown adults are demonstrating in front of children, but also in the quality of game refereeing and umpiring that kids need to ensure for safety, growth and the ideals of fair play. For example, the National Umpire Association says the number of baseball and softball umpires in the Babe Ruth youth baseball and softball league have been on the decline. Since 2017, it has dropped from just over 6,000 to just under 5,000. A major reason is the behavior – often times that can be categorized as abusive – that these individuals must endure.

Many little league fields, such as the one my son plays at in Sarasota, Florida, ensure that this sign is visible for all to see:

Leagues have implemented parent pledges that must also be signed during registration, advising grown-ups about how to behave. It is necessary, but also rather wild when you think about it.

In the youth basketball league I am part of, league directors have rightfully needed to stop games to chastise poor parent behavior on a few occasions.

Why does this happen? I remember a few examples of nutty behavior as a kid, but it seems that such antics are increasingly on the rise (unless I was naïve to it during my youth).

I wrote a book entitled Reframing Career Success: Picture Your Significance at Work from a Christian Perspective. It focuses on overcoming our distorted views of career success. Much of the logic also applies as we think about our kids’ “success” on the sporting field. There are many commonalities. Here are five related actions to provide perspective.

1. Eliminate fantasies of stardom (even the subconscious ones). Many ambitious career professionals were allured to reaching the top of their professions. We also long to see our children achieve greatness on a professional sports stage. We can envision the fame, adoration and the financial rewards that come with both. When either dream doesn’t seem to be on course, it can lead to irrationality that plays out in various ways.

2. Stop comparing. My book has a whole chapter dedicated to dangers of career comparison, the thief of joy. We might sense uneasiness when evaluating our career progress through the lens of others we see on our social media channel of choice. Ditto, it's all too easy to compare our children's achievements with those of their peers, especially when social media feeds are peppered with posts of kids’ athletic achievements. The pressure to keep up can lead to wild emotions and actions.

3. Come to grips with unfulfilled dreams. I am guessing that the majority of people reading this article, particularly in the middle stages or end of their careers, would say that their jobs haven’t panned out as idealistically as they imagined when they were young adults. Could it be that parents view children's athletic achievements as a second chance at their own unfulfilled dreams?

4. Focus on development, not results. Terms like growth mindset and embracing failure as opportunities to learn are thrown around in a business context. It underscores the idea that pushing through disappointments help us over the long term. We need to consider the long-game in the midst of a business setback and not become all-consumed with current unsatisfactory results.

As it relates to sports, I was listening to analysis on youth sports via the Plain English podcast with Derek Thompson. The guests delved into Norway, the top medal winner in the 2008 Winter Olympics despite being a small country of 5 million people. Tom Farrey, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, noted that this wasn’t always the case. Sport stakeholders worked together to draft a Player Bill of Rights focused on youth development. Counterintuitively, national championships before the age of 14 are banned. There is a rule that youth sports scores can’t be posted in anyway online.

“The point is not winning a game at 6 or 7 years old – the goal is development,” said Farrey. “So this sends the message to parents and coaches to keep things in perspective.”

It might be easy to throw darts at such a “participation trophy” soft type of culture. However, one can’t do that when you look at how Norway has fared in recent Olympic Games.

5. Distorted view of success. In our careers, we often view success through power, prestige, money and influence. When approached in a healthy and ethical way, these are indeed welcomed opportunities. But what happens if we fall short of our aspirations in these areas? Do we lose our sense of identity and self-worth? In sports, success is often viewed simply through metrics like winning and statistics. As a competitive person myself, even at the age of 46 playing pick-up basketball, there is nothing wrong about aspiring for such outcomes. But perspective is required.

I very much enjoyed reading the book Be All In: Raising Kids for Success in Sports and Life by Christie Pearce Rampone. Interestingly, she advocates that parents and kids alike work together to write out a sport mission statement to keep everyone grounded both during the highs of a thrilling victory and in the midst of a heart-breaking defeat. Similarly, I guide readers in my book on the process of coming up with a definition of career success aligned to our worldviews as similarly this provides perspective about what success in the grand scheme of things entails. It also takes into account that the ultimate outcomes we have in mind don’t always pan out. (I approach this from a Christian perspective, though it is applicable for any belief system).

I wonder what would happen if we all lived out such actions as we approached our work and kids’ sporting activities?

Kevin Anselmo is author of Reframing Career Success: Picture Your Significance at Work from a Christian Perspective. He runs workshops that help individuals come up with a definition of success aligned to their activities so that they can approach work with a greater sense of peace, contentment and motivation. More information is a

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