Kids need the superpower of courage. When it comes to helping kids develop it, adults shouldn’t focus on pushing kids into situations that could be harmful to their physical, mental or emotional development. Instead, guide kids to develop courage by:
- trying something new
- experiencing something they perceive as hard
- acting ethically, or rightly, even when it is not the easy thing to do
Ultimately, we need to create environments where it is safe for kids to try or do something they are afraid of. Courage is not the absence of fear, it is taking positive action in the presence of fear. Helping kids understand that it’s okay to be scared and still take action will help them find their spark, build confidence and take a stand for kindness.
Find Their Spark
In a society often focused on driving kids to play only one sport or activity, we need to stop and ask our kids: “Why do you play?”
I often hear adults emphasizing focus in one sport because they want their child to earn a college scholarship. However, a common outcome is that kids leave sports due to not having fun, burnout and injury
More often than not, kids who are encouraged to try a variety of sports and activities end up finding their spark as they become teen-agers. Many college athletes were multi-sport athletes as kids. It seems having the courage and opportunity to try new sports and activities helps kids find their passion and results in a long-term commitment to their chosen sport or activity.
Check out this article for ideas to help kids explore their passions.
If we want to help kids improve their skills and build confidence, we know learning and development is optimal when we challenge kids to stretch one level beyond their current ability.
We’ve all seen what happens when things are too easy – kids are bored and often become disruptive. We also know that in sports, kids become disengaged and stop improving.
On the other hand, when we set up a situation that is too difficult – like taking the training wheels off the bike after one trip around the block – kids will get frustrated and quit. Their confidence plummets because the challenge appears insurmountable.
The key to building confidence in kids is to create environments that gradually increase the level of challenge. At the same time, let them know it’s okay to be afraid to try something hard; reminding them the only way they will get better is to “do it afraid and give it their best” (adapted from Adventures with Divot & Swish in Costa Rica, p. 28).
Ideas for creating the optimal level of challenge include:
- Model video games: Think about video games kids like to play that have levels. If we create this same “leveling up” environment in sports and activities, we can help kids develop their courage to keep playing even when it’s hard and build their confidence in the process.
- Ask kids to create their own challenge: Have kids set up a game or activity. For example, in golf, provide all of the supplies and equipment and then have the kids create a 3-hole or putting course that will challenge them to get better.
Take a Stand for Kindness
There is no better environment than the sports arena to help kids learn to take a stand for kindness.
Engaging in sport has the potential to unite diverse people with diverse perspectives. As Nelson Mandela said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.”
For sport to unite and kindness to become part of the culture, it requires all adults – coaches, parents, officials, spectators, etc. – to be positive role models for kids. We must consistently create positive sport experiences for kids regardless of gender, ethnicity, race or skill level.
As parents/guardians, we need to think before we speak out of anger saying unkind things to a coach or official. As coaches, we need to focus on the uniqueness of each young person and be intentional about building on their strengths. And when we encounter a situation that has the potential to divide or hurt others, we need to respond by doing what is right and always being kind, even when it is not easy to do. By demonstrating the courage to take a stand for what is right, or the courage to acknowledge a mistake, we are teaching kids to do the same.
For resources to create a healthy sports environments for kids, visit The Aspen Institute’s Project Play.
As you reflect on helping the young people in your world develop the superpower of courage, consider whether or not you are a positive role model. Each of us can develop more courage by following Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to “do one thing every day that scares you.” What is the one courageous thing you will do today?
Beth Brown, Ph. D.
Author, Adventures with Divot & Swish
About the Author
Beth Brown, Ph.D., is a life-long educator on a mission to inspire families and kids to have fun, become more active and learn life lessons through sports in her children’s book series Adventures with Divot & Swish. After picking up a basketball at age 2 and swinging her first golf club at age 8, Beth was hooked on sports. Her youth sport participation paved the way for her collegiate success as a member of the University of Oklahoma basketball and conference champion women’s golf teams.
Beth’s first title “Adventures with Divot & Swish in Costa Rica: The Superpower of Courage” is a colorful children’s book chronicling the adventures of the title characters as they muster up the courage to surf in the ocean, and not fall off their boards.