Views from the sandbar: An Islander’s perspective on the power of positive influences

by Alex W.

I have personally been a massive fan of both organized recreational sport and professional sport for as long as I can remember. I am fortunate to have been raised in a household that could afford to register both me and my little brother for youth sports programs like summer soccer and hockey in the winter, along with other activities here and there throughout both our childhood. I was also fortunate enough to have earned two paying jobs via the skills I developed at a young age through the sport of hockey. I am still very involved in hockey, both as a recreational player and a current level 3 official within the Fredericton Youth Hockey Officials Association (FYHOA). I have worked for Andrews Hockey Growth Programs as a senior goaltending instructor for over three years, and am also a former youth hockey coach with my home association back in Prince Edward Island.

Over my years of working at Andrews Hockey as an instructor, youth attending camps were consistently told both on and off the ice by other senior staff that they were to act respectful, be on time, and to be courteous to one another, just like the instructors are with everyone. I also understood how the majority of these kids were feeling. As previously mentioned, I was fortunate to have parents who could afford to enroll me in a week long youth hockey program during the summers. I had been in those kids’ shoes before, attending the same camps in the past that these youth were now. When I was the one attending hockey camps, I wanted to become just like the instructors and youth demonstrators that were on the ice. They could skate the fastest and shoot the hardest. For that entire week, they were my role models. But now that I had become the instructor, I was the role-model. I was the example.

I was looked up to as a leader, and these kids didn’t know anything about me other than that I was a decent skater, I wore funny skates (goalie skates), and that my name was “Wattsy”. All that the majority of these youth wanted to be in a few years when they got older was a youth demonstrator at the school, or even eventually become an instructor at the school. They worked all week to become better, so that they could someday reach where I had been able to reach within the sport. As instructors, we were glorified to all of the kids attending that we were the shining example of hard work and respect. For that week, and even following the completion of those camps, we were their role models.

We’ve all heard that old saying – that a youth’s mind is like a sponge, constantly absorbing as much information as possible – and that could not be a better descriptor of my experience in coaching youth hockey. I had a major part to play in a lot of the kids’ experiences throughout my time working at Andrews Hockey. I have no idea how many kids I may have influenced positively or negatively. I understood the importance of my role, especially being labeled as a “senior instructor”, but I do wonder about what experiences youth are having at other sports or after school programs, or at school, or at home. Coaches, teachers, parents, friends, celebrities, even school bus drivers all have a part to play in setting good examples and being positive influences towards our youth.

I also think that this goes to show the tremendous amount of influence that society as a whole casts onto youth. Luckily, Andrews Hockey also understood the importance of having good people acting as positive role models and the tremendous impact this could have on young people. During my time there I can recall two instructors that had been working there for many years, were both let go abruptly on separate occasions. In both instances, the instructors weren’t setting or had not set a positive example towards the youth, or to their parents. Andrews Hockey realized that and made a tough decision. However, with respect to ensuring that they provided positive influences to the youth attending their programs, I believe it was the right one.

That said, I do worry about the repercussions of learning certain behaviours from those who become role models for youth hockey players — for example, talking negatively toward youth when they do something wrong, or unexpected, or even make a simple mistake. And I also wonder if large organizations are taking the necessary tasks to make sure the people they hire are being positively influential towards the youth. I’ve been an ice hockey referee for 12 seasons, and I have seen many examples of great coaches. Unfortunately, I’ve seen even more examples of not so great coaches. Coaches that yell and scream at their own players from the bench, the officials and other players on the ice, are not exactly the people that come to mind when I think of the words “positive role model”.

Teachers are trained professionals. I understand that there are certain qualifications that one must obtain before they are deemed fit to teach a class, let alone teaching a class in a youth setting. My question is, do we have the same standards for selecting who is going to coach a minor hockey team? Or a youth programming coordinator? Are there guidelines in place to prevent negatively influential people from becoming a negative influence in our youths’ lives? This poses a potential problem, seeing as most recreational sports organizations rely on volunteers to step up and coach for an entire season. In my experience, when youth-driven organizations are volunteer-run, it can become difficult for organizations to be able to pick and choose who leads each team.

Sport is an incredibly powerful tool that if used properly; can help youth to become more socially confident and comfortable; will encourage kids to make new friends, learn about values such a teamwork, hard work, and how to show respect not only to your own teammates, but officials and the players on the opposing team as well. Learning new sports skills at a young age can also lead to positive physical literacy and educational literacy advancements within that child (Physical and Health Education Canada, 2012) (Whitehead, 2010). Isn’t it just as important to make sure that our youth are learning these values from a positively influential person, or a good role-model? I think it’s extremely important to never underestimate the power of peoples influence on our young people.

The takeaway from this post, is that I believe it’s important to look closely into who we are letting our children become influenced by, not only away from home, but at home as well. What language is being used in front of children within the home? What types of television programs are parents let their children watch, or what types of video games are parents letting their children play (really didn’t want to bring video games into this) are all examples of ways that we may be influencing our youth negatively without even realizing it. Everyone has a role to play in making sure that we influence our youth to become better versions of ourselves. We need more people to support youth when they make mistakes, by pushing them in the right direction as opposed to punishing them without them understanding what they did wrong, or learning from their mistakes.

Constructive criticism is just that; constructive. It’s not meant to be insulting or demeaning, it’s meant to show you that you’ve made a mistake, how to fix it, and to understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. Yelling at a kid for making a mistake on the ice isn’t constructive, it’s deconstructive. Now, all of a sudden, that youth is afraid to go back onto the ice in case they make another mistake — as opposed to understanding that we as individuals often learn best by making mistakes.

The 40 Developmental Assets are the positive relationships, opportunities, competencies, values, and self-perceptions that youth need to succeed (“40 developmental assets for adolescents,” 1997). Some external assets within the 40 Developmental Assets of Adolescents include:

Other adult relationships: Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.

Adult role models: Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.

Positive peer influence: Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.

High expectations: Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.

Youth programs: Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the community.

How are we to expect our youth to mature and become influential citizens, if we lack to provide them with the support systems that they need during this crucial time for development? How can youth be positively influential towards one another without first receiving that positive influence from their parent/coach/teacher? Without first establishing how to be a positive influence, youth will have a difficult time understanding what exactly it means and how to become positively influential. These five developmental assets are only a small portion (12.5%) of the 40 total developmental assets. No one asset is more important than any other — all 40 have a large part to play in the development of our younger population.

Alex Watts

 

Sources

Physical and Health Education Canada (2012, September 4). Video: Connecting physical literacy and physical education Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU7LVXkvxAM

Whitehead, M. (Ed.). (2010). Physical literacy: Throughout the Lifecourse (international studies in physical education an.. New York: Routledge.

40 developmental assets for adolescents. (1997). Retrieved October 16, 2016, from http://www.search-institute.org/content/40-developmental-assets-adolescents-ages-12-18

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