Living in Real Time
By Greg Bach
The social media landscape young athletes are navigating these days is treacherous, bursting with images and messages that are sinking kids’ confidence, trampling their self-esteem, and battering their overall mental health.
“The reality is that we do live in a world that is governed by social media,” says Courtney Robison-Dixon, author of the new book LIVING IN REAL TIME. “I hope my book helps girls realize that their true worth and who they are as young women does not come from what’s on a social media timeline. It comes in real time with real life experiences through their friendships with their teammates and schoolmates, and their relationships with their family.”
Robison-Dixon played collegiate volleyball at the University of Louisville. As the Youth Club Director at KIVA, one of the most prominent volleyball clubs in the country, she was driven to tackle a book because of the negative impact she was seeing social media have on many of their club’s players.
“I’ve just seen a drastic change in the amount of social media that is available to them and how that is changing their self-confidence and how they see themselves,” she says. “They are in this constant struggle because they are continually comparing themselves to these false images.”
And then they lug those negative thoughts to the court, where their performance suffers and their confidence deteriorates.
“All of those things going on outside the court directly affect how they see themselves,” she says. “I talk to kids all the time about not getting caught up in the anxiety and pressures of this social media world and not to compare themselves to these false images, whether it’s celebrities, or even their peers.”
For Robison-Dixon, volleyball grabbed her heart at age 5 and she has loved the sport ever since. As a high school student volunteering at summer camps, she found that she enjoyed helping kids flourish on and off the court. So when her playing career at Louisville concluded, she transitioned into coaching.
And she cherishes the opportunities to influence young lives.
“I love giving back to the sport that gave so much to me and I love seeing kids grow on and off the court,” she says. “My greatest passion in life is helping young women become the greatest version of themselves.”
DIALING IN TO EVERY ATHLETE
Every youth sports team in every sport features a roster filled with diverse personalities, and connecting with each young athlete is one of every coach’s chief challenges.
“As a coach the first thing you have to realize is you can not coach any single kid the same,” Robison-Dixon says. “Every kid has a different type of learning. They might be an auditory learner; they might be a visual learner; or they might need to feel to be able to learn. So for every kid you first have to identify which way they learn. Secondly, you have to identify how does this kid receive and accept feedback?”
Figuring out what works best for each child takes a concerted effort, and that starts before the season ramps up.
“What I encourage all of our coaches at our club to do from the very beginning of the season is sitting down with a pen and paper and having all the kids reflect on how they feel that they best learn,” she says. “Then dig deeper and ask, ‘how do you feel you best receive feedback? Do you enjoy a coach being very monotone and analytical, telling you what you did wrong and this is how we fix it. Or are you the type of kid where the coach needs to be your biggest cheerleader? How do you feel that you would be best coached by me?’”
Armed with that information, coaches have a powerful starting point for having an immediate impact with each child.
“As a coach you have to let the kids reflect on that and you have to let them really pull out of themselves what they need,” Robison-Dixon says. “And then you’ve got to take that feedback and those first few weeks you really focus on coaching each kid in that way.”
And as the practices unfold, adjustments can be made as needed for those athletes who actually respond better to a different style of coaching then they thought they needed.
“Eighty percent of the kids are usually spot on and know exactly what they need, but there is that 20 percent where the kids are wrong,” she says. “Some kids will tell you that they need to be yelled at and pushed, but that’s actually not what they need.”
Check out what else Robison-Dixon shared about starting and ending practices, communicating with players, and more:
STARTING STRONG: “We start every practice with an extremely intense drill that sets the pace of practice,” she says. “We don’t believe in that slow warm-up. We believe in fast pace, 5 to 10 minutes of max effort, max intensity, all out. We set that tone that we’ve got two hours and we’re putting in work for two hours.”
FINISHING ON A POSITIVE NOTE: “No matter how good or bad the practice went, I always end on a positive note,” she says. “Now, I might start with going over the things that did not go well today, like this is what I’m not happy with regarding your effort or focus, however this is what did go well today that I want you to be proud of. It’s really important for every kid to leave the gym feeling that at least we got one thing accomplished, that we did well on one thing, no matter how good or bad the practice was.”
FACING FAILURE: “We have this conversation with our parents at the start of the season,” she says. “We explain to them that there are going to be a lot of matches early on where we choose to make certain coaching decisions because your child is going to learn more from that loss, and learn more from me leaving them in the game and getting aced three times in a row, or missing an attack five times in a row, and me not taking them out and continuing to fail and work through that failure to gain confidence that ‘I can pull myself out of this hole, I can get myself through this.’ There has to be a process of failure for your child to have growth in order to have success. It’s so important. It’s very difficult for parents, and it’s very difficult for kids. We have a lot of tears, and there are a lot of struggles. But every year at the end of the season the kids say ‘I am so happy that you made me go through those tough weeks of constant failure’ because they see it starting to pay off.”
CONSTANT COMMUNICATION: “There has to be that establishment of a relationship between a coach and athlete that they know that you love them and they know that you believe in them, and you have to give that love on the other side,” she says. “I’ve got kids that I’ve got on during a match and then after the match I tell them ‘hey, you took that feedback great. You responded well and you were great with your body language. I’m so proud of you.’ And then later that night I send a text message ‘hey, just reminding you that I’m so proud of you and how you took things today.’ It’s those little-bitty things where I think it all goes back to open communication, and as coaches sometimes we fail at that. We know that in our mind we love that kid, but we haven’t shown them or we haven’t said ‘I love you, I believe in you’ and sometimes that’s all they need. They just need that simple black and white communication that they know that you’ve got their back.”
Two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Champion Briana Scurry, author of MY GREATEST SAVE, on managing challenging moments and what young athletes in all sports can do to navigate them and stay focused on the present
Ryan Gareis, former University of South Carolina standout and current forward for the Houston Dash in the National Women’s Soccer League, on bringing energy, enthusiasm and a team-first mentality at all times
Orlando Pride midfielder Chelsee Washington, founder of 90/10 Performance Co., on helping young players manage mindsets and build confidence from within to perform at their best
Erica Suter, former soccer standout at Johns Hopkins University and author of THE STRONG FEMALE ATHLETE, on helping female athletes enhance confidence, reduce injuries, and boost performance