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Leadership Lessons: Influencing and inspiring young athletes

Leadership Lessons: Influencing and inspiring young athletes


By Greg Bach 

Mike Jarvis, one of college basketball’s most respected leaders during his 25 years coaching Division I schools, often reflects on his childhood growing up in Cambridge, Mass. 

And all the coaches who profoundly influenced his life.  

“Many a night I will fall asleep thinking about the coaches that I had in my life,” says Jarvis, who won more than 400 games coaching at Boston University, George Washington, St. John’s and Florida Atlantic University. The coaches who have had the most impact in my life had a lot to do with their ability to teach. My coaches saw something in me that I never knew that I had inside of me. They gave me courage, they instilled confidence in me, they made me feel special, and they made me feel important, no matter how many times I struck out or how many shots I missed or how many times I messed up. It’s amazing how many incredible people God put into my life and the impact that they still have on me, and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of one or more of them. 

Think about those words as you navigate seasons with your youth teams, and the opportunity that awaits to be a difference maker in a young life. 

We spoke with Jarvis, author of The Seven C’s of Leadership and an in-demand speaker these days. Use his insights to enhance your leadership skills and be one of those coaches that your players will remember with a smile forever. 

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Youth sports is touted as a great way for kids to learn life lessons, but how do coaches actually go about making sure their players are learning more than simply sports skill? 

JARVIS: I think if coaches look upon themselves as being not only a teacher of the game but a teacher of life, and part of being a good coach is teaching your kids life skills. Every aspect of sport you can turn into a teaching lesson. I loved taking the opportunity during practices to stop the action, to break the play down or the defense down, and put it into life terms and relate it to life experiences. For example, I would often ask my guys if you were out going to a social event and you were in a strange neighborhood or a strange gym and all of a sudden someone was coming after one of your friend, what would you do? Well, I think you would all unite and come together as one and you would protect each other. There are so many life lessons that you can relate to whatever you are doing on the court, but it takes time and it takes a lot of effort, and you have to be mindful about it. 

SPORTINGKID LIVE: What would be an important piece of advice you would want coaches to keep in mind as they work with young athletes? 

JARVIS: The first thing I would want everyone to do, just like I do some nights when I think about my coaches, is to remember when you were a kid. I go back to when I was nicknamed Crisco and I was this little fat kid playing Little League baseball, and I remember how much fun I had. Yet, at the same time, I remember how our coach used to put us through drills and he really was a fundamentalist. So, I think you can have fun and work hard at the same time. A lot of people associate fun with just goofing off and laughing, but I always used to tell my players that if you do what you do well and you are successful at it, and you know you’ve given your very best and tried your hardest, then eventually you’re going to have fun. But you have to put the work in.  

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Your teams were always known for being great defensively. What’s the key to getting kids to play strong defense when it’s more fun to score baskets? 

JARVIS: You not only have to preach it, but you have to teach it. I think the best coaches are the best teachers. You don’t have to be a great talent to play great defense because it’s such a collective effort. But you have to be ready to do whatever you have to do, and use whatever gifts you have, for the good of the team. You might be the guy on the team that’s taking away the basket by getting in the way of other players driving and picking up offensive fouls and taking the charge. Or you might be the guy who is great at helping out his teammates. Or you might be the guy who is the best communicator, always talking to his teammates because it’s a collective effort. So once you show kids that they can be special by doing something that they normally wouldn’t do on their own, and you can get the kids to see it and feel it, then they will take pride in it.  

SPORTINGKID LIVE: How rewarding is it for you all these years later to hear former players talk about how they enjoyed playing great defense and working together? 

JARVIS: Most of my player, when they talk about our team, the things that make me most proud is when they talk about the fact that I was a teacher and then they talk about the fact how good our teams defended. Coaches throughout the years would say to me ‘how do you get your kids to play with such passion and energy all the time? And I would tell them that obviously it’s something that I want to happen, but more importantly, it’s something that we practiced every single day. If we played hard in the game, it’s because we practiced hard every single day.  

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Character is one of the seven C’s you talk about in your book. How can coaches help young athletes develop good character and be model citizens in their community? 

JARVIS: It starts with you. Whatever gifts that we are trying to bring out in others we have to first bring out in ourselves. The best way to teach anybody is by being an example of it and living it, so people can see it and feel it in you. As a coach you can lead by example and you have the chance to help others be the best that they can be. 

SPORTINGKID LIVE: Any parting messages for youth coaches? 

JARVIS: The other thing I would really try to tell them is to really, really study and try to perfect their ability to communicate with their team. And remember that the words that we say are powerful. There are times when I wish I had said things or phrased things a little bit differently, or done a little better job making the kids understand why I was teaching them certain things and why I used certain words to say certain things. Nobody is perfect, o you try to love on your kids, communicate as positively as possible, and teach them how to work, that everybody doesn’t get a trophy, and nothing beats a try but another try. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to accomplish everything that you want to, but you can try. Try, try, try – that’s what I try to get my kids to do.

Mike Jarvis Coaching Leadership Practice Basketball

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