The “Power of Moments” in Youth Sports
The Magic Castle Hotel is one of the top three rated hotels in Los Angeles. Of its nearly 3000 reviews, 93% rate it very good or excellent, putting it above properties such as The Four Seasons and the Ritz Carlton. Yet, as you flip through the photos online, you don’t see much that makes you think “I am staying there!” The pool is small, the furnishings are older, and the property isn’t even on the ocean. It charges high-end prices, but does not look like other properties in its category.
Yet year after year, people rate it as a top hotel in LA. Why?
According to the wonderful new book by brothers Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Moments have Extraordinary Impact, it is because the proprietors understand how to make a moment leave a lasting impression. Chip, a professor at Stanford, and Dan, a senior fellow at Duke, have written some fantastic books in the past, but this one is by far the best book I have read this year. As a coach, and as a father, I am acutely aware that every day I am leaving a lasting impact. I am making moments. Until reading this book, though, I simply did not realize how much control I had over when, where and how those moments happened. Now that I do, it has transformed my coaching.
According to the Heath brothers, when you go to the pool of The Magic Castle Hotel, you will see a big red phone on the wall. Pick it up, and a real, live person will answer “Hello, Popsicle Hotline.”
You place your order, and moments later a white-gloved server will appear poolside with your free popsicle, presented on a silver tray. They also deliver free snacks, DVDs and board games. They even do your laundry for free! In a nutshell, they deliver powerful, defining moments that people remember long after they’ve left the Magic Castle.
The Power of Moments explores why specific, brief experiences can stick with us, lift us, crush us, and alter us forever. It explains how these moments are dominated by four core elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. It explains which moments we are likely to remember, and which ones we forget. Why some birthdays matter, and why we tend to make resolutions on certain days. We innately seek meaning in moments and attach purpose to those that leave a mark on us.
Think about sports. How many moments does it create that are full of pride and positive emotion? How many difficult losses give an athlete great insight? And how do great teams create a connection so strong that 30 years later, you pick up right where you left off with your old teammates? Defining moments can change us forever. Sports is full of them, and every single coach has the ability to create these moments if he or she chooses to be intentional.
Coaches can change a life forever. Their influence is never neutral. And not always in positive ways. As I started writing this article, I got the following email from a friend:
“This weekend I witnessed a 9-year-old girl get to her breaking point and state that it isn’t fun and she doesn’t want to play soccer anymore. This has come after enduring a win at all cost mentality from the coaches as well as poor communication in the form of constant yelling and very little positive. On Sunday after missing a goal scoring chance, the coaches yelled and removed the player from the game. While crying she sprinted past the coaches without acknowledging them and jumped into her father’s arms. She begged her father to take her home!”
“I know this because it is my daughter.”
A 9-year old girl playing in your average league, on your average day, leaves the field crying because of poorly trained adults, who call themselves coaches, that are consistently negative, constantly yelling, and remove a player from a game for making a mistake. In my book, that is a crime against a child.
She has been robbed of her opportunity to play sports. She has been cheated out of feeling the joy of being a youth athlete.
She has had her experience stolen from her by adults who, however well-intentioned, do not understand the power of moments. As Mike Wise of Sports Illustrated said at the Aspen Institute Project Play Summit 2017, “an untrained coach is a form of abuse”. These untrained adults have just created a moment that will stick with her forever.
Every athlete and former athlete I have ever met can recall a moment where a coach lifted them up or dragged them down. Every one of them can usually recall a moment where a parent stepped up at the exact right time and gave them belief, or said the wrong thing at the wrong time and destroyed their confidence and even love of a sport.
- I will never forget the elation of winning a championship my senior year of high school, even though I missed the game with a broken leg.
- I will never forget the dejection I felt, as I rehabbed that double leg fracture after six months in a cast, when a coach I respected called me a “pussy” for sitting out a drill because I was in pain.
- I will never forget the pride I felt to get back on the field, over a year later, after rededicating myself to training by getting in the best shape of my life.
- I will never forget how it felt to get a call from my college coach, congratulating me for my effort, and naming me team captain my senior year.
Sport has given me so many defining moments that have shaped my life, in both positive and negative ways. Whether I felt pride, connection, elevation, or insight, I can still picture every moment vividly, decades later. Those moments defined me and still guide me to this day.
It has made me realize the tremendous influence I have to create those moments for my athletes. When a new player joins your team, do you make her first day special, or just throw her into the mix? When a player makes a game-changing mistake, how do you handle it? Your reaction can change everything, not just in that game or that season, but for a lifetime
It makes me angry that other coaches either do not know this or do not care. We can no longer send coaches out woefully unprepared to realize their impact. We can no longer have young girls, running into dad’s arms, saying “take me home, I don’t want to play anymore” because some coach destroyed her love of the game.
I know that any coach who reads The Power of Moments will be forever changed. Let’s make this book a bestseller by getting the coaches in our lives a copy.
I just bought one for our whole staff.
You should too.