Youth sports build core values for successful life

James Kellogg
James Kellogg

Youth sports are microcosms of our communities. Attitudes and actions in youth sports, from coaches and players, are a reflection and reinforcement of societal values. That also means sports can serve as channels between adults and youth, transmitting core values like strength, wisdom, integrity, love and faith. That is a basis for true community.

The skills and character of young athletes are molded by coaches for better or worse. Kids can be taught that the goal is to always win or to always succeed. There is a big difference. Winning in competition is great, but it’s typically fleeting and of limited consequence. On the other hand, success shapes lives, and it projects far beyond an individual or team. Sports can provide kids with the opportunity for both. As they learn skills for competition, they are laying the groundwork for the core values of a successful life.

Winning in sports requires “strength” on physical, mental and emotional levels. Competition helps kids develop strength to a greater degree than otherwise possible. That’s a major asset for a successful life. Kids learn that they have greater potential than they imagined. They stop asking, “Can I?” and start saying, “I can.” Strength fortified by sports participation empowers youth with positive attitudes.

Positive attitudes are advantageous for developing wisdom. Kids who feel good about themselves are better able to discern what’s good for them. In competition, an athlete realizes that there are expectations, and success depends on individual decisions and actions. Sports require kids to make wise choices to set goals and develop skills and abilities. Wisdom also promotes understanding the needs of others and what can be done to make a positive difference.

As young athletes gain strength and wisdom, they begin to learn about integrity. In sports, the choices have consequences that can affect an entire team, whether in competition or on a Saturday night. As former Congressman and University of Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts says, “Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is looking.” Youths who commit to integrity become adults who understand that we are responsible for our own actions. A successful life incorporates wise choices and the strength to do the right thing even when it’s not easy.

Love is another value integral to kids involved with sports. A good coach expresses love for athletes by connecting on a personal level. Kids feel important and respond by becoming receptive to what that adult mentor has to teach them. Young athletes also develop love for teammates as they share the rigors of training and the emotional highs and lows of competition. This is the foundation for great friendships. Love carries over to a life with meaningful relationships and respect for others.

The first four values emphasized by youth sports build faith. Strength increases a person’s faith in himself or herself. Wisdom helps kids realize there is more to life than themselves. Integrity is a manifestation of Jesus’ teaching, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Love, in its many forms, is the basis for strong community. Strong communities bolster the faith of individuals. Ultimately, faith leads young athletes full circle to become dedicated coaches when they grow up.

Instilling core values through youth sports requires coaches to examine their own motivation and values. Am I in it for the win or am I in it for the kids? Do I want to build a great team this season or do I want to lay the groundwork for a better community tomorrow? Joe Ehrmann, youth coach, former NFL player and author of “InsideOut Coaching: How Sports can Transform Lives,” has as a great perspective. When people ask how Ehrmann’s season is going, he responds, “Ask me in 20 years.”

“InsideOut Coaching” is required reading for coaches at Glenwood Springs High School. And many people in our community are passionate about making the most of the bonds between coaches and young athletes. It’s critical that this trend continue to spread. Sports provide our youth with fantastic opportunities for competition, fun and friendship while fortifying strength, wisdom, integrity, love and faith for life. That’s more than a win for kids and communities. It’s success.

James D. Kellogg is a water resource engineer and the author of “Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller”. Look for the novel on and visit or email

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