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Dan Clemens (Baseball Coach and Motivational Speaker): Positive Experience For Kids Should Be Everyone's Goal

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Being the father of an athlete is a challenging yet rewarding role. At MomsTEAM we think sports dads deserve to be honored, not just on the third Sunday in June, but for an entire month. So we have designated June as National Sports Dads Month and invited some veteran sports dads to share their wisdom by responding to a series of questions (the same ones we asked sports moms in May).

So far this month we have heard from a fascinating array of fathers, from a former Major League Baseball general manager, to a Minnesota hockey coach and safety advocate, from a sociologist with an expertise in gender and sports to a pediatric sports medicine doctor.

Today, with Father's Day in the rear view mirror (MomsTEAM hopes it was a great one for all you sports dads), we hear from regular MomsTEAM contributor, author, motivational speaker, and high school baseball coach, Dan Clemens:

MomsTEAM: Were you an athlete and what sports did you play as a youth (under 19)?  Dan Clemens

Clemens: I played youth baseball and basketball through high school, although some of my favorite memories are of sandlot football games with kids in the neighborhood. I was always playing some sort of sport growing up, and if there weren't enough kids to play a certain sport, we'd invent games of our own to play. My experience supports the overwhelming body of research that confirms kids play the game to have fun. They play for the love of the game, not winning trophies or league championships. In high school I earned all-state baseball honors as a pitcher in both my junior and senior seasons and then attended Colorado State University on a baseball scholarship.

MomsTEAM: What is the most important lesson your child is learning from his/her sport?

Clemens: That he owns his "personal brand." As a coach I emphasize to kids that their attitude and effort builds a brand in the minds of coaches and teammates in much the same way corporations spend millions to build a recognizable brand. As a team we talk a lot about what they want their brand to be (what they want to be known for), and how different behaviors either reinforce or tear down that reputation. Kids often aren't aware of how their words, body language, and actions can run counter to what they intend and what they want.

This discussion/concept is having an impact on my son, as he's realizing that hard work pays off not only in the end result, but also in how others perceive him. He's also starting to understand that this often determines what opportunities are available to him. He sees that there's more to it than who can throw the hardest or run the fastest.

MomsTEAM: If you could "flip a switch" and change one thing about the culture of youth sports what would it be?

Clemens: Youth sports would be a very different environment if we had the mindset that we're all on the same team. By this I mean coaches, parents, umpires and league officials are all engaged in these youth activities to do one thing: give our kids the best possible youth sports experience. Yes, we wear different uniforms and are on different teams. Yes, we compete against each other in the desire to win a game. But if we step back for a moment we can do all of that AND provide a healthy, positive learning environment where kids can have fun. This means parents being supportive and encouraging of ALL the kids, such as a parent on one of my teams going out of his way to congratulate at least one player on the opposing team after each game. I try to compliment or high five an opposing player when he makes a great play. I try to be understanding and compassionate when discussing issues with umpires and other coaches.

Dan Clemens and sonIt's a subtle shift, but a huge one. We have so many opportunities as coaches and parents to make a difference in the lives of individual kids AND in the direction of a game or situation. All of us can and should be leaders in this respect. When we focus on the kids and try to make each interaction a healthy and supportive one, the game starts to change a bit. We start to realize we are part of something much larger than the individual game, larger than our team, and more important than the win-loss record for the season. We are creating memories that will last a lifetime and teaching lessons that will help kids grow into productive members of society. If we believe we are all on the same team, we create the environment where kids can thrive and accomplish Fun, Learn, Compete without the ugly incidents and parental drama that often creeps in and poisons the game.

MomsTEAM: Brag a little-what have you done to make sports better for kids? Please share.

Clemens: I wrote the book, A Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball.   It's not a "how-to" guide; rather, it's 65 journal entries of my experience coaching my son's team when he was 12 years old. In it I trace my own motivations for coaching and, through the experiences on and off the field, think through many of the important issues facing youth baseball (and all youth sports): playing multiple sports, playing multiple positions, parental roles and involvement, dealing with umpires, yelling at kids, health and safety issues, etc.

The book cemented my own coaching philosophy that three things should drive all youth sports:

  1. kids should learn;
  2. kids should be competitive and learn to compete; and
  3. kids should have fun.

Authoring the book has given me the platform to speak to parenting and coaching organizations about priorities in youth sports and how to be successful in developing leagues, teams and individual players. As I've spoken around the country, I find that most of us are wrestling with the same issues and have many of the same concerns. I hope my book, website and speaking helps raise awareness and motivates others to think through the issues and ensure they have a healthy relationship with the game.

Dan is the author of AA Perfect Season book cover Perfect Season: A Coach's Journey to Learning, Competing, and Having Fun in Youth Baseball and a regular contributor to MomsTEAM.  A former Division I scholarship athlete, Dan has coached youth baseball, soccer, basketball and football, and is currently a high school baseball coach. He's an avid baseball fan, has climbed 50 of the 54 mountain peaks in Colorado above 14,000 feet, and has completed four marathons. Dan lives in Colorado with his wife and two children.  You can follow Dan on Twitter (@CoachClemens), visit his website (www.DanClemensSpeaker.com), where leaders, managers and employees can learn to make fun their competitive advantage in the workplace and a second Twitter feed: @FunIsAdvantage.