YMCA sports director: How I help kids win the game of life
Posted on 8/9/17 by Chad Lankford from Downtown Orlando YMCA

Picture this: Basketball, eight 3- to 4-year-olds on two teams of four, four quarters of six minutes — and not one of these kids has ever played organized basketball before. It's hard to imagine. All they want to do is go get the ball, and once they do get it, run! It doesn't matter which way, either. Some say it's like herding cats — nearly impossible. But I'll get one or two who are interested in what I'm trying to tell them — it has to be the cutest thing ever.

I started off young, too. Sports is something I've been involved with since I was 3. Now, here I am managing programs for kids that age.

Sports is more than just winning and losing, scoring points and making a good pass, getting uniforms and trophies. Sports teaches and empowers kids, all the while creating lifelong memories. It instills character and lessons that they will forever remember, forever use.

Every day I get to wake up and come to a place where I mentor children 3 years old and older. When I walk down the hall, I hear, "Coach Chad!" You cannot imagine what it's like to see kids run to give me a high five or a hug. I see them smiling ear to ear, waving as they leave. I go to work every day as a role model for 200-plus kids, with more added each year.

Through sports, these kids learn so many things that help them develop — respect, sportsmanship, honor and loyalty, hard work, resilience and how to overcome adversity, just to name a few. Why does this matter? Well, as we all know, today's society is a bit different than it used to be. Broken families have increased, and so has bullying in and outside of schools. The number of low-income households has increased, and social media is … well … social media. All these factors play a huge role in how our youth develop. With all of these influences, how can a child grow stronger and more confident? How can young ones learn positive traits in life with all the competing influences today?

Let me tell you what I do to help: During practices, I give the kids chances to fail and chances to succeed. It's important that they fail, so they know that nothing is "given" to them. It's important they succeed, so they see that with hard work and confidence they can recover quickly from difficulties to achieve and conquer.

When I listen to a child, I'm showing respect, and, in turn, teaching respect. The phrase "Listen while I talk" becomes that teaching moment.

Most important, what empowers these youth the most is that I become their friend.

A friend positively affects their lives, helping them to grow as people — just being there to help these youngsters stretch and achieve. Some of the kids I encounter daily don't have anyone to look up to as a role model — or a friend. In my programs, you can be sure they receive all these. We're on the same team.

The grandparent of one of these kids recently asked me what he called "a million-dollar question": Do I like what I do?

My answer: No, I don't like it; I absolutely love what I do. I get to be that influence, that role model, that friend to so many of our youth who may not get or have care and support. I get to empower our youth to achieve whatever goals are in front of them.

So I ask you: Do you like what you do?

If you don't, what would it take to make you answer yes?