Tuesday, April 8, 2014

New Detroit Lion, Champion On And Off Field

The Detroit Lions recently signed free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate and before he even steps foot on the field he is a winner in my book and a worthy role model and example for young athletes.

I was once told a by a sport psychologist that you have to use the game or else it will use you. Sports can be brutal for developing young athletes. They put pressure on themselves to perform at a level that is often unrealistic where success and winning are the only safe haven from self-criticism and negative thoughts. Sports are a great avenue for kids to develop off-the field qualities such as dealing with setbacks and learning from their mistakes. We can and should use sports to coach our kids to develop a winning mental approach otherwise the games that they love can chew them up and spit them out.

In short the take home message is young people can use sports as a platform to improve their leadership qualities and to become high-character citizens. Golden Tate is an outstanding example of this.

Tate played at Notre Dame and with the Seattle Seahawks, and he’s worked closely with autistic children and children affected by cancer. Tate said he plans to bring the same passion to Detroit. [1]

Tate won’t allow himself to be defined by the sport he plays because he is actively shaping a career that represents more than his sport skills. Long after his playing days are over Tate will have impacted countless of lives with his off-field endeavors because of his desire to interact and engage with people on a human level. Most of the folks that he meets along his path will forget he is a football player but they will never forget his generous spirit. The sport can get you in the door but your character will ultimately determine the impact you have upon children’s lives. Make the sport work for you and don’t allow it to work you over!

It should come as no surprise that as a young boy Tate even as a young boy showed a propensity for helping anyone he could, in his own way.

“He really cared about people, his friends that wasn’t as athletic as he was,” Tate’s father said. “He really tried to help them.”

I have seen this demonstrated in my youth group classes and it is very powerful. When a more skilled young athlete takes the time to offer a tip or word of encouragement to a less-skilled athlete it provides something that a coach can never offer. When a less-skilled athlete receives this encouragement from a peer it just lights up their self-esteem and motivates them to try their best even if the task is challenging and they might fail. When your young athletes create that kind of culture within the team setting it will set the stage for special things can happen.

There are a few other interesting plot lines from Golden Tate’s developmental years that are worth mentioning.

One of my core beliefs when it comes to youth athletic development is early sport diversification. In other words, I strongly believe that children should try as many different sport and activities as they possibly can. This allows them to build a robust movement foundation that will then allow them to excel at their sport of choice in the teen years when skill development can be maximized. But not only does this early diversification make them better athletes in the long-term it also provides them with a gift that they can share for generations to come.

Tate had a very close relationship with his father and Golden Tate Sr. use to punt and throw footballs to help his son practice his catching. Tate Sr. was a very good athlete in his own right and because of that he had the ability to spend time with his son. This is an often-overlooked benefit of having a broad athletic foundation. It creates opportunities for parents, siblings, aunts and uncles even grandparents to spend time with children. What a shame it would be to farm out your child’s first experience with a sport simply because you never developed the competency to effectively demonstrate the basics. And this isn’t for the purpose of creating a star athlete but rather it creates moments you can share with your children that will endure for a lifetime.

It’s also interesting that Tate didn’t like to watch sports on television. After a few minutes of watching it motivated him to go outside and practice what he saw on TV. I think most young boys can relate to that at some level. I used to watch Jerry Rice play football and then I would go out and practice running routes and catching passes and pretending I was Michael Jordan driving to the hoop to make a contested lay-up. [1]

Tate also played other sports to improve his football skills. He tried baseball and became a sure-handed outfielder, learning how to judge pop flies and throw balls on a crow hop.  If you have never heard of the crow hop it is a very advanced athletic skill that is the compilation of several different abilities such as; timing, rhythm, coordination and power. All of which are essential in every sport! [1]

Tate, the professional football player, was a good enough to be selected in baseball’s amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. [1]

Tate also spoke about the relationship he developed with his high school football coach:

“He was the real first coach that I had that taught me a lot of things on the football field,” Tate said. “But more so he kind of helped me be a high-character man. He taught me how to be great on the football field, but also to be just as good in the classroom and in the community.” [1]

As a coach this is a powerful reminder that out role in the lives of our students/athletes is deeper than getting the most out their athletic talents it is also about helping them develop as champions in the class room and in the community.

In conclusion, before Golden Tate even steps on the field he is champion in the game of life and Detroit fans are fortunate to have a man of such high character representing their team and city.


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