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Faith aspect, setting good examples still plays in sports

'How you behave as a coach is picked up on by these kids'

The challenge of hosting an educational program for busy sports coaches and parents hit home for the Catholic Youth Apostolate’s CYC sports program when a planned Sports Summit in July was shelved, at least temporarily, due to a low number of registrations. The summit may be held at a later time, when vacations and sports schedules will have less of an impact on attendance.

But that doesn’t mean the content isn’t appealing or important.

The theme, “Building Communities of Faith,” remains relevant and is indeed an important part of the sports program. The mission of the Catholic Youth Apostolate is to help all young people hear and actively respond to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and enthusiastically participate in the life and mission of Jesus Christ and His Church. The CYC offers a nine-sport program based on a concept of “everyone plays and sports is fun.” Its focus involves character-building, imparting spiritual and moral values and much more.

Among the presenters who had been booked at the Sports Summit was Mark Probst, executive secretary of the St. Louis Suburban Public High School Conference, the person responsible for scheduling sports officials for 75 high schools. The former athletic director at Lutheran South High School, he coached CYC sports and served as a CYC district softball director and has experience as a high school basketball and baseball official. He’s still involved with CYC sports officiating.

It’s difficult to attract young people as officials, Probst and others confirm, but once they get involved they find it rewarding. Fans, coaches and players too often berate officials and display poor sportsmanship, but the CYC and others are working to reduce, if not eliminate, those aberrations.

Whether it’s a game involving third-graders or eighth-graders or the first match of the season or a playoff contest, it’s a learning experience for the young athletes, Probst reminds people. Coaches have to realize they aren’t only teaching specific athletic skills but also teaching life lessons.

“How you behave as a coach is picked up on by these kids,” Probst said. “If you’re a coach who wants to yell and scream, rant and rave, walk up and down the sidelines, then the kids are going to think it’s OK.”

All is not lost when someone behaves badly, however. Probst provides an example of a learning experience that started out as a poor example but ended up as a turnaround. In CYC playoffs, a player was ejected from a game for poor sportsmanship. His mom contacted Probst to inquire about the incident and let him know that the boy was repentant, explaining to his parents that he made a mistake and his behavior was bad.

Probst was glad to hear that the player learned from his mistake. “It’s not the end of the world if he realizes a mistake is made,” Probst said.

The boy hand-wrote a letter of apology to the referee, explaining that he was sad that he let his team down and wouldn’t repeat his mistake. Probst reached out to the player and urged him to be a leader in how to act at games.

Players and coaches learn from experience. Coaches make their greatest impact in teaching life lessons and being fair to players, treating them with respect.

From Probst’s experience, the coaches who focus on what matters in life end up being successful. He points, among others, to St. Joseph’s Academy coach Julie Matheny, a member of the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and her brother, Bob Goessling, as examples.

The CYC program expects more from parents and coaches than any other program, Probst said. “We have to show that to our kids by the language we use and the example we set.”

Kenny is a reporter for the St. Louis Review.

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