Many youth sport parents have witnessed inappropriate behavior on the part of players, coaches and other parents at practices and during games. When they do, they may scratch their heads and think to themselves "I didn't think that we acted this way in our program." The problem is that, all too often, the behavioral guidelines for the program haven't been clearly spelled out in advance. Mission statements are important in youth sports programs because they allow all program stakeholders (parents, players, coaches, officials, administrators) to know what is acceptable behavior and the program's goals.
What Is A Mission Statement
A mission statement is just that: a statement of the mission, or goal, of an organization, whether it be a youth sports program, a corporation, or any organization. When all is said and done, the mission statement is a contract for ethical behavior which everyone involved in the organization, whether it be parents, athletes, coaches, officials and administrators have agreed to follow. A major responsibility for those administering a youth sports program (the Board of Directors of a private club, or the Athletic Director of a middle or high school) is to draft, implement and enforce the mission statement.
A mission statement:
- Needs to be taken seriously. A mission statement conveys what a group believes to be the significant worth and value of the organization. To get the most out of a mission statement, everyone involved in its drafting and implementation must be serious about using it.
- Guides behavior. A mission statement is a tool that helps to guide and analyze every action taken by an athlete, parent, coach or program director by clearly stating behavioral expectations for athletes, parents, officials, coaches and administrators.
- Serves as a reminder. A mission statement serves as a simple reminder to do the right thing. When everyone knows and fully understands the team or program's mission, and recognizes the value of a written mission statement, they can refer back to the mission statement whenever an ethical problem is presented on or off the field.
- Reduces ambiguity. A mission statement can be a wonderful decision making tool. When you have a choice to make on how to act, you can refer back to the purpose and vision of the program as articulated in its mission statement. If the action doesn't fit, you don't do it. This takes the ambiguity out of the process.
- Facilitates objective decision-making. A mission statement decreases the emotional response to a decision by making it more objective and dispassionate. Most people know what they ought to do, but sometimes allow their emotions to get in the way. A mission statement is valuable because, when emotional states are in flux, it helps a stakeholder put a behavioral response in context. For example, if the mission statement espouses respect for teammates, the importance of treating them all equally, and values skill development over winning as values, parents and players are less likely to be upset when the coach substitutes players regardless of the score or climate of the game.
- Requires top-down leadership to be effective. The effectiveness of a mission statement depends on everyone "walking the walk." This nugget of reality is what gives actor Tom Cruise's one-liner in the film Jerry Maguire, "Show me the money!" its punch. If a youth sport program is about enjoyment and satisfaction for all, then the proof is in consistent enforcement of its mission statement from the Board of Directors or Athletic Director on down. Every stakeholder has to constantly ask the tough questions: "Are we doing what we say we are doing? and "Who is responsible for ensuring that we are doing what we say?"
- Works because all stakeholders have a vested interest. By recognizing the goals of everyone involved in an athletic program and giving participants an opportunity to express what they believe to be the important values of the program, a mission statement can provide strong and compelling motivation for all to act according to its tenets.
Characteristics of an Effective Mission Statement
Mission statements vary in their length, structure and content, but, to be effective, a youth sports mission statement must:
- Create a model and vision for the future. In order to create a truly effective mission, you must be able to determine what you want your program to look like as a "finished product." How do you want others, both inside and outside your program, to view your program?
- State values and goals clearly and concisely. From a mechanical perspective, the briefer a mission statement is, the clearer it will probably be to the coach, program director, athlete, and parent. It should state and define the core values and virtues espoused by the program in broad terms and in language everyone can understand so that all participants/stakeholders can easily comprehend the expectations and ethos of the program. Because virtues form the foundation of a character-based program, the mission statement should contain a convincing portrayal of what virtuous behavior means and looks like.
- Convey a positive sense of purpose. The program's mission ought to be written affirmatively and positively -- establishing the reasons for and value of participation in the program. In other words, the mission statement should explain "why" people participate in the program -- reasons like enjoyment, satisfaction or striving for excellence.
- Promote the shared values and goals of the stakeholders. The core values stated in the mission ought to be defined so they make sense to all the participants. Children, adolescents and adults tend to remain focused on activities that hold some sense of significance for them. Core values really matter when their action reflects the shared purpose of the group.
- Inspire. An inspiring mission statement instills faith and confidence of the stakeholders in the value of participation and aspiring to achieve the program's core values.
- Require action. Core values only have power if they are followed. Knowing and paying lip service to the values espoused by a mission statement are not good enough. The only true measure of the effectiveness of a mission statement is to ask whether stakeholders apply its core values in their daily actions, on and off the field, at home, and at school. Consistency between actions and words can only happen when: coaches, program directors, parents, and student-athletes model the behavior suggested in the mission statement at every practice and during every game; when the aims of the program are discussed and modeled constantly; and when actions that violates either the letter or spirit of the mission statement have adverse consequences.
- Recognize the youth in youth sports. Although people value the youth sport experience for different reasons, we must never lose sight of the fact that youth sports programs should primarily be for the benefit of, and value, the children.
It all starts with two questions
It's not easy to change an individual's or an organization's behavior. Mission statements won't stop violence in youth sports or eliminate poor sportsmanship overnight. I believe, however, that if all of the stakeholders in a youth sports program strive to consistently conform their behavior to a mission statement that values character and the virtues of sportsmanship and consistently model such behavior, positive change will take place over time. Nothing will change, however, if you, as a parent of a child in youth sports, don't start a dialog with those who run the youth sports programs in your community.
By asking two simple questions: First, what is our mission? And, second, are we doing what we say we are doing?
Brooke de Lench is Executive Director of the non-profit MomsTEAM Institute, Founder and Publisher of MomsTEAM.com, author of Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in Youth Sports (HarperCollins), and the Producer/Director/Creator of the PBS concussion documentary, "The Smartest Team: Making HIgh School Football Safer."