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Mailbag of Champions: December Edition

Welcome to the December edition of Play Like a Champion's "Mailbag of Champions"! With basketball season in full swing and Christmas around the corner, this month takes on a benevolent tone. A reminder that each month we'll take a few of the questions we get from our partners and put them to our experts so we can share their answers with everyone (note: we'll protect your identity and won't share any confidential information). Have a question for a future mailbag? Scroll to the bottom for info on how to drop us a line via email or social media!

Let's dive in to this month's mailbag. As always, these are real questions asked by administrators, coaches, parents and student-athletes...

Q: I often see Play Like a Champion talk about A Team for Every Child. I definitely think all kids should have a chance to play youth sports, but I'm not sure how this applies to my existing team of 6th grade boys. As a volunteer coach, how can I help this initiative? What can I do to help make sure kids have an opportunity to play? ~ Volunteer Youth Coach

Answer from Clark Power, Executive Director of Play Like a Champion

A few thoughts on this good question. First, I am glad that this coach is asking about the importance of giving each child a "team" experience. In sixth grade, children begin to understand that a team is more than just a collection of players. A team is a unit in which the individual players understand their roles in relationship to the good of the team. Passing the ball, setting picks, and helping out on defense are concrete ways in which players put the good of the team and their teammates above their personal success. Coaches need to praise the little things that players do that help the team as a whole. Coaches should make sure that teammates encourage each other and pick each other up after mistakes. Second, coaches need to use the words "we" and "us" in addressing the team. There is no "I" in team. Third, coaches should work within their organizations and leagues to become more inclusive and welcoming. No children should be excluded from sports because the fees or too high, because they feel they aren't good enough to be on a team, or because they live in an area that doesn't offer opportunities for children to play on a team.

Q: Our school has basketball teams in 5-8th grade this winter. With Christmas and the New Year approaching, we've been considering how we can "give back" to our community and develop service projects for our teams during the upcoming winter break. Do you have any ideas for good service opportunities in this age range? Any projects you've seen have great success in the Play Like a Champion community?

Answer from Kristin Sheehan, Program Director of Play Like a Champion

‘Tis the season to be jolly and to remember how blessed and fortunate we truly are! A great way to help athletes recognize and be grateful for their blessings is to engage in a gratitude circle in which all team members express their blessings, particularly regarding the team and their sport. After the gratitude circle, ask your athletes, “What can we do as a team to share our blessings with others?” Enlisting your team’s ideas on a project to “give back” is a way of remembering Play Like a Champion’s “O” in the GROW approach. All teams should have ownership (or voice) on their team so they feel more invested in a project and thus responsible for ensuring the success of the idea. Adult coaches might be surprised at the ideas the athletes suggest. We have seen some wonderful projects from our partners come out of the team’s desire to make a meaningful contribution to their surrounding community. Here are some ideas our partners have implemented:

  • Hosting a basketball tournament with all team fees and gate fees going to a fund for cancer research.

  • Collecting items for a maternity home, including clothes and personal hygiene products.

  • Preparing and serving a meal for a homeless shelter and eating with the residents.

  • Gathering gently used soccer cleats (or other sports equipment) and donating them to an inner city school.

  • Hosting a Christmas party for a team of younger athletes complete with crafts, food and playing the sport in a fun scrimmage.

  • Gathering canned goods and other meal supplies to prepare holiday food baskets.

  • Adopting a family from a social service agency and providing Christmas gifts for that family.

We encourage you to speak with your team and get their input on what project they would like to engage within. Then, let us know what you do, so we can share your good work with our national community. With 250 partners across the country, imagine all the love and good will our Play Like a Champion partners can share this holiday season with others. Merry Christmas!

Q: While our Catholic league has us pray with the other team before games, I would like to find ways to make prayer a regular part of my practices as well. I know many teams say an “Our Father” or a “Hail Mary” but are there any other prayers or practices you suggest to help make prayer an important part of our team? ~ CYO Coach in the Midwest

Answer from Peter Piscitello, Manager of Outreach & Operations Support for Play Like a Champion

Thanks for your question! There are many different ways you can incorporate prayer into your team’s practices, and I’ll be happy to provide a few examples. The key is that there’s almost no wrong answer here – simply taking the initiative to pray as a team can help affirm the importance of prayer for young athletes and remind them that God is present in sports. As much as it might set a good example for players to see the coach lead prayer at the beginning of the season, one thing I might suggest is having the kids lead prayer as much as possible. Often kids will jump at the chance to do this, so have a different child lead prayer at the start of each practice. Often they will use a well-known prayer, but I’ve had many list heartwarming intentions or even write their own prayer to bring to practice. In addition, Play Like a Champion has a library of prayers online and an eBook of Sports Prayers that you can pull from if you would like.

If you’re looking to dive a little deeper, you might also consider the 5 Minute Game Plan we have available for partners online. That resource provides a page for each practice that includes a short scripture verse and prayer along with discussion questions to help connect important elements of a child’s faith to sports. It’s setup by age and designed along with curriculum used by Catholic schools and religious education programs. Play Like a Champion also offers resources for praying the Rosary or Stations of the Cross as a team, if you’re interested. Email us for more information!

Have a question for a future mailbag? Send us an email at or send us a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

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