Every so often something takes place in sports that have people asking PCA for our take. The 2018 US Open Women's Final has elicited some strong reactions on race, gender, and equality. In this blog, we are focusing on one facet of the match. This, in no way, devalues the other important topics from that competition.
In support of our mission to shape a positive, character-building youth sports environment, PCA highlights "teachable moments" that coaches and parents can utilize with their athletes. The Naomi Osaka vs. Serena Williams Final provides a wonderful chance for us to talk with youth athletes about something they are likely seeing all over social media.
If you're familiar with PCA, perhaps it won't surprise you to find out that our first tip is for you to ask your kids what they thought of the Final, the post-match awards presentation, and the following media coverage. Getting kids to develop their take on things first before we adults weigh in helps them develop their ability to evaluate situations for themselves.
And then, when it comes time for you to offer your opinion, think about reinforcing this important sports psychology theme: focus on what you can control. And continuing to ask questions is useful, for example, "What do you think about Naomi Osaka's ability to focus on what she could control in the match, even with all that was going on that she couldn't control? What do you think she has done to become that mentally tough? Would you like to develop that level of ability to focus?"
As coaches and parents, we have the crucial job of helping our athletes focus on what they can control and not let the things they cannot control distract them. They cannot control calls by the umpire; they cannot control the behavior of their opponent; they cannot control the reaction from the fans. What they CAN control is their own effort and reactions to things outside of their control, and Naomi Osaka did a wonderful job at this during the US Open Women's Final. Despite so much distraction, she kept her focus and played beautiful tennis.
We can also highlight Serena Williams' elevating the post-match awards by asking the fans in the crowd to stop booing and to give Osaka the credit she deserved for winning the match. We can ask our athletes, "Do you think you would be able to be gracious to a younger player who had just beaten you in an important competition that you really wanted to win the way Serena Williams acted toward Naomi Osaka?"
While criticizing what she sees as a double standard for male and female tennis players, tennis legend Billie Jean King had this to say in her September 9th editorial in the Washington Post about Osaka's performance:
Lost in the craziness of the evening was the fact that Osaka played excellent tennis and won her first major title. Competing against her childhood idol, she summoned her A game and earned her championship — no need for any asterisk in the record book. She was the best player on the court Saturday.
When your athletes find themselves in similar situations when they are competing, will they have the ability to keep their focus on their own best personal performance? That is a skill that transcends the playing field and one that will benefit them for years to come. As coaches and parents, focusing our conversations with our players on these issues will pay off in helping them become both Better Athletes and Better People.