It's important to adopt the assumption that every person you meet is seeking shelter from a raging storm. You must aspire to make your sphere of influence an oasis of tranquility. You can't control the world, but you can offer every passerby a place where they can renew their strength before having to again face the howling winds.

This is what I think about when I help to coach my daughter's 5th grade basketball team. The other coaches don't necessarily think like me, but I'm older than they are, and I've seen few things they haven't.

As the kids have grown, so has the external pressure for the coaches to be "hard on them." Too often in our society, there's an assumption that criticism provides a more effective pathway to positive results than offering a compliment.

I don't believe that.

I don't think you have to break people down in order to build them up. In fact, that sounds like a poorly disguised justification for abuse.

Children struggle with issues you can't comprehend

There's an absurd misconception that 11 year old kids "have it easy." The truth is, you have no idea the hardships the adults and children around you are forced to endure. I learned that as a teacher, and that lesson gets tragically reinforced almost every day.

Part of the reason I attend my daughter's practices is that I don't want her getting yelled at. I appreciate a strict coach, but I won't tolerate an abusive coach. In my view, our society has normalized the belief that abuse is necessary for growth.

It's not.

Responsibility, accountability, and discipline are all valuable. But there's absolutely nothing to be gained from learning how to endure disrespect. Some people try to suggest that you can "ruin" a child with false praise. However, in my 50 years of life, I can't recall a single example of that happening.

I've seen plenty of kids run down by criticism. I've never seen a child hurt by a compliment.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that has normalized the idea that you have to be hard on kids. Quite a lot of blatant cruelty is shared on social media and in "polite" conversation without any objection. The prevalence of this viewpoint can coerce people into adopting behaviors that are against their authentic nature.

Coaches feel as if they must apologize for not yelling at their players. That external pressure grows if the losses begin to pile up. Nobody stops to question whether yelling might lead to even worse results.

When the losses pile up

Recently, my daughter's team was split into two groups. They each had 3 games, and as a group they went 1–5 against competition they should have been able to handle. I was on the bench as an assistant until my daughter came down with a mild case of food poisoning and we had to leave. Fortunately, the team won the last game without her.

Observing from the bench provides a perspective you don't get from the stands. I appreciated being able to look at the expressions on the players' faces as they came off for substitutions. Whether they're winning or losing, these girls play hard right up until the end. I've never seen them quit, and that's something that's easy to lose sight of when losses start to pile up.

Some of the teams in our area divide their players into an "A" and "B squad. The problem with this in a developmental program is that you never know who is going to have a growth spurt between grades. That's why our coach is committed to teaching all the kids equally. You don't want to fail to teach a child who will grow into becoming the best player.

It seems as if many of the teams we face are sacrificing the meaningful wins of tomorrow in order to gain meaningless wins today. If you have an "A" team and a "B" team, you might go 3–3 in a 6 game tournament. Our coach aspires to get 6 close wins, but that ambition leaves you open to 6 loses.

Losing all of your games is the kind of result that can test your resolve.

Coaches already face too much pressure

My wife is from Peru, and she's often commented on America's unhealthy obsession with sports. "Parents will overlook their child's ability to read as long as they are good at chasing a ball around," she says. "It's irresponsible."

She's a teacher, and she sees firsthand how time and resources are often diverted to objectives that have a low probability of future success. "They all think their kids are going to get scholarships and end up as professional athletes. That's why every bar stool in this state is occupied by a 45-year-old unemployed loser who is still wearing his letterman jacket."

Wisconsin has more bars than grocery stores.

That should tell us that the process that's in place doesn't work. Nevertheless, when your team has a cold streak, social pressure will overwhelmingly push you towards whatever approach has become normalized. It doesn't matter if that approach has been proven worthless, conditioned people make decisions based on emotion rather than intellect.

Any coach at any level feels pressure after a series of losses. They are sensitive to an atmosphere of disappointment even if nobody says anything. The most common response to pressure is for coaches to think, "Am I being too nice?"

What are we trying to achieve here?

Most of the basketball families are also involved in soccer because we are trying to establish fitness as a lifestyle choice. In an era where kids are constantly faced with the distraction of digital screens, parents must be more diligent about promoting physical activity.

In practice, most modern parents use cell phones as babysitters. The result is that the mental health of our children is in steady decline.

I have all sorts of equipment for activities with my kids. I have portable nets for soccer and volleyball. We play badminton, basketball, baseball, the list goes on and on. The trick to making this sustainable is that it has to be fun.

What good is yelling at my daughter for a bad play if it drives her straight to toxic social media? A little bit of perspective is required as we consider our obligations as parents.

Engaging in play is the victory, not whatever it says on the scoreboard.

Children have more fun when they interact with reality

Children are naturally inclined to run and laugh and play. When you're having a good time, you don't even notice the effort of healthy exercise. However, if you add tears to the equation, the running shoes get thrown into the closet never to be laced up again.

There are two soccer clubs in the area. One is the "casual" club and the other is the "serious" club. It's not uncommon for players in the serious club to leave practice in tears.

I simply won't endure having my daughter get yelled at until she cries. I see no profit in it. There's nothing to be gained by breaking her spirit for the sake of a lost possession or a missed basket. Therefore, my daughter is going to remain in the casual club. That's true, too, for basketball. If the coaches start yelling at her, I'm pulling her out.

She's not going to develop a sustainable commitment to exercise if she's taught to hate it.

For now, the basketball coach is opposed to the "tough" approach, but she's mentioned in passing that she's been criticized for that. I can tell it's in the back of her mind.

Compliment the kids and compliment the coaches

My wife calls me "the whisperer." I'm old enough now that I know the indirect approach is the best way to influence people. I'm not going to go up to my daughter's coach and scream at her that she needs to offer more compliments.

That would be hypocritical. My behavior must model the philosophy I advocate.

Instead, I find positives. There are several parents that work as coaches. Whenever I can, I take them aside and I offer them compliments on the work they're doing.

"I suspect that you aren't giving yourself enough credit for the job you did last weekend," I said. "Even though we lost, you got the players in positions where they took quality shots. A lot of those shots rattled in and out. There are plenty of positive takeaways from the game."

I also make sure to compliment all the players on their games. When you make an effort to point out the positives, you see the tension melt away.

Constructive kindness is more effective than destructive criticism

When you commit yourself to emphasizing the positive aspects of a performance, good things happen. They start to play loose, and, like magic, the shots start going in.

Focusing on the positive creates the kind of sustainable energy that leads to victory. Focusing on the negative makes everyone miserable.

In our most recent tournament, the team went 5–1. I feel we effectively managed the stress of a poor performance and did not succumb to taking the "easy" route of embracing harsh criticism. I still offer compliments, but they're less necessary when players and coaches are basking in the afterglow of victory.

When a coach regularly makes players cry, the players feel less freedom to engage their creativity. It's another case of sacrificing meaningful wins of the future for meaningless wins today.

I'm only interested in the wins of the future, and that requires adhering to a process that's based in support and kindness. I know from experience that I don't like to be yelled at. Why would I tolerate allowing anyone else to yell at my kids?