Building Character One Game at a Time


My four-year-old son Cohen comes to the YMCA during basketball season twice a week to learn how to play the game, learn what it means to be on a team, and to have fun with other kids his age. He has fun, runs around, tries to get the ball and tries to shoot it in the goal. Most importantly, he has fun and looks forward to visiting the Pat Jones YMCA.

Recently, we went to a Missouri State Bears game so that he could see what a real basketball game looks like and what it looks like to make a basket and get the rebound. I realized pretty quickly this was a crazy plan. What am I thinking? He is 4 years old! But then something happened right before the game started. The team all bunched together, giving each other their high fives and their pep talks, something we sports fans are used to seeing at games. Cohen turned to me and pointed at the huddle and said, “Daddy, I pledge to play the game!”

He repeated, “I pledge to play the game” many times as we sat there.

My heart melted, and I smiled big, because as an employee of the YMCA, I knew exactly why Cohen associated a pre-game huddle to a very special pledge.

Before each youth game played at the YMCA, the referees get the two teams huddled together and go over a character word of the week, say the YMCA pledge of the day and then do a quick prayer, which usually has the word of the day embedded in it. The word of the day is always one of the YMCA core values: Caring, Honesty, Respect or Responsibility. They ask them if anybody would like to tell the group what the word means. Kids raise their hands or blurt out what they think. It’s always wonderful to see and hear. After that, they repeat the pledge of the day:

“I pledge to play the game the best I can and to care about all players coaches and referees at all times!”

While I was at the Missouri State Bears game, I realized that the skills and talents learned on the YMCA courts will come in handy later in life. The important thing now is that the kids learn how to be all-around great kids. It is important that they learn how to be caring, honest, respectful and responsible, whether that means helping other kids up after falling, picking up trash after themselves, giving the other team high fives or saying “Good Game” afterward. The YMCA is doing that. They are learning life’s important core values while playing a sport. It’s some amazing and powerful stuff we are teaching those kids!

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