Calvin Johnson considers Michigan his home. And the Detroit Lions legend recently took care of “home” in a very special way. On Saturday morning, Johnson participated in a discussion to bring awareness to trauma in youth sports. More importantly to him, he talked about ways to end it.
The intimate conversation took place at the Boys & Girls Club-Southeastern Michigan. Over 60 young athletes, parents, and coaches attended. Now during the talk, Johnson did a deep dive into the many issues facing youth in sports. From disrespectful coaches to overbearing parents, he spoke on it. Johnson highlighted how both parties can focus so much on winning that they neglect the true needs of a young boy or girl. And he advocated for the young athlete facing these issues with no one to speak to for comfort.
Johnson, 36, is a smart guy.
He knows that parents and coaches can be stubborn. Asking people to change their way of doing things is difficult. However, he also knows the subject at hand is a growing problem. And he feels that a culture shift can happen with some dedicated work towards change. With this in mind, he outlined his perspective on the first necessary steps to change the culture.
“It’s outreach,” said Johnson. “Educating, and making that education easy to consume. People have busy lives. And they’re not willing to allow a lot of things all of sudden to come in and take a lot their time.”
“When things are transparent, when things are open, people will be invited to do that.”
One issue Johnson tackled early on was how coaches talk to their players. By now, many have witnessed countless videos of coaches berating their players on the sidelines. Whether it’s a missed tackle or shot, coaches chew them out. And some go out of their way to humiliate and disrespect their players.
“Communication isn’t barking at somebody or yelling at somebody,” said Johnson. “Real communication takes place when both sides can come together and understand what each other is saying.”
“From my time playing ball, kids or players respond when coaches are being fair, and when they’re not cursing at their players. Ok, coaches might yell every now and then but it’s the way you communicate with your players. You’re not belittling anybody. And when you’re giving everybody a fair shot, that’s what players take notice of. Who you are as a person and the opportunity that you’re giving to everybody. That’s really what the guys care about––that they’re gonna have a fair shot.”
Megatron didn’t stop there either.
He had a message for parents in attendance on ways they can raise a young athlete better. As mentioned, parents can be over the top, too, by pushing young athletes too hard to make “the league” or by trying to toughen them up too early, which Johnson discussed.
“I think the biggest thing that a parent can give is just their presence,” said Johnson. “Just being there for the kid, for support. My Mom used to push my little brother. I played ball, [so] my Mom wanted him to play ball too, but that wasn’t my little brother cup of tea. He’s a doctor now, but that wasn’t what was for him.”
“As a parent, expose your kids to different things. Expose them to different things so they can see what opportunities are out here. “It’s endless opportunities out here in this world, and what’s in front of the kids right now is not everything. Football, basketball, the things that they learn in school––that’s not everything. Take them to museums. Let them learn about their history. I think that will go a long way.”
Overall, Johnson’s message resonated well with the audience. By all means, no parent or coach had to listen to him at all. Because speaking on trauma, especially regarding the youth, can be a sensitive subject. As a result of his efforts, however, he received an ovation from all attendees. Furthermore, Saturday’s event cemented one thing.
And that’s even in retirement, the Pro Football Hall of Famer is still adding to his legacy in Detroit.
Follow Kory Woods on Twitter at KoryEWoods.
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