Commitment to youth sports for most parents is often times spent cheering from the sidelines or serving as a volunteer for their children’s teams, however for Shawna Ryan, Gatorade Director of Youth Programs, this commitment is more of a way of life.
A native of Glenview, Ill., where she grew up playing baseball, softball, soccer, and basketball, Ms. Ryan’s passion for youth sports started at a very young age. Since graduating from Northwestern University where she played collegiate softball, Ms. Ryan has since continued to share that passion for youth sports as the Director of Youth Programs at Gatorade and also spends her free time as a coach for her three sons, Eghan, Tiernan, and Maclan.
As part of a continued celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) throughout the month of February, Little League Baseball and Softball spoke with the Gatorade executive as she shared her experience in youth sports.
Little League: Looking back on your time playing youth sports growing up, what takeaways to do you have now as an adult?
Shawna Ryan: For me, the kids that I went to school with were not the kids that I played baseball with, so when I think about the teams that I was on as a child, it was about understanding different people and learning how to be on a team with different people that I may not have been familiar with. It was about meeting new people and working together to achieve a common goal.
LL: Why was it important to you to get involved in coaching youth sports?
SR: Being involved [at Gatorade] with youth sports, I have a pretty strong feeling for how I think sports should be in terms of competing and understanding how to compete. I have a saying that I use with my teams that “you win with class and you lose with dignity.” There are certain values that I wanted to make sure that the teams that I coached had, and the teams my kids were on, had as well. It’s okay to lose as long as you go out there and give it your best. Any given team can win on any given day. Just because you go up against someone that is undefeated, doesn’t mean you can’t win and you can’t give up before you even play the game.
LL: Speaking as a parent, what does it mean to have the opportunity to coach your sons?
SR: It’s great. I always thought it would be great to be able to spend more time with my kids, even though I spend a lot of time with them regardless, but it’s fun to be able to talk about the team at dinner; who do we play this weekend, etc.… It really provides a nice opportunity for us to share a common goal that we are trying to be successful in the league and do as well as we can with the team that we have. It’s a unique thing that we get to talk about, and I really enjoy that. Even being able to talk about competing in the games and what positions my sons’ want to play. You have one that wants to pitch but may not be ready to pitch, so you get to talk about “you know what, we have to continue to work on this because I don’t want to put you out into a situation where you may not be ready.” It’s been fun for us to talk about the game at that level and even to be able to watch Cubs games on TV and relate it to what happens in our games.
LL: Often times, coaches talk about how their experience coaching helps teach life lessons to their players. Are there any life lessons that you have learned as a coach?
SR: For me, the biggest surprise as a coach was needing to take the time to understand what the kids on the team want to get out of the experience of being on the team. Last year I had an older kid on the team. One day he was messing around at practice, so I talked to him about being a leader since he was one of the older kids. Over the next couple of days and games, things didn’t improve, and I remember having a conversation where he said “I don’t want to be a leader, I just want to play baseball.” For me that was pretty eye opening because I assumed that since he was an older kid that would be a role he would want to take and it wasn’t. That for me was one of the lessons I was able to take away, trying to understand the motivations of the kids and why they are there. Once I learned that from him, I backed off from saying “this is how you should or shouldn’t be” and that made a big difference in his performance and the team’s dynamic as a whole.
LL: Looking now at your professional life, what has playing in team sports growing up taught you that you can utilize in your everyday life?
SR: I think a lot about taking things in and understanding a situation. Sports are great because it puts you in a lot of different situations every time. That analysis and critical thinking element is a big thing in being able to react and anticipate things and that’s very relatable to how things work in a work environment. I also go back to the team mentality. You’re always working with different people and I think the workplace is even more of a team. There is a ton of people you interact with every day and none of them are going to be the same as you every time. I learned that when I started playing and I see it every day at work.
LL: How has coaching children helped you to motivate and manage a team at work?
SR: The thing about sports is that you are all working towards a common goal. In sports, whether that is to win a game or be the best that season, or at work when there are objectives that get set out in the beginning of the year and being able to work and manage a team to achieve those objectives. It’s also about understanding your roles on the team. The kid who is playing third base shouldn’t be running over to shortstop to make a play on the ball, and similarly, the guy in charge of a project needs to own that and take that to move it forward without someone else from the team getting in his way. For me, that’s something I see in my team and that I try and make sure that everyone knows what the goal is so we are all working towards the same thing. Also, making sure everyone has the tools for the assignments and projects so that they are able to make it happen to get to that goal.
LL: What piece of advice would you have for a parent who might be interested in getting involved in coaching youth sports?
SR: I would say that being a good coach takes effort and time. I really feel like those coaches who are willing to put the time in and understand what they want to do each day with the kids makes everyone’s experience better. It’s not just about spending an extra hour or two with your kid each week, but it’s about taking all of the kids collectively and helping them have a good experience.