Did you play youth sports? Did your kids play youth sports? If so, this post is for you. I want to address an issue that has been around much longer than we all care to say. For me, I participated in youth sports growing up; coached youth sports for over 25 years; sat on many youth sports organizational boards and have watched my two children play. I want to share my experiences and thoughts on how we bring back the “youth sports for the young player – only.”
As a player growing up, I had coaches that were in it to win it. They would do just about everything that they could to win. I am not a disgruntled ex-player, in fact I was an above average player in just about every sport I played. I was a three sport letter-man in high school. I was named to the all-state team for two sports. When you are a player growing up, you get lost in the moment of playing – you just don’t know any better. As time passes and you start to look back – you get a different view on what was going on. Not that I would trade anything, as all experiences have shaped the person that I am today. Looking back, there were times when coaches were just flat out be abusive to players (physically and emotionally). Parents would car coach their kids – basically that coach knows nothing, do what I tell you. Other players would start to read their press clippings and forget that we play in a team sport. At the time, I did not notice or care – I just wanted to play and play well.
As a coach, I have spent over 25 years doing it, refining my style and trying to insure that I was making the overall experience positive for all involved. Early on, I used the role-model coaches I grow up with to shape my style. As time passed and I kept evaluating my progress – I knew I needed to change. Those that I learned from where not bad, just not what I wanted to be. Molding my style has been a life long process. One I have enjoyed. As the coach, besides the players you do have to interface with parents – either before or after games. Sometimes the interaction is a simple good job, the players played hard or tough lose. There are times when the interaction will lead to a confrontation. Usually with a parent(s) that want to criticize the coach, his tactics and his decisions. Coaches like to defend their position. If this happens after a tough lose, they could get ugly. What do you do? I would start off every season with a player and/or parent orientation meeting (sometimes together, sometimes separate) covering:
- The coaching staff’s philosophy and the tactics we are going to use.
- Ground rules for engagement – never before or after a game or practice (always a cooling off period). Contact me the next day.
- Never contact an assistant coach – come to me. I am the head coach, my responsibility.
- We are all here for one thing: improving every player; working hard and having fun!
When I was just dad in the stands, which was not often (I enjoyed helping out), I only came across some occasions where the parents were yelling back and forth at each other. Some times using profane language. Basically angry over something they have not control over. I read about the Pop Warner games that ended in fights from the parents. Or the hockey parent that hit another parent because that parents kid did something on the ice to his kid. Refs getting attacked during and after games.
I have held various positions on some youth organization boards. Those boards all have the best intentions – that is for the players. Everything is focused on the safety and well being of the players. The local youth board participants are parent and coach volunteers. We all say that we are here for all players, but sometimes the actions do not match up to the overall intentions. I have watched some volunteers really work for what is best for their player(s) or team, rather than the league as a whole.
As I stated, I want to try to get back to “youth sports for the young player – only.” How do we do that? What will it take to make that happen? Especially in this overly competitive environment to get to become a professional athlete.
- For Governing Boards:
- Larger governing boards need to continue to stress the players first and only. Some of them do an outstanding job of describing, sharing and teaching those principles. Where the it breaks is in the follow-up within the lower governing boards. Need to hold them accountable.
- Lower governing boards need to monitor and fix situations that are out of hand, before they escalate out of control.
- Board members – check you personal filters at the door. You are there for all players!
- For Coaches:
- Vince Lombardi’s quote need not apply. This is youth sports. Winning is not the only thing. You are help teach your sport, help players get better, provide a positive experience and help with life lessons.
- Set your season up for success for all participants. Orientation meetings, ground-rules, contact lists, practice plans and regular communications…
- Be a positive role-model. Standing on the bench or in the dug out – yelling and screaming at the ref or players is just not good. It is extremely easy to get wrapped up in the moment – take a breathe and remember that it is still a game.
- For Parents:
- You are a spectator first – watch the game. Cheer for you son/daughter, their team and any good play that happens.
- Remember that your son/daughters coach is the coach. If you want to get involved in coaching – get trained and certified. There always will be room for a positive, knowledgeable coach on any team.
- Support you son/daughter. They are trying their best to make you proud. They work hard for you – just as much as they do for the coach. I would argue more. Tell them that you noticed their hard work; keep it up; or even I am proud of how far you have come.
- If the temptation to get aggressive with the ref or other parents hits you – step away, remove yourself from the situation. Nothing good can come from it.
Parents only want the best for the kids. No question! Sometimes the actions don’t quite line up. Those above are my thoughts, do you have any others? Please share!