Coaches of children need greater screening

Participation in sports can be an invaluable experience for children.  But too often they drop out because their coaches don’t know how to treat them (“Your Kids’ Coach Is Probably Doing It Wrong,” The New York Times, Mar. 11).  That’s not surprising in light of the requirements for becoming a coach.

In an attempt to produce winners, some coaches forget that they are dealing with children.  Their emphasis should be on learning and developing good habits in their young charges.  If that means a losing season, so be it.  In the final analysis, the important thing is to inculcate in children lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.

I’ve seen coaches at games yelling at their players.  Even if such behavior results in winning the game, it is a Pyrrhic victory.  Children need encouragement and support from their coaches if we expect them not to drop out.  That’s why it’s time to consider national training and standards for anyone who wishes to be a coach.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “Coaches of children need greater screening”

  1. I coached my two kids’ youth soccer teams for 30+ seasons (fall and spring, first through eighth grade). These were “house” league teams, not “travel” or “all-star” teams; every kid who signs up gets put on a team and every kid plays at least half the game.

    My personal experience was that the soccer coaches — all parents, no hired coaches as on some of the travel teams — did not put too much pressure on the kids to win. A few coaches perhaps put too much pressure on their own kid — these were coaches whose kid was the best player on the team and my guess is that the family was hyper-sports oriented. But, that’s probably no different than the PhD parents pressuring their super-smart kids to get high grades.

    My criticism of my fellow coaches would be that they did not know how to coach youth sports effectively. I experienced this short-coming during my first few coaching seasons. The skills and techniques required to effectively coach youth sports are more those required of an excellent elementary school teacher than of an excellent high school sports coach — break skill training down into the most basic tasks + keep everyone busy doing something all the time at practice + explain team strategy (what the players are supposed to be doing collectively during the game) in a way that the kids understand (rather than assuming that the kids know what’s supposed to be happening). And, of course, be always encouraging and rarely, if ever, negative.

    When I first started coaching (first graders), I coached in much the same way that my high school coach had coached my high school soccer team. Disaster — at least for all but perhaps the best one or two players. Not sure how I became aware of my short-comings, but my coaching techniques evolved along the lines outlined in the above paragraph. By my fourth season, everyone was having a lot more fun + the teams were doing much better.

    No one offered me any training re how to coach youth sports. So far as I know, the local youth sports organization still today offers coaches no training — the organization recruits parents to coach, gives them a bag of soccer balls, and says “go to it”.

    So — I would strongly endorse training for youth sports coaches. But, the training should focus on the issues outlined in the earlier paragraph. Not so much on being encouraging rather than negative — yes, that’s a concern but in my experience a relatively minor concern (although certainly the win-crazed obnoxious coach exists and gets a lot of negative publicity). But, rather on how to run fun, effective practices + how to explain the fundamentals of team strategy to kids for whom this is not intuitive.

    Finally — as to the NYT article point that a large percentage of elementary-school players drop out at the high school level: Drawing from my personal experience (as well as that of my kids), the main cause is the huge reduction in the number of available player slots. In my community, the high school might have 30 slots for boy soccer players (a JV and varsity) for the 1,000 boys enrolled in the high school. When those 1,000 boys were in elementary school, there was at least 300 slots for the same 1,000 boys on the youth soccer league teams. I suppose a community could continue to provide youth sports (outside the high school program) for high school kids. But, neither of my kids would have been interested in continuing non-high-school-program youth sports in high school — they were into other activities by then — including ad hoc athletic activities like jogging, tennis, and pick-up games on weekends or after school.

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  2. Labor Lawyer: You are a “natural” coach who knows instinctively how to relate to kids and how to motivate them appropriately. Sports should be made fun for kids if we expect them to continue to stay in shape their entire lives. Unfortunately, some coaches forget their true mission either because of ego or because of pressure from others to win.

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    1. Actually, no — I was not a “natural” coach. If I had been, then I would have realized from Day 1 that I needed to treat the first-graders like first-graders and not like athletes. It took a few seasons for me to realize what I had to do to coach the elementary school age kids effectively.

      My experience is evidence supporting the idea that youth sports leagues should provide training for the coaches re the concepts outlined in my original post — that is, the kind of stuff a good elementary school teacher would have been doing instinctively.

      My guess is that most parents who volunteer as youth sports coaches were themselves high school or college athletes who instinctively view the youth sports teams as youthful versions of their high school or college varsity teams + who then run the practices/games as if the players were high school or college athletes. That was what I did initially (and what my two “assistant” coach dads did as well).

      To the extent that I was a “natural” coach, it was my willingness to recognize that what I was doing was not working + to experiment with different approaches until I found ones that were effective. I did have the advantage — relative to most of the other parent coaches — that my older child (daughter) was one of the weaker players on the team rather than, as is usually the case, one of the stronger players. So, perhaps this caused me to rethink my coaching strategies with the objective of making the experience more enjoyable for her. If my kid had been one of the stronger players, I might not have had this inducement to rethink my coaching strategies.

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  3. And unfortunately, parents can be the worst abusers. Certainly not all and I’d say most are supportive in good ways. There are just enough that yell and scream to make a kid sorry they ever thought about playing a sport. It’s not just the coaches.

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  4. Labor Lawyer: But at least you knew you were doing something wrong and corrected it. Too many coaches think otherwise. Yes, better screening is so important to weed out unsuitable coaches.

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