Youth Sports; Coach, They're Not Pros

Every year we read about it. The scary part about it is it's happening more and more frequently every year. I'm talking about youth coaches making the newspapers because of their poor judgement, specifically their lack of good sportsmanship. The new youth coaches of today seem to have lost sight of what youth sports is all about. Instead, they seem to think that they can coach the kids like the big league coach's do. It seems to these new youth coaches that it's ok to confront youth umpires, refs or other game officals, bait opposing coaches into an argument or use any means possible to win.

How have youth sports gone from instructional league concepts to the majors? Where has the concept of teaching the basic fundamentals and allowing our youth the opportunity to develop a love and understanding for the game gone? Why do the incoming youth coaches today come in with a chip on their shoulder with this need to just win?

The new breed of youth coaches seems to expect all the kids to come into the program already to play. They seem to assume that everyone is at or above a certain level of ability. It seems that if you don't have at least the basic skills down, there's no room for you because that then requires taking time to develop a child's abilities. Reality check time. That's exactly what youth coaching is all about. Youth coaching is about skill development, building up a child's self-esteem, having fun and teaching good sportsmanship. Youth sports is about taking all different skill levels, from beginner to advanced, and developing these different levels to the point where everyone can compete at the same level. After this has been accomplished, the next step is to have the kids develop a team attitude. This means everyone has the opportunity to play, everybody supports each other and everyone learns what good sportsmanship is all about.

Youth coaches have to realize that today's kids are not like the kids of past generations. Family dynamics have changed. The concept of family, that is mother, father and siblings, doesn't ring true today. Some kids come from single parent families, some from newly formed families because of divorce, situations where both parents work and still others from families where they are living with relatives instead of their parents. Not only are kids coming into the game with emotional baggage, there's also a struggle for a child's attention. There are all kinds of things out there today from tv to video games, all striving for the child's attention. Sports is no longer the only game in town. Youth coaches need to understand this. They aren't just coaches, they're mentors and it's important to let the child know that she/he is important, that she/he can make a difference. It's all right if the skill levels aren't there at the beginning because they can be developed and that's what youth sports is all about when you get right down to it. It's about developing a child's self-esteem. Winning shouldn't be the focal point, that can be stressed in the upper leagues. What is important at the youth level is getting the kids into the sport, getting them to feel good about themselves, their abilities, having fun and developing a love for the game.

How then do we change this need to win? Should rec league coaches be required to take coaching classes like high school coaches do? I asked Richard Dyjak, Hall High School's Girls Varsity Soccer and Girls Freshman Baskerball coach. Rich started his coaching career 26 years ago in rec league sports then moved up to high school. He's seen the new wave of coaches coming into not only the rec league level but in the high school level a well. " A lot of parent coaches today never competed at any level other than Little League," said Rich. "They never had the time or took the time to learn the fundamentals and the psychology of learning how to motivate an adolescent. I think requiring a class on coaching for anybody interested in coaching youths is a very good idea. In fact, some rec leagues already have it as a requirement. It gets coaches away from the need to just win."

Not all youth coaches have forgotten what youth sports is all about. There are a lot of great coaches out there but the ranks are getting infiltrated by misguided people who have lost sight of what youth sports is all about. There's no place in youth sports for misguided coaching philosophies, especially with all the turmoil in today's society that kids face each and every day. Youth sports should be and must be coached by people with the child's best interests in mind. Youth sports should be fun, a learning tool to good social behavior and a place were kids can develop those skills need to understand and develop a passion for the game.

I've coached at the rec league and high school level. My philosophy was one that my dad taught me and I in turn used when I coached. It's as true today as it was when I played and coached. On any given day, the worst team in the league can get lucky and beat the best team. Play fair, play hard and give everything you have inside yourself on the field. When it's over, be humble in victory and gracious in defeat.

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