Who Is To Blame For the Decline In Youth Sports (Part 2)

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Parents

I have no doubt that some parents are driving their kids away from youth sports. The “Crazy Sports Parent” has become less a caricature and more a phenomenon in the past decade. Why? One can only assume that the more competitive the environment, the more on-edge everyone gets. If Johnny is on the “C” team, his goal (or is it his parents’ goal?) is to move up to the “B” team. But, from his parents’ perspective, if he isn’t playing “as much as he should be”, then that’s perceived as the coach’s fault. Or if he doesn’t perform well, it’s the official’s fault. It might be that the other team’s fans are “out of control” and we have to match their obnoxious fervor.

Parents today are bombarded by sports 24/7, amplifying their significance in society. I wrote about how some are chasing scholarships but for most it’s about ego and status. After the game they pepper their youngster with questions about her performance saying things like, “It looked like you didn’t even want to be out there.” Maybe you’re right. But it could be the reason they don’t want to be out there is you.

Coaches

Unlike 25 years ago, there are now two common types of coaches in youth sports. The parent-volunteer and the paid professional. The parent volunteer usually has a child on the team and is generally more prevalent in rec sports. Just like with parents I discussed above, there are also crazy competitive, emotional, recreational coaches. Full disclosure, when coaching my first boy in Little League I had my moments too. By the time I coached my third son, I toned it way down. However, in all my years coaching in Little League Majors there was never a kid who played on my team who didn’t come back again the next season. I’m more proud of that than of any championships.

We’ve all seen the videos or heard the stories of the rec coaches who berate their players, the officials, or opponents. Yet the biggest complaints I hear about volunteer coaches are that they don’t know “the FUNDAMENTALS” and that they employ “DADDY BALL”. I’m sure there are many situations where both are true. It is likely that there are plenty of instances where the coaching staff’s kids get preferential treatment when it comes to playing time and position.

However, I also feel a lot of that can be perception. A parent whose child is not playing as much as or in the position in which that parent would like, is probably not going to blame the child. My experience, in the many emails I receive asking for advice, is that the parent always believes the child is being treated unfairly. They tell me theirs is every bit as talented as the coaches’ kid, but is just a victim of nepotism. Again, I’m sure this happens, but in all my years of coaching I can only think of a couple situations where the coach of an opposing team, in my opinion, gave his child unwarranted favoritism. With that said, I’ll bet many parents, looking through a less objective lens, would say it was happening much more frequently.

Which brings me to FUNDAMENTALS. Why do I capitalize this word? Because it seems to be such a big deal with sports parents these days. Their son or daughter is not being taught the proper fundamentals by their rec coach, so they say. Once again, I know that often this is true. However, I would also submit that to the average, unknowing parent, the same message will sound differently depending on who is delivering it. If the frazzled volunteer coach who showed up at practice straight from his job says something meant to be instructional, the parent bystander might figure he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But the same words coming from the mouth of the professional coach who played in college sound profound.

So if some rec coaches can be overzealous, fail to teach proper fundamentals and tend to give their own kids advantages over others, isn’t that a good argument for pulling your kids from the local rec league and putting them into travel clubs where they will be taught by impartial, knowledgeable coaches? There is some validity to that. But remember, in my many years of coaching I rarely witnessed “daddy ball”. The other dads I coached against mostly did a great job of teaching, and I never saw a YouTube meltdown on the field. So while poor volunteer coaching does exist, I don’t believe it is as rampant as some will have us think. And, as I maintained in Part One of this series, if the coaching is lacking, do something about it. Get involved as a volunteer. Organize clinics. Provide training materials (like our product). Everyone can be taught to improve.

But let’s look at the other side.

What I also witnessed in my years observing and participating in travel sports was that many of the paid coaches had an attitude that was not conducive to helping youngsters. They’d saunter onto the field wearing dark sunglasses, unfriendly; their demeanor a combination of boredom, arrogance and churlishness. I’d wonder, are they angry because their playing career is over and now they’re relegated to coaching kids? Or is this act borne of their feeling of superiority since they played at a higher level than anyone else at the field? And just like we can’t paint all rec coaches with the same brush, not all travel coaches fit this description. I coached alongside of and my daughter played for several paid coaches who were fun, approachable and great teachers to boot. But when it comes down to it, the former college or pro player who is now out of the game and coaching in the club may not be doing it so much because he loves it, but because it is his job. The rec coach, on the other hand, is more likely out there because he enjoys it and truly wants to be around the kids.

At an earlier and earlier age, today’s parents are wringing their hands about their child “falling behind.” My viewpoint is this: A kid who is not taught the “proper fundamentals” at age 6, 7, 8, even 12, is not going to be irrevocably damaged. If they keep playing, they will eventually run into good coaching that can maximize their potential. But if, on the other hand, they want to quit because they don’t like going to practices and games, they’ll never have that chance to develop. In terms of who is more likely to make kids want to come back because they just had fun out there, I’ll generally put my money on a volunteer coach over a pro.

Next: Specialization, Pressure and Electronics

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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Remembering what it’s about

This is the time of year that youth baseball coaches start to turn on the competitive spirit. League championships, all-stars. But it is also the time of year to remember what our most important purpose in coaching is, and that is to make sure our players want to come back and play again. This story might put it into perspective.

OnDeck Newsletter Arrives Tomorrow!

Don’t miss this month’s OnDeck Newsletter! From Craig Sigl’s continued series coach communication to Brian Gotta’s first installment of his piece on the decline in youth sports participation and much more, you won’t want to miss it!

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Tomorrow’s issue and every issue past and future are yours for the taking here. You’ll love Bruce Brownlee’s message to soccer parents and Brian Gotta’s news about Baseball Safety. Sign up and never miss another issue!

Baseball and Softball SAFEty

We all want the safest environment for children to play in our leagues. When kids play baseball and softball, some injuries are unavoidable. However, as league administrators, it is up to us to do everything we can to ensure that the number of avoidable injuries that occur is ZERO. Did you know that coaches and board members could be liable for preventable injuries?

I have been involved in youth baseball and softball for 35 years, beginning as a high school player when I was paid to coach a summer recreational league. Four of my own kids, thousands of games and countless practices later, I have pretty much seen it all on the diamond. And, unfortunately, I’ve witnessed my share of injuries and potential injuries. Now, I can’t walk by a youth league practice or game without noticing something that needs to be corrected for the sake of safety.

So I have produced what I hope I will look back on as one of the most important pieces of work in my career. I have started SAFE Baseball, and our flagship product is our Baseball/Softball Safety Course which is designed to allow youth leagues to educate their coaches, team parents, board members and other volunteers on how to foresee potentially dangerous situations and how to avoid putting players in harm’s way.

The course is fully interactive, containing quizzes, photos, and tons of videos showing actual footage of youth league practices and games which are lacking in adult supervision, adherence of rules and, in many cases, common sense. There are sections on first aid, treatment of injury, concussion awareness, but mostly the course is designed to get your volunteers to be hyper-aware of everything that could go wrong on the field so that they’ll see accidents coming in time to prevent them from happening. I believe every league should invest in this course and guarantee you’ll be glad you did.

What’s so special about this course? Unlike other courses which only discuss treatment of injuries, this course shows actual video footage of mistakes being made so that viewers fully understand how to prevent them in their own games and practices. Do you believe all of your coaches are fully versed in when players should be wearing helmets, when they should swing bats, come out of dugouts, where they should be in position on the field? You can’t be at every game and practice to ensure there are no gaps in supervision or judgment. This course aims to drive home the importance of safety in a no-nonsense, easy-to-understand format. Students can take the course on their desktop computers, tablets or phones, at their own pace with a total time investment of around an hour.

We’ve made the course extremely affordable so that there are no barriers to providing access to everyone in your organization. And, in the unlikely event you sign up and decide the information wasn’t all that helpful then we’ll just give you your money back. If only one avoidable injury is prevented in your league because of Baseball/Softball Safety, I’m sure anyone reading this will agree it was worth it.

Ready to get started or want to learn more? Go to SAFEBaseball.com to see a preview and to get your league signed-up. We can give you immediate access and get your volunteers thinking SAFETY the rest of the season. And, because the subscription is for a full year, you can use the course to train your fall ball coaches and even new coaches early in 2019.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

Don’t miss OnDeck!

Our February OnDeck newsletter is out and you’ll definitely want to read it cover to cover! Here is where you can find today’s issues, and archives from the past!

Make Practice Fun and Meaningful

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

There are two things that kids want from practice. They want to get better, and they want to have fun. There are many coaches who are great at teaching fundamentals, but don’t have much fun doing it. And there are other coaches who run fun practices, but don’t teach much in the way of skills. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Coaches who make their practices enjoyable while teaching the basics usually get the most of their players.

Don’t get me wrong. Practice isn’t supposed to be just amusement. But think about a job you may have had (or currently have), that was actually kind of fun. Sure, you were working and getting things done, but it was more of a pleasure than a chore. Why can’t we make our practices the same way?

Here’s an example of what I mean: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked by a field and seen a group of kids, standing line, each taking a turn dribbling to a cone and back. If the ball is not controlled properly or a player takes his time moving down and back – no big deal. The coach might tell them to speed it up or keep the ball under control, but other than a verbal correction, there are no consequences for lack of effort or poor performance. Meanwhile, seven kids are always standing still, bored stiff.

Instead, why not divide that same group of kids into two teams and run a relay race down and back? A coach can incorporate a minimum number of touches or require a zig-zag through middle cones to teach ball control, but now, as the two teams come down the stretch in a close race, everyone is involved and excited. And when the drill is over, they want to do it again.

But maybe most importantly, what you’ve also done by conducting the drill in this manner, is to simulate game competition. Now, when one of those players has the chance to put those skills into action during a game, they’ve been there before. They’ve experienced the same pressure in a practice setting and thus, are more likely to perform.

We’ve tried to build this coaching philosophy into CoachDeck. Beyond being a simple pack of 52 good, fundamental drills, each card has a unique, “Make it a Game,” feature that turns an ordinary drill into a fun and exciting competition kids will love.

We believe this is one of the reasons that baseball, basketball and soccer leagues using CoachDeck are reporting that more kids are coming back to play year-after-year. This obviously means more registrations and a healthier bottom line for the league. In this way, leagues using CoachDeck tell us they don’t look at CoachDeck as a luxury, but as an investment that pays dividends.

Which is all nice. But our bottom line is that more kids are playing sports – and sticking with it. If we can have a little to do with that happening, than that makes coming to work a little more fun for us too.

Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com