Who is to Blame for the Decline in Youth Sports (Part 3)

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

(If you missed parts one and two in this series you may wish to read these first)

Specialization
So, the parent who fears their child is being left behind, isn’t being taught the proper fundamentals by the rec coach, isn’t going to make the high school team and isn’t going to have a chance at a scholarship goes “all-in” and pushes them into a competitive club. And mostly for financial reasons, that club wants to play year-round, meaning there is not time for other sports. The parent believes that for their son or daughter to keep up, they must accept this paradigm which means that they are choosing for their child, sometimes as early as first grade, what single sport they are going to play the rest of their lives. Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said he had spoken with the NBA, NFL and NHL commissioners and they agreed, “the best athlete is a kid who played multiple sports.” But in the new youth sports reality, which places an earlier emphasis on winning and elite skill development, this multi-sport athlete is becoming rare. And who do you think is more likely to get burned-out? Kids who get to recharge their baseball batteries while they play soccer and then basketball, or someone locked into a single sport year-round who fears they can’t step off the treadmill for a moment because if they do everyone else will pass them up?

Specialization has also led to in increase in overuse injuries. According to studies, athletes ages 7-18 who specialize in one sport are 1.5 times as likely to receive an overuse injury. Many youngsters either can’t, or choose not to, come back from these injuries, making them another sad statistic.

Pressure
All of which creates a ton of pressure for the children. They figure out at an early age that this is terribly important business. Their parents are uptight about their progress. The coaches are deadly serious. The time investment is overwhelming. And they get the message, sometimes stated overtly but always implied, “If you don’t play well you won’t make the high school team.” Or, “We’re not going to be able to pay for you to go to college unless you get a scholarship”. Now go out there and have fun, kid!

Electronics
And now, more than ever, sports have intense competition for kids’ affection. The days of, “Mom, I’m bored. There’s nothing to do,” answered by, “Then go outside and play!” are sadly in the past. Kids with smart phones, tablets and video games are never bored anymore, which is how the makers of those devices, apps and games intend it to be. I am convinced screen addiction is the number one problem of our children’s generation, and not only because of the impact it has on sports. But when an adolescent can choose between participating in a high-stakes event where one misstep might lead to a potential tongue-lashing from a coach, demotion, parental disappointment and a diminished future, or a trip to a fun fantasy world where the child is completely in control and safe, is it any wonder many pick the latter?

So is the solution limiting screen time for our children? That is absolutely a good idea in general, but it probably won’t have much impact on sports participation. Taking away something enjoyable so that an unpleasant activity is the only option is better than just giving in and allowing kids to live virtually all day. But we won’t be able to force them forever to do something they don’t enjoy. I’d rather see us fix sports so that our children would prefer to be on a team than alone online.

Conclusion
It is time we realize that the participation decline in youth sports is not a temporary fluctuation but, rather, a trend that shows no signs of reversing. We can effect change but it is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Programs such as the Urban Youth Academy created by Major League Baseball aimed at reviving the sport in the inner city provide opportunities for economically disadvantaged youth to compete with players who have access to the best equipment, private lessons and facilities. Our partners at PHITAmerica.org are promoting legislation to encourage activity in adolescents. And since the growth of travel sports shows no signs of leveling off, it is up to our recreational programs to step up and offer a more competitive product. It also might entail some creative marketing. If all the kids at school are bragging about winning their rec championship, if the local papers are congratulating the town champions and publishing their photo, in short if it becomes “cool” to play rec sports, more kids will want to spend at least some of their time there. All organizations, travel or rec, must put forth better coaching through education and observation. And this doesn’t necessarily mean improvement in terms of technical education. It means coaches who want to be there, who enjoy the experience and can relate to kids. Every player who quits because he didn’t have fun is another downward tick on the graph.

And finally, parents need to push their egos, fears and dreams aside. Your child is not playing so that you can brag about his or her accomplishments to your friends. Your child is not playing so you can say that they made the all-star or high school team. Your child is not playing so that you have one less college tuition to pay for. Your child should be out there because they love it. And if you don’t keep that in mind, the day may come soon when your child is not playing.

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

Advertisements

CoachDeck All-Stars

It is that time of year in youth baseball again. Tournament time. Did you know that hundreds of leagues using CoachDeck have won district, section and even region titles through the years? We’ll be tracking them again this season in the coming weeks. Good luck to all teams still in the hunt!

Check out this month’s OnDeck Newsletter

If you missed it, the July, 2018 OnDeck Newsletter is out and ready for you to read cover-to-cover. Hope you enjoy all the articles and don’t forget to support our sponsors who make it happen!

Tomorrow’s OnDeck Newsletter…

Is going to be a winner! Make sure you sign up to have it sent directly to your inbox. Check out all of our previous issues while you’re there!

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

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.

52 Drills in a Deck of Cards

Tired of trying to pull up coaching drills on your phone or at work when you remember you have practice starting in a half hour? Nothing is more convenient than having a handy deck of cards with 52 drills broken into four color-coded categories. Volunteer baseball, softball, soccer, football and basketball coaches all over North America have been relying on our fun and easy-to-use product for years. You can too!