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

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Setting the Tone for a Positive Experience

By Dr. Darrell Burnett

Some coaches have a difficult time handling the youth sports atmosphere, and some may underestimate their importance to their players.

The No. 1 reason why kids come back is positive coaching. Coaches must grasp the idea that their role is important. When I talked to coaches and we define a successful coach, it isn’t determined by their win-loss record. The coach has to keep the kids involved.

There are four needs a coach must establish for a child to keep him or her returning to youth sports.

  1. A sense of belonging.
    If the children cannot find a group to come to them, they’ll go to the group. The coach can add to that sense of belonging by making the child feel like part of the team. This point leads to the second need.
  2. To feel worthwhile.
    If the coach relates to the kid as a person and as a member of the team, it will add to the value of youth sports.
  3. A sense of dignity.
    The coach’s job is to treat the children with respect, and let them know they will be treated with respect simply for coming out and playing.
  4. A sense of control.
    The coach lets the children know they are in control of their own destiny, and lets them work their way into a role on the team.

The other job of the coach is to control the parents to prevent a situation from getting out of hand. The first step is to define unruly behavior.

If you’re going to deal with unruly parents, you’ve got to have it all spelled out before the season begins. A preseason meeting with the parents can help prevent any unwanted situation. Coaches need to tell parents that offensive language, and the berating of players, coaches and officials are unacceptable. The coach also must provide consequences for any action considered inappropriate.

If there is a situation, the first step is to remain calm, otherwise you can feed the fire.

When a situation occurs, the coach has to have some way of dealing with it. One way is to have other parents who participated in the preseason meeting talk to the offending parent to try to calm him or her down. After the event occurs, the coach must become the teacher, so the parent understands what he or she did wrong and why it was considered unacceptable. The coach has to look for the positives in every situation.

Darrell Burnett is a clinical psychologist and a certified sports psychologist specializing in youth sports. As a member of the National Speakers Association he is active on the lecture circuit. His book, IT’S JUST A GAME!(Youth, Sports & Self Esteem: A Guide for Parents), is described at his website, www.djburnett.com, along with his other books, booklets, and audio cassettes on youth sports and family life.

Have a fantastic Friday

Watching the NHL Playoffs this weekend? Maybe the NBA? Hopefully enjoying the nice spring weather and going outside for a round of golf, some tennis, or perhaps coaching a youth baseball, softball or soccer game using your CoachDeck cards. Whatever the plan, make it fun and make it sporting!

Don’t forget to have fun

You want to win, we get that. You want all the hard work you put in during practice to pay off. But remember, these are just kids you’re coaching and kids mostly want to have fun. So don’t take it too seriously today. Crack some jokes. Smile. Make up some nicknames for your players. Do whatever you can to help your players understand that it’s not life and death out there. And, ironically, when they relax they’ll probably play better.

How Coaches Build Cohesive Teams

From our friends at TrueSport: Boys and girls tend to value and prioritize relationships, competition, and hard work differently, which means coaches use different strategies to build a cohesive boys’ team compared to a cohesive girls’ team. Sport Psychologist Roberta Kraus, Ph.D., explains these differences to help parents and coaches better understand what they’re seeing and hearing during practices and games. Read Article

What I’d Like to Hear a Coach Say After a Big Game

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

From youth leagues to high school, to college and pro sports, we’ve all heard coaches tell their team after winning a championship game, “Enjoy this moment. You’ll remember it the rest of your lives.” I’ve probably even said it myself. But it recently occurred to me that what I’d really love to hear a coach say is this:

After culminating a memorable season with a championship, how would this be for a message? “This was fantastic. Now, go live the rest of your life in a manner that makes this seem insignificant.”

The “Big Man on Campus” who can’t move on, the former high school star who is always saying, “Remember when?” These are cliches in American culture. Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it. So many athletes try to hold on their their “glory days.”

Our society places so much emphasis on athletic accomplishment. From the seemingly hundreds of television channels broadcasting sporting events, some at the high school level, to the pressure parents put on children barely out of diapers already on travel teams, to the crushing weight of college scholarships, one might draw the conclusion that there is nothing more important in life than winning, succeeding, achieving in athletics. We are arguably the world’s most competitive nation.

But with the possible exception of the Senior Tour in golf, it eventually ends for everyone. Some by middle school, most after high school, a lucky few get to play in college or even a few years in the pros, but what then? If we were told all our lives through every message that succeeding in sports is the highest aspiration, where do we go when it’s over?

Maybe instead we can strive to think like Leland Melvin. If you’ve not heard of him, Melvin was a star receiver at Heritage High School in Virginia who attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship. He finished his career at Richmond as their all-time leader in receptions and was an honorable-mention All-American. He also finished with a degree in Chemistry.

He was drafted by the Detroit Lions but released after he injured his hamstring. He then signed with the Dallas Cowboys. At the same time he enrolled in the University of Virginia’s Materials Science and Engineering Masters program, studying at night after practice. When another serious hamstring injury ended his football career, he applied to NASA, eventually becoming an astronaut and flying two missions aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

According to his Wikipedia page his recreational interests include photography, piano, reading, music, cycling, tennis, and snowboarding. Melvin appeared as an elimination challenge guest judge in the 12th episode of Top Chef, with his dogs in the seventh season of The Dog Whisperer, and was the host of Child Genius. He is the president of the Spaceship Earth Grants, a public benefit corporation whose mission is to make space more accessible through human spaceflight.

A few minutes ago many of us would have agreed that if we or our children could play NCAA football, be the school’s all-time leading receiver and All-American, and be drafted into the NFL, that would be a lifetime achievement. But after reading what Leland Melvin went on to do after all of that, does the football part still seem like such a big deal?

If our children grow up knowing that what they can accomplish in science, business, social work, politics, the arts, education or other fields will give them more satisfaction and leave a more significant and lasting legacy than any trophy, travel-ball championship, high school banner or even college scholarship, it doesn’t mean they will not try as hard or get as far in sports. But it may mean they’ll understand that their “glory days” are always in the future, and never in the past.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and 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

Why do more kids and coaches come back?

Leagues using CoachDeck tell us that not only do more coaches volunteer to return season after season because they felt like they did a more capable job of running practices, but because children better-enjoyed those fun and productive practices, more of them wanted  to come back and play again the next year. If you’re interested in creating the healthiest and most dynamic league experience possible for your coaches and players, CoachDeck can help!