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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It’s Not Free College

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

A recent Time Magazine cover story titled, How Kid Sports Turned Pro, Crazy Travel, Crazy Cost, Crazy Stress provided accounts of multiple families spending upwards of $100,000 in lessons and travel expenses to ensure their sports-playing children had the best training and played on the most competitive teams. The author surmised, “There may be no single factor driving the professionalization of youth sports more than the dream of free college.”

I’ve read many other articles like this one before. All take a balanced and “unbiased” approach to their description of the families. The author tries to appear non-judgmental. But the parents inevitably seem to come off as being abnormal, maybe a little crazy. The question is always, “Why would they do it? What is their motivation?”

Consistently, these writers bring up college scholarships, as if that is the ultimate and only reason parents go to such lengths. It is as if authors are either jumping to that conclusion or unable to find any other answer. My experience, when my kids were young and playing, was that college scholarships were never thought of. We were all just hoping our kids would be able to make the high school team.

Things have definitely changed since then. Billions of dollars are being poured into youth sports in the form of mega-complexes and elite tournaments drawing kids nationwide. There are even travel coaches using social media to form super teams that fly in 9 and 10 year players from thousands of miles away.

But what these authors also don’t seem to know is that the majority of college scholarships, especially in boys sports that are non revenue (meaning everything except football and basketball), are rarely full-ride. Most are only partial, like 25%. The average person hears “college scholarship” and thinks that means 100% tuition and room and board, or, “free college”.

But, my guess is, that the parents who are the subject of these articles are fully aware of this. They are also probably smart enough to understand that if they are spending upwards of $20,000 per year on lessons, fees and travel that they could, instead, invest that same money and ensure that their kids college is paid for.

I believe these parents main motivation is their egos. It becomes their identity as much as it does their child’s. They say things like, “It’s his passion, I’m not going to crush it.” When really what they mean is, “It’s my passion, it’s who I am, and I’ll pay anything to keep it going.” And if these parents are thinking ahead to college it’s probably not with the notion of it being free as much as it is the dream of being able to say, “My child got a scholarship to play (fill in the sport) for (fill in the school)”.

It will be interesting to see where all of this new crop of kids ends up in ten or fifteen years. Will the tens of thousands of dollars spent and miles traveled translate into the next Bryce Harper or Mia Hamm? I remember when my son was 13 and we tried out a very competitive travel team for the first time. I thought it was crazy because this team was taking players from all over the city. Nowadays, that’s commonplace. The best player on the team, probably the best in all of San Diego, was a big, strong kid who had a swing like you couldn’t imagine. He had a private swing coach, which was unheard of, and it showed. The ball came off his bat differently than any other player. He was head and shoulders better than anyone there.

When I looked him up years later I learned that he did play college baseball, but for a very small program and he didn’t play much. He didn’t ever get much bigger than when he was 13 and maybe, I’m just speculating, he lacked some intangibles you can’t pay for. Several of the players on that 13 year-old team ended up having far better careers.

I’d like to see someone tell these “over-the-top” parents they know of a financial adviser who can guarantee that if they give him $20,000 per year, their child’s college will be fully paid. Next, tell them they know a private coach who also costs $20K/year who will promise a decent chance at a 25% athletic scholarship. Then report back to us and let us know which guy they called.

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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When A Coach Promises Scholarships

By Tony Earp

Run. No, seriously, run as fast as you can in the other direction. Like a late night TV ad on how you can get rich quick if you follow a simple 3 step plan, you NEED to change the channel. One of the most ridiculous things I hear around youth sports is a coach promising a better chance to receive a scholarship to play in college if a player plays or trains with that “coach.” What is even more frustrating is that some parents actually believe it. As a player who did receive a scholarship to play in college, I want to say that NO COACH, I EVER PLAYED FOR OR TRAINED WITH, EVER PROMISED ME, ANYTHING! Scholarships are not given. They are earned. Great coaches know that, and I had great coaches. That is why none of them EVER talked about scholarships. They only talked about what I could do to get better. Why? Because that is all that matters.

First, receiving a scholarship to play college sports is very rare compared to the number of kids who play sports. If you’re curious, it is around 2% (according to CBS sports). Some stats may vary some, but I think you get the idea. There is about a 98% chance your child will not receive a scholarship to play college sports. Your kid should be focused on academics to get themselves into college. Sports is not going to be the vehicle that gets them there.

With this in mind, it seems ludicrous for a coach, trainer, or organization to dangle scholarships as a selling point for their program. If they are going to lie to people, why stop there? How about they offer a winning lottery ticket or some ocean front property in Kansas? In terms of trying to sell their ability as a coach, and to help a player improve, those type of “selling points” mean just as much. In other words, they tell you nothing about what your child should expect when playing and training with that coach. A scholarship promise just tells you that the coach is pretty confident in his ability to make promises he or she cannot keep.

Scholarships are earned by the player. They are earned over years of hard work and dedication. It is something that is mainly influenced by the player. It does not matter how good a coach is if the player is not willing to put in the time and effort to train that is required to play at a higher level. In terms of earning a scholarship to play, that is a completely different commitment level, effort, and sometimes….luck (right place, right time) that goes way beyond the amount of work needed to just play at the college level.

A player has never earned a scholarship because he trained or played with me. Any player who I have coached who earned a scholarship did not get a scholarship because of me. I have never used a player who has earned a scholarship as a sales point for other players in an attempt to try to convince them to play or train with me. Why? Simply, it is wrong. Doing that completely takes credit away from the person who earned the scholarship, THE PLAYER, not the coach. It is trying to boost yourself up on some else’s achievements.

Coaches should be proud of their players’ accomplishments, celebrate with them, be happy for them, and continue to help them achieve great things, but they should never take credit for it. That is not what great coaches do. Great coaches do not want the accolades. They do not need the spotlight. They work hard to put their players’ goals and ambitions in front of their own, and when their players achieve great things, they let those kids have the stage to themselves. Although coaches play a big part in a player’s development, we are only one of MANY guiding forces and factors that lead kids down their chosen path.

If it was just the coach, if the coach was really the only key difference maker, than every player who worked with a certain coach would all rise to nearly the same level. But, we know that is not the case. Even in the most prestigious training academies around the world, where they have tried to get development down to a science, most players never make it all the way through to the end.

In the end, it is very disingenuous to use scholarships and hopes of playing in college as a recruiting tool or selling point for any coach, team, or program. It is simply something NO ONE can deliver on. What you can sell is who you are as coach, how you train, your core beliefs about player development, and who you are as a person. These are the only things any coach can control, and the only thing a coach can ever promise a kid who plays for them.

Tony Earp directs SuperKick/TeamZone Columbus’ Soccer Skills programs. Tony has a Masters in Education from The Ohio State University. Tony was a standout player both academically and athletically at The Ohio State University, earning multiple honors both on the field and in the classroom. He can be reached at tearp@superkickcolumbus.com

How likely is it your athletic kid will turn pro?

As usual, a terrific article/piece from National Public Radio (NPR). Definitely brings some perspective.