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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Five Types of Nightmare Parents

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

Sports parenting is a tricky thing. While I believe most people are inherently good, when they become parents and their children get into a competitive environment, it can bring out some less-then-desirable traits in all of us. While there are many types of bad sports parents, I’ve observed five main categories through the years. Have you ever slipped into any of these?

B-Rated
This is the classic, textbook nightmare parent. He (usually the dad) thinks it is his job to “get on” his kid either during the game, after, or both. What I’m describing goes beyond making comments about working or trying harder. This is the parent who turns his back on his child in disgust after a mistake saying, “That’s terrible!” This parent can’t wait for the car ride to yell at his child about his performance and say, “If you don’t want to be out there we can just call the coach right now and tell him.” The, ‘I’m paying too much’ or ‘My time is too valuable’ “to watch that,” guy. Fortunately, from my experience, this is also the rarest from of nightmare parent.

Rose-colored glasses
The other end of the spectrum is the parent who believes his or her child can do no wrong. He can’t stop talking about how special his kid is, the offers he’s getting, the new, better teams she’s considering going to. Sometimes it is overt, sometimes it is in the form of a seemingly innocent question such as, “How’s (your child) doing?” which is posed only as an excuse to then go on and talk about how great theirs is.

Activist
The activist is generally one who is disgruntled about the amount of playing time his or her child is getting. First they form coalitions, stirring up the discontent amongst the other parents whose children are also not getting the treatment they “deserve”. Generally in these situations the case is made that the coach is showing favoritism to some and not being fair. At the youth league level it is often said that the coach favors his child’s friends. At higher levels, many times the excuse given is that the coach is only playing the ones on his travel team. The activist tries to get enough like-minded support to go to the powers that be and have the coach removed. Since simply complaining about playing time isn’t a fireable offense, the charges are often trumped up to include bullying or some other form of mistreatment.

Behind-the-Back
These are parents willing to do whatever it takes to give their children an advantage, even if it hurts others. One time a coach of my son’s travel baseball team confided to me that a parent had approached him and said he thought we were really weak in the leadoff position of the batting order, (where my son had been slotted). Not surprisingly, he thought his son was better-suited there. So if the coach had listened to him, this dad would have been perfectly content to see my son suddenly on the bench and his kid in his place. It either would never have occurred to him that his meddling had adversely affected another youngster, or he wouldn’t have cared. The Behind-the-Back parent only knows about what’s best for him.

Loudmouth
The Loudmouth is probably the most common and may be the the category many of us fall into at times. The loudmouth, of course, argues calls with the officials from the stands. But he often also tries to help coach the team by making comments like, “We’ve got to pass!” or “We’ve got to make that play.” Even worse is when they pretend to be encouraging a player on their team by trying to rattle an opponent. They’ll say something like, “Just throw it straight down the middle. He hasn’t swung all game,” or “Get the rebound after she misses.” Ironically, if someone would ever stop the game and tell a Loudmouth they had been drafted into actually being the coach the rest of the game, my guess is they would turn beet red, sheepishly sit down and bite their tongue.

Of course there are many more types of “Nightmare” parents, but let’s dwell on the positives. There are also loads of “Dream” parents who come to the games, cheer for their children, their team, and maybe even show respect for players on the other team. This is the type of parent we should aspire to be. And looking in the mirror to see if we fall into any of the traps above is the first step in getting there.

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