Playing youth sports is one of the most memorable and exciting experiences a student gets to enjoy during childhood. Youth sports can help build relationships with friends, develop a sense of self- confidence and encouragement, and acquire and learn important life lessons from competition and play. With all of the joys that come with participation in youth sports, there are many issues that can affect a student-athlete’s involvement while playing. By recognizing these topics, coaches can become more relatable to their players, and become better leaders and teachers for their respective teams.
Youth Participation in Sports
According to several published studies, over 70% of kids stop playing sports by the time they enter high school. This can be attributed to several factors (i.e. kids may begin to specialize and/or focus in other areas they are interested, kids may not make their high school team, kids may no longer have interest in playing – are a few reasons). However, the biggest reason kids stop playing sports, according to research, is that kids no longer find sports fun.
As coaches, at all levels, it is our responsibility not to win games at all costs, but rather to ensure that our players and teams have an enjoyable experience playing sports, while providing and teaching important life lessons for them to learn from. By instilling a culture of hard work, effort, commitment, and a strong work ethic, players and teams develop the tools necessary to become a winning team. Kids will respond to coaching best when they are having fun and there is a positive culture for them to learn and grow.
Keep practices fun by incorporating games and competitions for kids to enjoy.
Athletes and Outside Commitments
Travel sports. Music practice. Cub & Girl Scouts. Debate club. Ballroom dancing. Retreats. Chess team. Family vacations.
These are just a few examples of activities that many (if not all) of young student- athletes participate in today’s world. Our kids today are extremely well-rounded, involved with many different interests, and heavily scheduled year-round. As a coach, with all of these outside conflicts, it can be challenging to get all of your players at a single practice and/or game – which doesn’t include player sickness and injury. In order for coaches to provide the best possible experience for an athlete, as well as successfully provide a positive environment and culture for a team, they need to set expectations and standards early, and provide reminders of those guidelines often.
As a coach, we need to only focus on what we can control. We can control our practices and our practice plans. We can control our energy level. We can control our positivity and enthusiasm. We can control our work ethic. We can control our motivation. As coaches, we cannot control the schedules of our athlete’s lives. Always focus on the players that are there, and provide the best possible experience for them, as they are the ones that will take away the most of your leadership.
Communication with Parents
The number one source of disagreement between coaches and parents, at both the youth and high school levels, is playing time.
From a wider sports perspective, basketball is toughest sport to delegate playing time. In football, you have eleven players on the field at a given time, with units and substitution packages for offense, defense and special teams. In baseball, you have nine players on the field, with nine players all batting, and a known rotation of players that are pitching. In hockey, you have constant line changes and substitutions throughout a given game. In basketball, you only have five players on the court at a given time, and as many as 7, 8, 9, or even 10, players on the bench sitting and waiting patiently to get in a game. Basketball is fast, and scoring is at a constant pace. It is, arguably, the most challenging to successfully incorporate substitutions while maintaining a team’s best position to be competitive.
In order for coaches to successfully navigate these inevitable conflicts, it is important to recognize that no dispute has ever been settled through email. Coaches should re-read and review their athletic handbook, and apply when necessary, whenever they are asked about playing time – and be sure to be up front about issues, like playing time, prior to the start of the season.
Coaching Youth Sports was originally published by Saint Ignatius Basketball Coaches Newsletter.
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