Friday, November 04, 2011

Making A Positive Impact Through Coaching Youth Sports

My football team from last year
Upon graduation from high school and entering college in the fall of 1991, there were two things I wanted to do with my life career-wise. I wanted to be an elementary school teacher and a coach. I enjoyed the satisfaction that came with teaching children and having enjoyed participating in multiple sports throughout my childhood and youth, I particularly enjoyed the combination of teaching and athletics that coaching brings.

I had the chance to coach junior high school football and basketball while in college and looked forward to the opportunity to potentially coach as a profession. But God had other plans for me and led me into Christian ministry with college students. The chance to coach athletics didn't really present itself for a number of years after college but I was able to get back into the game several years ago due to my son's participation in a league near our home.

I have found coaching flag football and basketball in an Upward league especially rewarding. Upward is a Christian-based sports league that teaches children the importance of sportsmanship, teamwork and positive attitude. It also places competition in its proper perspective by limiting the amount of practice time that each team has and ensures that each child gets an equal amount of playing time. It's been a joy coaching in a league that recognizes that athletic competition can be fun without having a win-at-all-costs attitude.

The New York Times recently wrote of the difference that positive coaching can make in the lives of youngsters. David Bornstein writes:
"Coaches can be enormously influential in the lives of children. If you ask a random group of adults to recall something of significance that happened in their fourth or fifth grade classroom, many will draw a blank. But ask about a sports memory from childhood and you’re likely to hear about a game winning hit, or a dropped pass, that, decades later, can still elicit emotion. The meaning that coaches or parents help young people derive from such moments can shape their lives.

But today’s youth coaches often struggle to provide sound, evidence-based, and age-appropriate guidance to players. Part of the problem is that of the 2.5 million American adults who serve as volunteer coaches for youth sports less than 10 percent receive any formal training. Most become coaches because their kid is on the team ― and they basically improvise. I did this in soccer and, through my over-eagerness, almost destroyed my then-6-year-old son’s delight for the game.

But a bigger problem is that youth sports has come to emulate the win-at-all-costs ethos of professional sports. While youth and professional sports look alike, adults often forget that they are fundamentally different enterprises. Professional sports is an entertainment business. Youth sports is supposed to be about education and human development.

That’s why it is so disturbing that, over the past two decades, researchers have found that poor sportsmanship and acts of aggression have become common in youth sports settings. Cheating has also become more accepted. Coaches give their stars the most play. Parents and fans boo opponents or harangue officials (mimicking professional events). They put pressure on children to perform well, with hopes for scholarships or fulfilling their own childhood dreams. Probably the most serious indictment of the system is that the vast majority of youths ― some 70 to 80 percent ― drop out of sports shortly after middle school. For many, sports become too competitive and selective. In short, they stop being fun."
Sports can teach kids a number of important life lessons and they can be a tremendous way to teach kids how to be humble winners and gracious losers. But they don't need over-competitive adults spoiling the fun. Parents and coaches have the opportunity to provide a memorable, fun experience for kids through participation in athletics. But they can also take something that used to be fun for a child and ruin it through too high of expectations and not letting kids be kids.

While growing up, I had the privilege to play for many very good coaches and a few bad ones. I seek to model the things I learned from my good coaches and do the opposite of those who had a skewed perspective on what is most important in life. Simply put, the number one goal for someone who is coaching youth sports is to provide their players with a fun experience. Kids have fun by improving as a player, by coming together as a team, by doing things they didn't think they were capable of and by just getting to play a sport they love. I'm grateful that, hopefully, I help kids get to enjoy sports the way I did as a kid.

To read the complete New York Times article please click here.

(h/t to Linda Perukel for the link.)

No comments: