By Bill Carlson, Assistant Principal, Hutchinson Middle School
Every child should have an opportunity to participate in youth sports. In addition to learning a sport and having fun, participants should be taught leadership, teamwork and integrity.
The origin and purpose of organized youth sports was to increase the numbers of sport participants, to teach the game and to offer a fun, healthy, competitive outlet. Unfortunately, over the years adults have changed the culture of this once generally uncomplicated activity.
Youth coaches have an incredibly important and sustainable impact on player development in youth programs. High school teams with the most skilled and team orientated athletes have, without a doubt the best feeder programs, led by the best youth coaches. Sadly, the current ‘win at all cost’ youth sports culture promotes talent selection not talent building. These youth programs veer away from what should be an impartial and healthy opportunity for youth competition, and skill development but instead they permit adult driven manipulation of team selection and player hierarchy.
When a youth coach succumbs to pressure to win at all cost by parents or a club, or when the drive to win is to satisfy their own ego that coach becomes a talent selector. There is a vast difference between a coach who selects talent and one who identifies it. Talent selection is basic and simple, talent identification is a skill. One yields great results today and the other builds solid athletes and winning teams for the future. Unfortunately statistics show that as talent selection occurs so does the loss of 70% of youth sport participants by the age of 13. In my book, this is unacceptable.
Reputable high school coaches want their youth programs to be strong in participation numbers. They want their youth coaches and players parents to teach and reinforce character development, leadership skills and the concept of ‘team’. These three traits promote strong student leaders who eventually become strong adult leaders.
Parents also have a significant role in youth sports. Parents are often asked to participate in the operation of their son/daughter’s sport clubs and associations, they are asked to manage fundraisers, help coach teams, transport and chaperone players, and to pay participation fees. With this level of time commitment and monetary cost it is easy to understand how a parent can lose site of the real purpose of the sport. Obviously parents want their student athlete to succeed and be the best they can be. Unfortunately, in this vein parents are often led to believe by AAU, Club, and Private Skills coaches that their son/daughter should focus on one sport and play year around if they aspire to play their sport in college.
Never limit your experiences as a young athlete. Participate in sport opportunities that interest you. Participating in more than one sport/activity is a valuable way to stay grounded and well balanced. If you would choose to play a sport beyond high school rest assured your college coach will be impressed to know you have a variety of interests and that you are a multi-sport athlete.
Parents should not hesitate to check into the mission statement of the youth program their child is participating in and ask questions accordingly. Parents may also want to consider having their own ‘mission statement’, to help you as a parent stay focused on what you want your student athlete to gain most from his/hers experience in youth sports. There are a lot of good information and research that can help us improve the youth sport experience. Parents and Coaches should take time to read Mark Matheny’s book The Matheny Manifesto. It is a great read that speaks to youth baseball and how he help make changes in his community’s Little League. There are also many websites set up to help promote positive play in youth sports. The website I go to the most is Positive Play by the Positive Coaches Alliance. This website provides articles for players, coaches and parents. In the end no matter what we read or watch we all can agree that youth sports should be for the kids.