Coach Hub Youth Sports Repost #1

Through various sources I find a lot of great stuff being written about youth sports. Some articles and blog posts I try to cover in the blogs, while others I tweet and retweet to help spread the word. But I thought it would be a good idea to do a weekly repost of some of the best ones that will be most interesting to you as a youth sports coach and/or parent.

This blog post from the Brockton Enterprise by John Reilly really hit home for me. A dad who coached his kids in youth sports for more than a decade touchingly reflects on his final game. They do grow up fast, and this dad urges parents to seize the opportunity to coach their kids, even if you know little about the sport.

The Asheville Citizen-Times published this post by Susanna Barbee about the value of organized sports even for “tots” in the three-, four- and five-year-old range. Through sports they can develop their motor skills, coordination and balance, while having fun and making new friends.

This “Moms Talk” piece from the Lake Forest, CA, “Patch” opens with the typical observation about parents being overzealous about youth sports, but then moves into some interesting insights from a psychologist, who says some parents suffer from Achievement by Proxy Syndrome, pushing their kids to succeed to gratify their own aspirations.

Amid all the coverage of concussions in youth sports, this article from the Rapid City Journal brings up some alarming statistics about female soccer players, who are second only to boys in football as far as the number of traumatic brain injuries. Research also shows that girls take longer than boys to recover from concussions. The concussion uproar at the pro level tends to put football front and center, but this article offers a new perspective on the pervasiveness of the crisis.

The Politics of Youth Sports

Through the years I’ve coached with a couple of guys who thought nothing of giving their own kids – and mine too – more playing time because we were the coaches. More accurately, they thought quite a bit about it. And they endorsed that approach without question.

One of those guys, who was the head coach of my son’s baseball team that I’d agreed to help out as an assistant coach, was the worst offender. “We’re putting in the extra time and effort, so why shouldn’t our kids get preferred treatment?” he asked me (rhetorically) when I objected to his theory. “It’s only fair.”

“No,” I told him. “It’s not fair. At this level they should all get the same playing time.”

He looked at me like I’d suggested we discuss whether or not the earth is round.

That season our kids continued to play more than some of the others. The kids of his close friends also spent a lot of time on the field. There was a little clique among the parents that included this coach. They had dinners and parties together and knew each other well. They also shared a strange sense of entitlement, like a bunch of teenagers sitting at the cool kid’s table.

Needless to say, after the season I never coached with that guy again, and my son never played for him. We both continued to coach but never on the same teams.

That guy’s view is probably not as rare as I’d like it to be. I know it’s hard for parents who coach to separate themselves from their feelings toward their kids. After all, most of us are coaching because of our kids. Still, giving preferred treatment to them and to those of our friends undermines the efficacy of coaching and provides a good reason for the stereotypical parents who argue with the coach’s decisions.

More importantly, it also sets a terrible example for our kids, giving them an unfair sense of entitlement. Being “the coach’s kid” puts them in a somewhat awkward position anyway so why complicate it by creating a reason for allegations of favoritism? The best way to deal with the politics of youth sports is to play fair and be honest. In that way your position, should it be attacked, can be genuinely defended.

I began thinking back to that season of favoritism – and my grudging complicity in it – when I read this article, which offers a smart look at the politics of coaching youth sports. It made me realize, again, that I should have walked away from coaching that team. Since the season already had begun, my son wouldn’t have been able to join a different team, but I could have stepped down from the coaching staff. My sense of duty prevented me from doing what I now see as the proper move.

As youth sports become a bigger and bigger part of our culture, stereotypes of bad coaches and parents have grown more common. They’ll fade away when we stop fueling them with bad behavior. At the youth level, kids should be treated equally. As sports become more competitive at the high school age, players need to earn their positions and their innings. Until then, leave all the personal feelings and friendships and politics out of the equation. It’s only fair.

Image credit: Radu Razvan / Shutterstock.com

The Joys of Being an Assistant Coach in Youth Sports

Just a quick post here, but I couldn’t resist passing along this short article by Jeffrey Rhoads at insideyouthsports.org. I’ve never met Jeffrey, but I check in on his site regularly for his smart and thoughtful, positive posts about all things youth sports.

In this one he encourages parents to get involved in their child’s youth sports experience, even if you have no experience coaching or don’t know a lot about the sport you child wants to play. I almost applauded after reading this line: “Even at the earliest ages, you can make a positive impact by doing something as simple as playing a game of catch with your child.”

Coaching your child’s team allows you to develop a new aspect of your relationship. Maybe you’ve heard horror stories about sports parents, but don’t let that thought dissuade you. It will be much easier than you think.

As an assistant coach, you are there to support the head coach’s efforts and can follow his or her lead. No one is expecting you to be the world’s leading expert on the sport or on teaching sports skills to kids. You can find no end of basic information online today, surely enough to give you a basic knowledge, enough that when the head coach splits the kids into groups for drills you can handle it.

Soon you’ll gain confidence and maybe even want to volunteer to be head coach next season. The typical child’s youth sports career is short. Don’t miss the chance to be part of it.

 

A Sports Psychologist’s Advice to Parents and Coaches

I was fortunate recently to discover Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D., through Twitter, where she offers very smart advice to sports parents. The discovery led me to her One Sport Voice blog at www.nicolemlavoi.com, where I was even more impressed by her insights and observations.

A professor of kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, Nicole teaches classes in sport psychology and sport sociology. She is the co-founder of the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium and associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport.

Spending so much time immersed in the world of youth sports, I’m always hungry for information based on serious research from authoritative sources. And so I contacted Nicole, who generously agreed to talk to me. Here’s our conversation.

Coach Hub: We hear a lot about sports parents who are more harmful than helpful to their kids and to the teams. How valid is this stereotype?

LaVoi: Most parents are trying to do the right thing by their kids, but they just don’t realize their behavior on the sidelines distresses their children – the background anger, yelling at referees, swearing, yelling at the kids. Kids tell us they can’t discern when you’re coaching from the sideline and when you’re cheering for something good. These behaviors create really toxic climates for kids. Kids love it when their parents show up quietly for their games.

Coach Hub: Is this toxic behavior true of most parents?

LaVoi: We know that it’s not all parents doing these things all the time. If I had to guess I’d say it’s about 10 to 20 percent creating the toxic climate. But it’s those few people who ruin it for everybody. That’s what I try to change in my sports-parent workshops.

Coach Hub: What are the most common questions parents ask in your workshops?

LaVoi: Parents often ask how they should approach a coach about playing time or whatever. They’re not sure if they should. That’s interesting to me because we as a society have lost the ability to have a civil dialogue. I also get asked about what age is too young to specialize, and how much is too much training.

Most parents want to do the right thing and they’re just not sure where to go for the information. A lot of the information out there isn’t evidence-based.

Coach Hub: The parents who need the advice most probably aren’t going to the workshops. What should parents do about that parent – Bob the Dad who is creating the toxic climate?

LaVoi: I try to teach the parents at the workshop to talk to Bob. I think they’re morally obligated to approach him. The best way is to approach it from the perspective of the kids. Tell him this is about the kids. They’re here to have fun. But the environment you’re creating isn’t helpful. We need you to knock it off. Be polite and civil. You’re not attacking him, but you need to be direct.

Coach Hub: What advice do you offer coaches?

LaVoi: You have to see parents as partners. That means you have to tell them what your philosophy is and what your expectations are for them on the sideline. Let them know we’re not going to have a toxic climate on our team. Tell them “Let’s do this together.” A lot of coaches see parents as the enemy because they’ve had bad experiences, but it doesn’t have to be adversarial. A lot of coaches don’t know how to handle that relationship, especially if they’re young.

As far as the coach’s behavior, I would say stop yelling. Period. This old model that says we’re going to yell at kids is outdated. We need to get rid of it. That’s pretty clear in the research. Part of the problem with coaching is that there isn’t any standard criteria. If you want to be a coach you just volunteer and show up. If I were the youth sports czar I would have a set of mandatory guidelines.

Coach Hub: You recently wrote a post on your blog about coaches giving equal playing time to all kids, no matter their skill level. Why do you feel that way?

LaVoi: Giving all kids equal playing time is the one change that would make the biggest difference. If that would be mandated, youth sports would look a lot different. All the kids would get in the game and would develop their skills. In adult leagues, people get mad when they don’t get to play equally. But for kids we think it’s okay. All kids would get the maximum fun and enjoyment. Think of how unequal time helps create that toxic sideline climate with the parents. The positive implications of this change are limitless.

Coach Hub: Is the inequity in playing time due to youth sports becoming more competitive in recent years?

LaVoi: I don’t think it’s become more competitive. I think the climate of youth sport as big business is driving a lot of the changes we see. We have all the sponsorships and camps—adults making money off of kids. That situation is creating what we’re seeing today.

Parents and Youth Sports

In today’s Google net I found a couple of articles that cast youth sports parents in a bleak light. It’s a light we should be used to – demanding, unreasonable, intrusive, maniacally blinded by our devotion to our kids. There are parents, no question, who fit this model, but, as I’ve said many times before, they’re a small minority.

That minority, however, seems to get nearly all of the attention. Few articles examining the youth sports parent today even attempt to provide a balanced view beyond a perfunctory “it’s just a few bad apples” before continuing to feed all of us through the cider press.

Today’s catch featured three articles from around the country: an announcement of signups for youth sports in Seattle; a story about a high school hockey coach in the Twin Cities who resigned after continual allegations of bullying his players and having “engaged in financial fraud,” this last allegation mentioned only once and never explained or even alluded to again; and a column by a youth sports tournament organizer in Rochester, MN, complaining that parents try to get into the games for free to watch their kids play.

The article about the hockey coach includes interviews with other coaches from schools in the area complaining that their jobs are made hellish by constant aggravation from parents voicing no end of grievances, often involving their kids’ lack of playing time. All the coaches interviewed in the article support the hockey coach, whose resignation ended a closed-door investigation of him by the school. The article quotes not one parent who could state a single specific anecdote about the coach’s bullying tactics.

The tournament organizer obviously has his own bias in his column and makes no attempt to acknowledge the financial burden parents face in paying for these events. Instead, he cites a couple of general examples about how parents have tried to beat the gate by nefariously giving their re-entry wrist bands to other parents or pretending to be part of the team staff. For this infraction, he wags his terrible swift finger at them and admonishes them to be better role models for their kids.

Maybe his examples of parents sneaking in are true; I have no reason to think that they’re not. But what is the percentage of parents who actually do pay the gate fee to see a game for which they’ve already paid for a uniform, equipment and sign-up fee, not to mention the expense of travel to get there? I’ll wager the percentage is in the high 90s.

So you’d think that this organizer would offer a somewhat fairer appraisal of the situation. He does note the following: “Most parents are wonderful, supportive and the key to the success of a very positive part of their children’s athletic life. It wouldn’t happen without parents.” But even as you read these words you can hear the drumming hooves of an approaching “however,” and, yep, it arrives to start the next sentence, a call for parents to remember that their kids are watching. Other than the two positive sentences, everything else about the parents is negative.

Again, I have no doubt that there is truth in what both articles say about some parents. You certainly could make the same claims about, say, drivers. Or shoppers. Or restaurant patrons. Or any large enough group of people to provide a cross-section of humanity. I guess the pile-on pressing down atop youth parents has been going on for a while now, but lately it has seemed particularly heavy and one-sided. Is it just me?

A Sports Parent’s Guide to Heat-Related Health Hazards

With Memorial Day looming, the heat of summer is right around the corner. For sports moms and dads, those months mean sitting through games in the heat and humidity. For youth sports kids, it means running around in that same swelter.

We hear warnings about heat-related health hazards for young players, but often the information is vague. So I contacted the best health writer I know – Avery Hurt. She is the author of health books, and her articles appear regularly in national magazines and on websites. She also recently developed a very entertaining website of her own called strangeenough.com that teaches kids about science in a fun way.

Here’s our conversation:

Coach Hub: As we move into the warmer months, what are the biggest health risks for kids playing youth sports?

Avery Hurt: Overheating and dehydration become very serious threats during summer – and sometimes we don’t notice the symptoms until things are already getting serious.

Coach Hub: Parents hear a lot about “heat illness.” What does it mean, and how serious is it?

Avery Hurt: Heat illness refers to a spectrum of problems caused when the body overheats, ranging from mild heat exhaustion to heat stroke, a life-threatening condition. When it’s really hot and humid and kids are exercising vigorously, their bodies can have a hard time getting rid of built-up heat – high humidity can be especially dangerous even if the temperature is not all that dramatic.

Once the process starts, it can accelerate fast, so be alert to early signs of heat illness -cramps , nausea, vomiting, headaches, and general weakness, sometimes even a low-grade fever. When it gets really bad, they can become disoriented and even have seizures. This condition is life-threatening. Don’t let it go that far. If your child shows any signs of getting too hot, get him into the shade and give him cool (but not cold) water and make him rest.

Kids often don’t want to stop playing and won’t tell you if they’re not feeling well, and by the time they’re feeling bad enough to be willing to stop, they may not be thinking clearly enough to let you know. Not thinking clearly is one of the characteristics of heat illness.

So pay attention, and if your child or a child on your team seems “off” in any way, make sure she cools off and gets water and rest. If she is vomiting and can’t keep water down or if she stops sweating altogether, becomes incoherent, or has a seizure, call your doctor immediately or call 911.

You can prevent these problems by scheduling games and practices during the cooler times of day and taking frequent breaks for shade and water – every 15-20 minutes when it’s really hot and humid. It can be hard to get kids to drink water, so coaches and parents should make it part of the program. Don’t depend on them to drink enough on their own. And never work kids hard during peak heat and humidity hours. Don’t underestimate the dangers.

Coach Hub: You’ve had personal experience with youth sports injuries with your son. Tell us about that.

Avery Hurt: When my son Garth was about 15, he was a pitcher. He would pitch a full game, then the next game he would close, then they would rotate him back to start the next game, sometimes keeping him in for the entire game. When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing shortstop or third base. He got no bench rest.

At the time, I had no idea that his arm needed more rest than that between games. He ended up with a shoulder injury. Fortunately, they were able to treat it with physical therapy and no surgery. He’s 24 now and still has problems with his shoulder. For several days after a simple game of catch with his dad, he has trouble lifting his arm above his head.

Coach Hub: Any other advice for parents and coaches in youth sports from a health perspective?

Avery Hurt: If your children are involved in sports, you need to be involved, too. Go to games and practices and keep an eye on them. Do your homework on sports safety and don’t hesitate to speak up if you are concerned about something. When our boys were playing baseball, we volunteered to bring the water cooler. That way we were sure there was always enough for everyone. Make sure your kids know sports safety, too. You won’t always be there with the water jug handing out batting helmets.

What Should Your Young Athlete Eat?

Sports parents ask this question all the time. We’re busy sifting through no end of (sometimes contradictory) information while juggling the pressure of time and the fickle food tastes of our young athlete.

My older son is naturally drawn to healthier food and has taken an active interest in eating well from an early age. My younger son, who is the bigger and more athletically gifted of the two, has never seen a snack food he didn’t like. So how to please them both while providing them the nutritional energy they need?

Yes, I’ve asked that question a lot too. So I was glad to find this article from the Tampa Tribune that simplifies the process and offers authoritative guidance for developing a good diet for a young athlete.

In a nutshell: “Shoot for 55 percent carbohydrates, such as whole-grain pastas, cereals and fruits; 15 percent protein, such as lean meat and chicken, dairy or beans; and 30 percent unsaturated fats from nuts, vegetable and fish oils.”

We’ve all gotten past the urge to ‘carbo-load’ before games, I hope, but the article repeats that valid advice about avoiding too many carbs while preparing to play. It also explains that loading up on protein to build bulk – a common strategy for teen boys hoping to thicken their skinny torsos and get stronger fast – doesn’t work. They’ll burn or excrete the excess rather than turn it into muscle.

What I like most about the advice in the article is the acceptance of occasional splurges. Kids aren’t going to adhere to a strict diet 24/7. It’s nearly impossible for adults to do it, so why should we insist on our kids be capable of such unrelenting self-denial. And they’re probably going to burn off the excess calories faster than we will.

The key seems to be developing a diet that is healthy and nutritious but that the kids also enjoy eating. Cultivate good eating habits, and they won’t be quite so pulled toward junk food. It just won’t have the same appeal. Be too strict about it, however, and we risk creating a seductive aura around bad food, which becomes forbidden fruit.

The kids also will come to resent the diet – and maybe even transfer that feeling to the sports that necessitate it. The challenge, of course, is making the good stuff as tasty to the young palate as the processed junk loaded with salt and sugar. Not easy.

A quick online search will deliver quite a few books offering healthy recipes, the most popular, unfortunately, focused on sneaking in the good-for-you ingredients. If food tastes good, I don’t think it’s necessary to be coy about its positive benefits, as if kids automatically will hate it if they’re told that it’s healthy. Now, you don’t want to present the meal like it’s medicine, of course. But if they ask, let them know that it’s loaded with healthy ingredients. Better that they learn to prefer the good stuff, building a personal desire for a healthy diet.

One of my favorite books on the subject is “Real Food for Healthy Kids.” Check it out and see if your young players don’t scarf down their meals with smiles on their faces.

Is Football Too Dangerous for Kids?

A lot of parents have been asking this question–for some years now, yes, but lately they’ve been asking it much more often. The parental hue and cry about concussions has grown louder, reaching a crescendo following the suicide last week of former NFL star Junior Seau, the statement by former quarterback Kurt Warner, and, just yesterday, the surprising announcement by NFL guard Jason Bell that he is retiring rather than risk his long-term health playing professional football.

Concerns about serious injuries in football are nothing new, of course. Some years ago I had the pleasure of working with Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders on his best-selling book “Now You See Him,” in which Barry discussed the reasons behind his own abrupt retirement from the game, giving up millions of dollars as well as his quest for the all-time NFL rushing record.

He discussed a number of factors that went into the shocking decision, but the one that rises to the top is his concern about serious injury. During his career he had witnessed two teammates paralyzed on the playing field. A married man with young children at the time, he decided that the money and the glory just weren’t worth it.

Parents of kids playing youth football give up far less than Sanders and Bell, but when our kids love playing the game, it’s hard to tell them to stop. And is it truly necessary? Switching to soccer or lacrosse doesn’t mean that they will escape serious head and knee injuries. We hear less about risks in these sports because, well, we hear less about these sports.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 3.5 million kids suffer sports- and recreation-related injuries each year. This article posted on childrenshospital.org states, “The most common types of sport-related injuries in children are sprains (mostly ankle), muscle strains, bone or growth plate injuries, repetitive motion injuries, and heat-related illness.”

Though all of these injuries can be serious, parents, I venture to guess, are far less concerned about them than about head injuries. The article says that sports involving “contact and collisions” cause the most injuries, which is not a surprise. No sport involves as many collisions as football.

I did find this point surprising: “Most organized sports-related injuries (62 percent) occur during practice.” Looking back through my years as a coach, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all, but for some reason it had never occurred to me that more kids get hurt in practice than during games. Maybe it’s because they tend to be less focused – horsing around or just not concentrating as much on executing correctly.

Most of the sources I’ve seen rank football as the most dangerous as far as causing concussions, followed, surprisingly, by girls soccer. Improvements must be made in protective gear to make youth football safer, and given the technology we possess, that shouldn’t be all that difficult to do. Then we can focus on teaching kids the game and watching them have fun playing it rather than worrying that at any minute they’re going to get hurt.

 

Are Youth Sports Too Dangerous for Girls?

I was up early on Sunday, drinking coffee on my back deck, the sun just coming up on a mild May morning, when I saw my neighbor Tom heading toward the SUV in his driveway, his daughter wearing her soccer gear skittering close behind him. He coaches her club team, just as he coached her older sister’s team for years.

Later that day I found out the team played a game in a small town an hour or so away. They lost. Badly. A game so lopsided he wanted to wave a white flag and surrender. The pummeling made for a long ride home. His team – made up of girls in their early teens – has been decimated by injuries, “mostly ACLs and MCLs,” he said. “In all my years of coaching I haven’t seen anything like it.”

But maybe he’s just been lucky in the past. Because the number of injuries girls suffer compared to boys is alarming. This article from Yahoo.com’s Shine site provides some statistics that coaches and parents of girls playing youth sports will find a little bit scary.

For example, girls sustain nearly 10 times the number of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) as boys. They also suffer 30 percent more serious injuries than boys do. According to the article, health experts point to the physiological changes both genders go through as puberty arrives. Boys put on more muscle, which helps to protect them from serious injury. Also, the female hormonal cycle can soften connective tissues, which makes girls more vulnerable to tears and other related injuries.

Should parents advise their girls against playing sports? Not at all, says the research. The lifelong benefits of building confidence and character far outweigh the risks. A warm-up program based on female neuromuscular physiology can cut the number of injuries by 60 percent, says a report published in Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

As girls age they face greater risks in playing youth sports, but the health benefits – physical as well as psychological – are even greater. If you coach girls, take time to read the Shine article, which is full of invaluable information.

I’m going to forward it to my pal Tom so the next time he’s on the road at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to coach his daughter’s soccer team, his best players will be on the field rather than nursing their injured knees. That should make for a happier day for all of them as well as for their coach.

How to Pick the Right Youth Sports Summer Camp

At this time of year, I get a lot of questions from parents about sports camps. They want to keep their kids physically active and mentally stimulated during the long summer days, but choosing the right camp isn’t easy. There are so many camps to choose among, and they all tend to look alike – similar descriptions and promises, some with a celebrity athlete or coach attached.

You can ask around and rely on the experiences of other parents, but a camp that’s right for their kid isn’t necessarily the right one for your son or daughter. Your decision needs to start with determining what you want to get out of the camp. Is it mostly a way to provide exercise and distraction? Is it providing a means of developing and honing skills in a particular sport? Are you hoping it will take your young player to the next level?

After deciding what you and your player hope to get from the camp, you can narrow the field considerably. Even still, you’ll find yourself up to your eyeballs in options. Now you want to begin assessing player-per-coach ratios, safety records and reviews from parents in previous camps (but focus on recent ones because a change in management can bring a lot of other changes, not always for the better).

As you search for reviews, don’t focus only on those from the parents. What are the kids saying about the camp? Did they have fun? Too often we don’t pay quite enough attention to that key part of the equation.

If you know families who have attended the camp, talk to the parents, but talk to the kids too. And when you ask if they had fun, listen closely. A one-word answer, even if it’s positive, might mean the camp was okay, but not really memorable. (Kids aren’t always candid around their parents, especially when mom and dad shelled out some dollars for the experience.)

As you’re mulling over your decision, check out this post from jbmthinks.com, an informative and insightful blog written by Janis B. Meredith, a sports mom who can be counted on to have a smart, considered opinion on whatever topic she’s covering.

After you’ve done some winnowing, talk to your child about the options. Make the kids part of the selection process. They’ll feel more invested, and they’ll gain experience in making decisions. And if they enjoy the camp and feel it has helped them develop their skills, they’ll feel more in control of their own lives. That’s a lot of good stuff from just one decision. Good luck!