Coaches Sound Off on Problems with Youth Sports

Parents' expectations, safety, and too many trophies are the common themes.


This week we’ll begin to explore some of the responses from a questionnaire that I sent out to many youth sports coaches in our listening area. (It’s still not too late to participate — say the word and I’ll zip a copy your way.)

Although most of these coaches gave me permission to use their names, I’m not
quite sure that doing so adds any value to the discussion. I’ve listed their primary sport(s) before their comments.

So here we go … please feel free to comment below and hopefully we’ll begin
a healthy dialogue and maybe, just maybe, we can all come away with some
valuable information.

What do you see as being the issue that needs the most attention in youth sports today?

Coach A. (lacrosse): “The biggest issue in youth sports today is the parents. We
are all way too caught up in wins and losses. Appreciate all athletes for what
they bring to the game. Yes, your own child is important, but he is only one part of the team.”

Coach B. (football and baseball): “The early specialization that is now part of
youth sports. Kids that play travel soccer have to play in the fall, winter, and
spring to stay on a team. Baseball is now a two season sport. What happened to
sport seasons? I'm sure you remember in high school some kids that played
football, basketball, and baseball.”

Coach C. (football and lacrosse): “Safety. But safety starts with education. Teaching coaches the right way to instruct their players. Lacrosse does a great job of teaching its coaches.”

Coach D. (football, lacrosse, and basketball): “I believe the issue is giving
everyone a reward at the end of the season. I believe trophies and rewards should be earned. Most kids like to get trophies because they expect it. I
remember playing pee-wee football for five years before I won a trophy for second place. It sucked not getting a trophy, but I knew we didn't deserve one. So when I did get that second place trophy, holy cow, was it cool. I think today's players would feel the same way. My son looks at all of his trophies and tells me they don't mean anything because everyone gets one, so who cares. He says he would rather just be patted on the back for trying hard when you don't win and save the trophy for when it finally happens. I think giving trophies to everyone teaches kids that everyone wins regardless of the outcome (and life doesn't work that way).”

Coach E. (football, lacrosse, and basketball): “In my opinion the biggest issue
that I see in youth sports is safety and the mentality of winning at all costs and at anyone's expense.”

Coach F. (football and baseball): “Parents' expectations. Parents seem to do
what THEY want or create unreasonable expectations of their child. Live in the
moment and enjoy your child's love for the game. Don't imagine your child as a
professional athlete, college player, or high school player. Just enjoy them for
what level they are playing at now.  Too many parents are trying to live
vicariously through their children.”

Local Sports Writer (not me): “Keeping parents from ruining them.”

Coach G. (football and baseball): “Sportsmanship. I see a lot of coaches, players, and parents trash-talking.”

Coach H. (football): “Probably setting up the teams. In most leagues that play
within their own town, inevitably there are a few powerhouse teams and a few
teams that don’t have a competitive chance. This is mostly due to either coaches fixing their teams or other coaches who don’t know the players as well. Not sure of the solution but it happens in football, basketball, and and is ultimately unfair for those players who get stuck on the non-competitive teams.”

Coach I. (hockey): “Parents need to step back and let their children play and
coaches coach. Boards/Directors of leagues need to have real policies that are
enforced consistently with all players/parents/coaches.”

Coach J. (baseball): “We need more volunteer coaches. There are not parents willing to step forward. Ideally, we would have more parents willing to step forward and be able to provide the training necessary to make them feel comfortable. However, it sometimes feels like parents would prefer not to coach
their kids and watch from the sideline. If this continues, we need to be to train high school and college kids or other adult volunteers to fill in the gaps.”

Coach K. (football): “Parent Expectations, Involvement & Understanding.  You
can have parent-coach meetings, constantly email and keep people informed,
and have parents sign a letter of understanding at sign-up but no matter what,
many parents are understandably blind to the athletic ability of their own child.
Seventy-five percent of parents drop their children off and pick them up when practice is over, and really have no idea what goes on with the team, the league and their child. They will typically be the first to complain but the last to volunteer assist with other responsibilities like concession, fundraisers, etc.”

Coach L. (baseball): “The hardest thing to balance is the fairness and the
competitive spirit. I struggle with that the most. I don’t want to lose that sense of achievement within the confines of fair play. I know both can be achieved but we have yet to find the right recipe (in our league). To find that balance is the goal.”

Coach M. (soccer): “Segregating young kids by ability at way too early an age.
The outcome of segregation is to create a small group of higher performing kids,
and segregating the rest. Once physical and mental development is more normalized (in the 12/13 and up age groups — according to most experts I’ve
reference). I’m OK with segregation by physical ability.”

Coach N.: “As a new coach, the issue I find to be the greatest challenge to both
coaches and parents is communication between the league and parents leading
up to the season and then oftentimes with coaches and parents during the
season. It is important that everyone understand what each level/teams objective and approach to the season will be and then any modifications that are needed during the season. Two major points I believe are important relate to a 24-hour cooling off period before approaching the coach, unless the issue involves the health of a player, in order to provide time for both the coach, player and parent to decompress and second that parents need to be realistic about the ability of their child and the guidelines the coaches are operating under. In many
instances, the league has a mandate for how a team will be coached.”

Daniel C Wheeler January 07, 2012 at 01:46 PM
As a past LL coach, Youth football coach and current baseball umpire, I see many problems. #1 is parents. At a game this past summer, (Babe Ruth) game I was umpiring in Durham, A parent / grandparent stood behind the screen belittling players and swearing at myself and my partner. At 2 points during the game, I walked over to this gentlman and asked him point blank, What type of example are you setting for your child. I asked him politely to either stop or to leave the field. He informed me that I didnt have the authority to do this and again asked him politely the same which he did calm down. Unfortunately, this has become the norm. I almost won't umpire Little League games because of the coaches constant bickering. There is way to much emphasis on winning in youth sports. When I coached a team in Durham I told my team day 1, " I dont care if we win any games. Each child, played every position and equal playing time. If a child didnt want to play a position, he didnt. Guess what, we lost all 16 games but my kids and I had a blast. During the playoffs, my team beat the #1 team in the first round. I cherish that year the most. I have coached 2 teams to district championships at the Durham Babe Ruth program. I believe us as coaches have a responsibility to put these kids first and foremost. The emphasis on winning should be left for once these kids get into high school. Some (not all) coaches need to seriously look at themselves in the mirror and ask "why am I doing this"?
Ron Goralski January 08, 2012 at 07:29 PM
Very well said Dan. It's the message I've been trying to get across since column #1.
Ron Goralski January 08, 2012 at 07:30 PM
I agree 100% John.
Ron Goralski January 08, 2012 at 07:39 PM
The problem is that many of the parents you speak of end up becoming coaches and making matters even worse.
Gary Salivar January 30, 2012 at 01:38 AM
Interesting comments. Just wrote a book on this subject for parents about experiences in coaching baseball and football for many years. Wish more parents main focus was kids enjoying and learning from youth sports.


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