How I Learned to Stop Being a Sideline Coach and Just Enjoy the Game

By CATHERINE PEARLMAN

Today’s parents are not just parents. They are coaches and referees and umpires. I don’t mean the kindhearted people who volunteer their time. I’m talking about the parents on the sidelines. As parents, we don’t just watch our children play sports any more. We are in the game.

Lately I have been focusing on how parents behave at my kids’ games. I have seen some ugly behavior. So many moms and dads have no qualms about yelling at umpires who are only behind the plate because no one else volunteered. I recently saw a parent scream at his kid, “Come on! You can do better!” The child was 8.

I never viewed myself as that kind of mother. For the first few years of parenting my husband and I avoided organized sports. Our kids weren’t competitive killers chomping at the bit to play on a team, and we were plenty psyched to keep our weekends together as a family.

Inevitably, though, our kids decided they wanted to get in the game. My son played baseball and basketball. My daughter, who never cared much for sports, was strongly encouraged (by us) to find a healthy physical activity. She chose water polo — a game we knew nothing about.

Three times a week I watch my daughter in the pool and twice per week my son is on the field. After seeing the craziness many parents bring to youth sports, I was determined not to join the insanity. I wasn’t going to yell or advise. I wasn’t going to praise every minute play or action. My plan was to simply enjoy watching them enjoy themselves.

Only I couldn’t. As much as I tried, I still found myself shouting. I wanted my daughter to swim more aggressively. I wanted my son to put his hand behind his back while catching. He should swing through the ball more. She should call for the ball more. Blah blah blah. I became so disgusted with myself that I became determined to sit at a game and say not utter word of advice. But, well, I couldn’t do it. I failed. Repeatedly.

And then, in eight minutes, I was cured.

My daughter’s water polo team had a family polo game, kids against parents, yesterday morning. My husband and I suited up, put on the ridiculous headgear and eagerly jumped in. The old folks warmed up for a minute and tried to stay afloat. Everyone was laughing, giggling, having a fun ol’ time. Then, one second after the initial whistle from the coach, it became clear this was no laughing matter. We had to swim back and forth and back and forth. I could barely keep my head above water while trying to throw the ball. Another player nearly drowned me, appropriately, trying to get the ball (She’s 9). After three minutes I was tempted to tap out.

I didn’t, and wound up playing a whole eight minutes. I didn’t do the team’s requisite 20 laps as a warm up, and I didn’t practice for another hour after that. Eight minutes total. As I clumsily slogged out of the pool, deprived of breath and barely able to pull my own body weight, I realized I had no business telling my daughter what to do in the water (and there is no added benefit to nitpicking my son’s game, either).

My kids are not playing sports for the scholarship potential. There is absolutely no justified reason I need to coach them from the sidelines. The only outcome I can see is that they get so sick of hearing my commentary that they stop playing. I read in a recent survey that 70 percent of kids stop playing sports by 13. I can see why. There is so much pressure even without comments from the bystanders. From now on I am a spectator. I am not there to help my kids get better or stronger or more adept at the game. I am not there to teach the coach or the umpire how to do their jobs. I am simply going to enjoy the game, keep my big mouth shut …

… and stay dry.

Source: Pearlman, Catherine. “How I Learned to Stop Being a Sideline Coach and Just Enjoy the Game.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Oct. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2015.

 


When you disagree with volunteers and refs — do so politely

By BEAU DURE

Parent coaches. Soccer club board members.

These people are volunteers. Be nice. If you disagree with their vision, do so politely.

Referees make a tiny bit of money. Be nice to them, too.

Dealing with referees can be tricky. Through a certain age (in our area, U8), we have no referees, and coaches are responsible for making games fair and safe. Then coaches hand over that responsibility to referees who are often young, inexperienced and timid. These referees might not call the fouls that would have made coaches stop the game and talk to the kids. They might not even understand the simple mechanics of keeping a game running smoothly.

Most youth clubs — and certainly most referees — will tell coaches to say nothing to the refs other than “thank you” after the game. And that should be the goal. But you’ll run into some practical problems.

Some young refs don’t make clear signals — which team takes a throw-in, whether a free kick is direct or indirect, and so on. Many a U9 coach has yelled instructions to his team for how to take a free kick, something not often covered in practice, only to find that the other team is the one taking the free kick. Oops.

The bigger concern is safety. What do you do when a ref isn’t controlling the games, and the fouls are getting harder? What do you do when a kid gets bonked in the head, and you’re caught between obeying your licensing course’s concussion protocols and your club director’s admonition against yelling at the ref?

I’ll give two situations from my experience — one of which I’ll apologize for, one I won’t.

We had an All-Star tournament in which our guys were getting fouled a good bit. In the second game, with our second laissez-faire referee, I had to go out on the field to check on an injured player. I made a sarcastic comment to the ref: “You know, you can call fouls at U9.” He chirped back that they were 50-50 plays. Things went downhill from there. The ref could’ve handled it better, but I could’ve, too. When I surveyed youth referees about what I should’ve said in this situation, the responses ranged from “nothing” to “Pardon me, but this is a little more physical than we’re used to.”

Back in our House league, a hard shot nailed one of my players in the head. Somehow, he didn’t fall. He just held his head and started crying. Play continued. I screamed to stop play. The ref didn’t, the other team didn’t, and our team did. After the other team’s inevitable goal, I went out to check on our team’s injured player, and I yelled to my team not to worry about the goal they had conceded.

I’m not apologizing for the latter. My responsibility for my player’s safety trumps my responsibility to let refs build up their self-esteem.

The ref and I had a good conversation afterward, so all was well. Some of the other team’s parents might’ve thought I was a freak, but they could deal with it.

But that is, of course, a rare situation. Don’t yell at refs over offside calls. They’re going to get those wrong. And it’s often tough to see who played the ball before it went out of play for a throw-in. No harm will come from getting those plays wrong. Give the poor kid or well-intentioned adult a break.

So to sum it up: Safety first; shut up otherwise.

Source: Dure, Beau. “Youth Soccer Insider: When You Disagree with Volunteers and Refs — Do so Politely.” SoccerAmerica. N.p., 07 Sept. 2015. Web. 07 Sept. 2015.

 


Working Together to Prevent Injuries in Youth Sports

victoria2We’ve all been there: getting hit or knocked down during a game and saying “I’m fine!” instead of taking a seat on the bench and determining whether or not we are really injured. No player wants to let the team down or feel weak for admitting that he or she is hurt and in need of a break, but this mentality can actually hurt a player even more down the line. According to safekids.org, a youth sports injury that results in a visit to the emergency room occurs once every 25 seconds. This adds up to about 3,397 children in the hospital every single day. Safe to say, youth sports injuries are not uncommon and need to be taken seriously. That number would be even higher if more players were willing to admit their pain and take the necessary steps to find out how to heal it, but this would at least prevent further damage or repeated injuries of the same kind from happening. 54 percent of athletes said they have played injured, and 42 percent of athletes have admitted to “hiding or down-playing an injury during a game so they could keep playing”, according to safekids.org. This practice of hiding injuries needs to be curbed so that children stop repeatedly playing on an injury, and putting themselves in even more danger.

At the beginning of the season, players need to be told by the coach to come forward and be honest if they are feeling less than okay and ground rules should be set to agree on how the team will approach injuries. It also becomes the parents’ responsibility to report to the coaches in the event that their child has admitted to feeling pain, or has been diagnosed by a doctor and given specific instructions about how to treat an injury. Similarly, the coach needs to be open with the parent and inform them that their child has been injured during a practice or a game so that the parent can take the necessary steps to keep their child healthy and safe. Considering that 62 percent of organized sports-related injuries occur during practices, according to youthsportssafetyalliance.org, it is clear that many injuries occur when the parent is not around to witness them, making communication necessary.

bundleWhile the responsibility does lie on the player, we cannot always trust that children will take an injury as seriously as they should or that they will be open with both their coach and parent and admit to one. According to safekids.org, less than half of coaches are certified and know how to prevent and recognize sports injuries, while 53 percent have said they’ve felt “pressure from a parent or player to put an athlete back in the game” after an injury. To make the playing field a safer place, coaches need to be certified or, at the very least, aware of the health issues of their players, just as parents need to focus on their children’s health rather than their goal count.

What all of this comes down to is communication. The gaps between players and parents, players and coaches, and parents and coaches leave room for more harm. A player who tells his parents that his ankle hurt during the last practice and gets a note from the doctor that he should skip gym class should not be playing in their soccer game the next day. The player might not want to tell their coach about this for fear of being benched, but the parent should recognize the importance of resting for their child’s safety and keep the coach informed. Similarly, if a player was complaining of dizziness during practice and had to sit out, the coach should report this to the parent so that they can go to a doctor or keep an eye out for their child. If a coach or a parent doesn’t know there is something wrong with the child, then they have no way of fixing the problem. Where communication stops is where injuries can go from bad to worse. The more aware that parents and coaches are about a player’s injuries, the more help and support they can give. When players, parents, and coaches work together, athletes are kept safer and the team becomes stronger as a whole.

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FIFA Corruption Scandal a Reminder That Lack of Oversight and Transparency in Youth Sports Surprisingly Common

By BROOKE DE LENCH

The story that broke this week in The New York Times that nine present or former high-ranking members of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, had been arrested in Zurich, Switzerland, after being indicted on corruption charges in the U.S., didn’t surprise me in the least.

While the FIFA scandal has made national headlines, allegations of embezzlement and theft in sports organizations, large and small, are an almost every-day occurrence in cities and towns across America.

Here is a quick list of youth sports league theft and embezzlement cases, just from the first three weeks of May alone:

• The ex-treasurer for a youth sports group is found guilty of theft in Ohio.
• A Lansing, MI man is accused of stealing money from a youth sports league.
• The former president of a Fayette County (PA) youth football league is accused of using $24,102 of the nonprofit’s money to buy cosmetics, ammunition, groceries and other items.
• A former Kent (WA) Little League treasurer pleads guilty to stealing more than $200,000 from the organization.
• The former treasurer of the Clinton Valley (MI) Little League is placed on five years’ probation and ordered to repay $175,000 she admitted stealing from the organization.
• A youth hockey league in Leominster (MA) (about a half hour from where I live) is left with less than $4 in its account after a player’s father cashes checks he makes out to himself totaling nearly $30,000

While youth sports organizations pale in size to FIFA, most are run like small – and, in some cases, not-so-small -businesses, with officers, boards of directors, bylaws and annual meetings, and annual budgets running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Yet, most operate with virtually no oversight beyond their volunteer (or, in some cases, paid) boards of directors and staff, and their often lax financial controls can make them easy and tempting targets for thieves. Even local youth sports organizations affiliated with national organizations are often not as accountable to the parents and children they supposedly serve as they should be.

Indeed, in reporting that FIFA critics characterize it as “a small group of officials … operat[ing] with outsize power [and] … function[ing] with little oversight and even less transparency,” The Times could just as easily been talking about the youth sports organizations I just listed.

So, how can youth sports organizations become more accountable to their “customers” (you and your children)? Here are six ways:

1. Identify decision makers. In order to hold those who run the show accountable for the “product” they produce, challenge the way they do business, and identify problem organizations, begin by finding out about the structure of the organization. Here are some of the questions you should ask:

• Does the group operate as a profit or not-for-profit business?
• Does it fall under a national governing body (NGB) like US Lacrosse, USA Hockey, Pop Warner, etc?
• Who is accountable or responsible for decisions made or actions taken by the organization?
• Is it a corporation or a partnership? (Tip: by going to the website of your state’s Secretary of State you can obtain annual reports of profit and not-for-profit corporations, both those incorporated in your state and “foreign” corporations (those registered to do business in your state but incorporated elsewhere) as well as the names of officers and directors. Not-for-profits are also required to register with the state’s Attorney General, typically in a division relating to charities, and to file annual reports on their finances and fundraising activities. An organization that hasn’t kept current with its annual filings is a red flag that it may be taking short-cuts in other areas, such as player safety, having in place the appropriate insurance in case of negligence etc.)
• Are two signatures required on every check?

2. Parent input. Push for the formation of a Parent Advisory Group (PAC) consisting of parents with children currently playing in the program to provide the Board of Directors with feedback (both negative and positive) from other parents; the input helps to insure that its decisions are reflective of, and responsive to, a broad cross-section of the youth sports community. Run for a seat on the board. Attend meetings.

3. Open meetings. Ask that the mission statement of a youth sports program, its bylaws and the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of board members and other officers be publicly available and posted on the program’s website, and that the time and place of board meetings be advertised and open to any parent or concerned individual to attend (even if only to observe). All coaches, including the middle school and high school coaches in that sport, should be encouraged to attend at least one meeting a year.

4. Term limits. Like politicians, directors, administrators and coaches who become entrenched in a program for years on end tend to put the “blinders” on and may become too comfortable with the status quo. New blood can keep a program fresh and strong. Longtime board members can be given “emeritus” or “ex officio” status.

5. Financial accountability. Public financial disclosure is one way to avoid embezzlement of funds in youth sports organizations. By partnering with credible, well-established online youth sports registration companies, leagues and teams can track where their money is going.

6. Benchmarking. We need to take a public health approach to injury prevention in youth sports. The first step is surveillance: creating a consistent, comparable, and accurate data system that can track the performance of youth sports organizations, their progress in preventing and treating injuries and keeping kids safe.

6. Make safety a budget priority. Instead of fancy new uniforms, or multi-million dollar stadiums, parents should push for more of a program’s funds to be spent on keeping kids safe, such as by purchasing automatic external defibrillators and first-aid kits, to pay for reconditioning or replacing used equipment such as helmets, and to pay stipends to trained health care professionals (e.g., certified athletic trainers, nurses, EMTs, physicians) so they can be on the sidelines in case of medical emergencies.

The bottom line: make sure to follow the money so you know it is being spent wisely. We can and we must put our children and their safety first by making sure a youth sports program’s scarce resources aren’t going into the pockets of thieves

Source: Lench, Brooke De. “FIFA Corruption Scandal a Reminder That Lack of Oversight and Transparency in Youth Sports Surprisingly Common.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 28 May 2015. Web. 28 May 2015.


Positive Coaching Alliance is making the call for change

Gary Massey has seen youth basketball coaches wrestle each other to the ground during a dispute.

During his tenure as president of the Stallions Baseball Club, a Valley City-based youth organization, he’s seen coaches refuse to leave the field after getting ejected, and some who have no problem swearing in front of kids.

Mark Shapiro also witnessed some troubling things when he started coaching his son’s baseball team, which led to plenty of online searches — and later the formation of the Cleveland chapter of Positive Coaching Alliance.

The nonprofit, which launched in 1998 and will soon expand to 14 chapters nationally, holds workshops, and provides online courses, tips and tools for youth sports organizations, coaches and participants. The Cleveland chapter debuted two years ago, a few years after Shapiro, the president of the Cleveland Indians, reached out to Positive Coaching Alliance founder Jim Thompson.

“I can almost quote it verbatim: ‘I’ve been in pro sports my entire life, and my education the last year with my son’s baseball experience has not been positive,’ ” Thompson said of Shapiro’s initial email.

When his schedule allows, Shapiro helps to coach his 12-year-old son Caden’s baseball team, along with his 10-year-old daughter Sierra’s basketball club. When Shapiro’s oldest first started playing sports, it was an eye-opening experience even for someone who grew up around the game as the son of prominent sports agent Ron Shapiro.

“You look at sports your whole life, and then you have kids and you kind of get thrown into youth sports,” Shapiro said. “Some of what you see is good, and a lot of what you see is really upsetting. The biggest takeaway was how uneven the experience was.”

When youth sports are “done right,” they have the potential to be “the greatest shaper of character and values,” the Tribe president said.

“But when they’re executed with the wrong intentions,” Shapiro said, “which are usually driven by adults and not kids, what they do is usually turn kids away. And they don’t come back.”

Changing the culture

Shapiro joined Positive Coaching Alliance’s national advisory board — a cast with such marquee names as Phil Jackson, Steve Young, Doc Rivers, Steve Kerr and Larry Brown — after corresponding with Thompson.

As he “was disappointed more and more” with the youth sports experience, Shapiro became determined to bring a PCA chapter to Cleveland.

In June 2013, Jim Bucci became the chapter’s executive director. The organization is small — Bucci is joined in PCA’s two-person Crocker Park office by partnership manager Nick Cipkus — but it received some major seed funding from the Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers and DDR Corp. The three organizations, with former Cavs GM Chris Grant and former DDR CEO Daniel Hurwitz playing major roles, committed $120,000 each ($40,000 per year for three years) to get the nonprofit off the ground.

Another sizable chunk of the Cleveland chapter’s funding comes from the one- and three-year partnerships it offers to high schools and youth sports organizations, Bucci said. The typical partnership is for one year and three workshops, at a cost of about $2,500.

The Cleveland chapter performed 36 workshops — which feature PCA-certified instructors, including Shapiro, as speakers — in 2014. This year, Bucci expects that number to top 100. Bucci said the organization has 35 partners, including 15 high schools, in the Cleveland and Akron areas.

But the partnerships, PCA’s leaders stress, offer much more than the in-person training of coaches and athletes that is included in the workshops.

“We deliver services like most nonprofits,” said Thompson, PCA’s founder. “But our real goal is to change the culture of sports. Our customers are leaders of schools, athletic programs and sports organizations. We want to help them change the culture of their sports programs.”

The current model, Thompson said, is an “entertainment sports culture” — basically, the drive to produce highlights worthy of “SportsCenter,” not better athletes and better people. Thompson believes the latter two elements are crucial components of a “development zone culture,” which involves relationship-building, guidelines and anti-bullying tactics.

In addition to the workshops, coaches are sent emails with tips on ways to talk to a team and to parents, and organizations can receive help with such tasks as writing job descriptions for potential coaches and creating parent-coach agreement letters. Positive Coaching Alliance also has a free online resource — pcadevzone.org — that provides advice for every imaginable role in youth sports (even that of the referee).

“Kids take cues from ESPN and ‘SportsCenter’ a lot,” Bucci said. “Pro sports and youth sports should be two completely different things. Youth sports should be about mastery of the game, learning life lessons and playing with your friends.”

‘A lot of hard work’

Massey, the president of the Stallions Baseball Club, which fields 15 to 18 travel teams ranging from ages 8 to 18 each year, agrees with Bucci’s assessment.

The 38-year-old father of two (with a third on the way) has coached his oldest son, Gary III, since the 12-year-old Tre’ was 4. The club was one of the Cleveland PCA’s first partners, and Massey said the relationship has given his group a much-needed support system — one that “validates our culture and what we wanted to achieve as an organization.”

Being a youth sports coach “isn’t a sexy job,” Massey said. “It’s a lot of hard work.”

Having an outside resource available to coaches and parents can make all the difference.

“We’re still not perfect,” Massey said. “Outside of our organization, I think it’s an epidemic. Whether it’s the parent-coach or parent-athlete relationship, it’s a huge challenge. Part of the reason I’m so passionate about PCA is it’s a huge opportunity for us to step outside the box and understand what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to develop kids to the best of our ability.”

Massey talked with the PCA not long after it formed in Cleveland in 2013, and he soon received an email from Shapiro, who now chairs the Cleveland chapter’s board.

“He reached out to me out of nowhere,” Massey said. “I’ve gotten to know him the last couple years. He’s an outstanding guy, and he’s all about the right things.”

When it comes to youth sports, Shapiro doesn’t want the focus to be on wins and losses, nor future college scholarships and seven-figure salaries.

“This is a way to ensure that they have the most positive experience,” he said of the PCA’s work. “This is a way to ensure they stay engaged. The skill piece is easier to find and, frankly, it’s less important at the youngest ages because they’re going to be turned off if this piece isn’t taken care of.”

Asked if he’s seen kids quit sports because of parents, Shapiro said, “Absolutely — especially in a game like baseball that’s failure-based.”

He said he reminds parents what’s really important, and that it’s not “about getting to some destination,” such as a long-term career in athletics.

And even though he’s running the day-to-day operations of a Major League Baseball team, Shapiro plans to be involved as much as possible with his kids’ activities. Sierra plays basketball and soccer — two sports about which her dad knows “nothing.”

But he still helps out, because what he can’t provide in terms of technical expertise, he can make up for in more essential ways.

“What’s important is praising the effort,” Shapiro said. “What’s important is focusing on what it means to be a good teammate and lift your teammates up. What’s important is focusing on how they handle adversity, setbacks and challenges, and have that be the delineator of a what a successful season is, what a successful game is.”

And if those elements are in place, something else often happens, too.

“Usually they end up winning,” Shapiro said.

Source: “Positive Coaching Alliance Is Making the Call for Change.” Crain’s Cleveland Business. N.p., 17 May 2015. Web. 17 May 2015.


5 Things the Non-Athlete Parent Needs to Know About Youth Sports

By EMILY COHEN

Your kid wants to play sports, and that’s a great thing except for this: You were never an athlete and you aren’t one now. You might not even watch sports. Now what? Non-athletic sports parents suffer from a double disability. First, they don’t know what it’s like to be a student-athlete and, second, they don’t have a role model — either positive or negative — about how to be a parent of an athlete.

When my now-18-year-old son first wanted to play T-ball, this was me. I wanted to play sports as a kid, but my parents wouldn’t let me, for fear I would get injured. And when I was in high school and begged to be on the swim team, my mom simply refused to drive me to practices that early in the morning. Those were the pre-carpool days.

The good news is that the fundamentals aren’t that hard to master. If I did it, so can you! There are just five things you really need to know:

Support Your Kid.

Showing real support is doing something that moves you beyond your comfort zone. If your daughter wants to play the violin, like you did, you’d know exactly what to do: rent an instrument until you see that the interest sticks, find a good teacher, get a music stand. But when she says, “Mom, I want to play lacrosse,” now what? Really supporting your kid means doing something for which you’re entirely unprepared. It’s somewhere along the scale of changing diapers, having “the talk,” and learning that your kid wants to join the Peace Corps. Just go with it and be grateful she’s not interested in bullfighting.

Do Your Research.

You wouldn’t hire a contractor without a recommendation, so why would you find the first team or league you see and sign up your kid without doing any research first? In most suburbs and cities, you’ll have plenty of teams — and coaches — from which to choose. Talk to other parents, find out what the coach is like. Is he or she a yeller? Overly competitive? Or is she encouraging and supportive, especially of new players? Does the league conduct background checks on the coaches? Get on the league’s Facebook page and Twitter feed and check out the feedback from parents and players. Make an informed decision, not a knee-jerk one.

Be A Role Model.

You may not know the sport, but you do know what kind of person you want your kid to become, so be that role model for your kid. Don’t yell at the refs and umps. Don’t whine to the coach about playing time. Respect the game. Work hard. Follow the rules. Be a mensch. What will you do to help your kid pursue her goals and dreams? Go running with her. Put up a basketball hoop and play a game of horse before dinner. Get in some extra practice, between the weekly team workouts, so your kid gets in good physical condition and develops her skills.

Hang with the Right Crowd.

Peer support is essential for your kid; you know that. But did you consider it might be important for you too? Be selective and make sure you’re not hanging out with the sports parent everyone knows and hates, the overbearing, know-it-all, coach-haranguing one. Instead, befriend the experienced parent (maybe one with an older child or two) who’s “been there, done that” and can show you the ropes of being the good sports parent. Find someone who cheers for all the players rather than just her own child. Worst case, you have someone to share a blanket with on a cold morning at the field. Or maybe you’ll end up with a carpooling partner. Score!

Don’t Over-Identify.

Remember, it’s your kid’s game, not yours. She owns the wins and losses, not you. When she loses a game or suffers a setback — as she surely will — make sure she doesn’t feel she’s disappointing you, the parent. Don’t grill her in the car on the way home after a loss. Wait until SHE brings it up, which may not ever happen, as is often the case with my daughter. And even then, don’t criticize her play or point out her mistakes. Just ask, “Did you have fun?” or “What do you think you’ll do differently next time?” and let her answer you. Don’t judge, just show her unconditional love, win or lose.

Now that your kid wants to play sports, you have a great opportunity: You get to learn something new together — and you get to exercise your parental responsibilities in new ways: to make sure your child gets the best youth sports has to offer in molding great citizens.

Source: Cohen, Emily. “5 Things the Non-Athlete Parent Needs to Know About Youth Sports.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 05 May 2015. Web. 05 May 2015.


SHIELDS COLUMN: Some travel coaches take fun from sports

By BRANDON SHIELDS

Many things in sports have their positives and negatives, particularly in youth sports and travel ball programs.

When travel ball began, it started with the purest of intentions: Get the kids with the most potential from a certain geographical area, match them up with a quality coach or two or three and have them play in weekend tournaments against other teams of similar ability and makeup and purposes and see if we can make them all better ballplayers for when they get to the collegiate level.

Over time, that has evolved into entire programs like the Coyotes baseball program here in Jackson or the Jackson Futbol Club Wolves for soccer or Express Softball. AAU basketball would fit under this umbrella as well.

These programs are well and good as we’ve seen athletes from these teams help lead their high school teams to TSSAA state championships before moving on to quality collegiate athletic careers later on.

That’s a positive to travel ball. Is there a negative? There definitely could be.

How about when parent sign up their 6- or 7-year-old child and commit them to spending every weekend from March through August (sometimes more) playing in tournaments in various cities across multiple states? That sounds like fun at first glance, but the coaches in the program demand those kids devote a lot of time in practice and instruction throughout the week and offseason to honing their abilities in the game (baseball in this case). This is understandable because if a team travels to places like Gulf Shores, Ala. or Atlanta or Louisville, Ky., or anywhere further away than a drive to the local Dixie Youth Fields, they want to be fully prepared to compete and win.

But then that demand to be prepared combined with the commitment to the team turns into expectations like automatically knowing whether a pitch is too high or low to swing at or almost instinctively knowing not to run immediately from second base on a grounder to short.

Those expectations are understandable when a child is 16 or 17, but not 6 or 7. When I was 6 years old and on second base when a grounder was hit, I had two things on my mind: Hurry up and get home to score because I could then get to the dugout and enjoy a few swigs of cool blue raspberry-flavored Gatorade (which I haven’t seen that flavor in a while, but that’s another column for another day).

My children aren’t in travel ball, but I’ve seen some travel teams play close to where mine were as well in recent days. I’ve seen those coaches with way to high expectations for children too young to be in travel ball in my opinion.

Those coaches need to calm down. If you’re spending the amount of time it takes to make a child that young understand why they need to hesitate about running on a grounder to shortstop, you’re probably running the concepts of baseball into the ground of their minds and attention spans and sucking all the fun out of America’s pastime.

So parents of young children, I ask you to please think hard before signing your child up for the commitment of a travel team. Are you signing up for their enjoyment or because you want to vicariously live through them? You may not be, but make sure their interests are in mind before you decide to do it.

Coaches of young players, please keep the game fun. Today’s society has more options to pull kids away from enjoying baseball and cause them to get involved in other things. They don’t need the tactics of nonstop yelling that are part of your desire to be viewed like Tony La Russa in the high-profile glamourous world of coach-pitch travel ball to push them away from the baseball field.

Baseball is meant to let kids have fun. So please let them do that.

 

Source: Shields, Brandon. “SHIELDS COLUMN: Some Travel Coaches Take Fun from Sports.” The Jackson Sun. N.p., 19 Apr. 2015. Web. 19 Apr. 2015.


Everyone in youth sports deserves credit

By LORRAINE LOVE

Editor,

I am writing this letter in reference to the letter to the editor titled “Coaching about more than big wins.”

I totally agree. I have been to many sports events in my lifetime that my children and my friends’ children have been involved in. Some, of course, were better than others, in my opinion. Regardless if a team is winning by a lot, a little, or even losing, every child should get in the game at some time.

Any child wanting to play any kind of sport in today’s world should be commended. To not give support and recognition to every child is wrong.

Parents are proud of their children, and children want to make their parents proud. There is so much crime today and these children are the future and to not acknowledge every one of them at some point is disappointing and discouraging.

I know of some kids that have gotten so frustrated with sitting out most of the season that they just gave up and quit and that’s sad. Every child should have support by coaches, parents, teammates and fans, and the world could maybe be a better place.

To all you children that play and enjoy sports, I salute you. Hang in there!

Lorraine Love,

Hazleton

Source: Love, Lorraine. “Everyone in Youth Sports Deserves Credit.” Standard Speaker. N.p., 7 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.


Naperville Little League announces unique partnership and concussion awareness program

Naperville Little League Baseball (NLLB) is proud to announce a partnership with the Chicago White Sox that will provide NLLB with a new safety awareness program, professional instruction and more night games. This partnership marks the largest such relationship of its kind in the state of Illinois.

With today’s heightened awareness of concussions in youth sports, NLLB plans to further invest in player safety to help lessen the chances of concussions and other sports-related injuries, said NLLB Board President Julie Killacky. This effort includes the purchase and implementation of new batting helmets for all teams at all age levels in 2015.

This investment is made possible by an unprecedented agreement in which the White Sox will provide upgraded, branded jerseys for all Naperville Little League players in 2015 – roughly 3,600 jerseys and 4,000 hats. This allows NLLB to shift some of its budget previously spent on jersey and hat purchases. The new NLLB jerseys will carry the White Sox logo.

The partnership will also allow Naperville Little League to provide additional professional instruction for players and coaches at area facilities such as the Bulls/Sox Academy before and during the season.

In addition to professional baseball training, coaches will also receive certification from the Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA). PCA is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to developing better athletes and better people by working to provide young athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience.

The partnership will also allow NLLB to host more night games. In 2015, more NLLB players – particularly players in the younger, non-drafted leagues – will also experience more night games on the five lighted fields NLLB teams use throughout Naperville.

Since 1952, Naperville Little League has provided baseball opportunities for thousands of youth ages 7 to 13. It is the largest Little League in Illinois.

Source: “Naperville Little League Announces Unique Partnership and Concussion Awareness Program.” Chicagotribune.com. N.p., 12 Jan. 2015. Web. 12 Jan. 2015.

 


Do One Thing: Volunteer as a youth sports coach

Athens’ number of young athletes and athletic programs is steadily growing, as well as the need for youth sports coaches.

Along with parents and teachers, coaches help influence and shape a young person’s life and motivate a healthier lifestyle.

If you know a thing or two about sports, why not step forward and be a volunteer coach for the youngsters of Athens?

The Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services is seeking volunteer coaches for youth basketball and youth soccer. Although these are the only two opportunities in need at this time, as spring approaches, more programs will begin and more coaches will be needed.

Coaches are expected to instill the love of the sport and comradery amongst players over winning.

A coach should empower their players through education and positive feedback.

Even if you’re not athletic, you can still volunteer. Experience is not necessary for coaching and training will be provided. All volunteers must pass a criminal background screening, be 18 years or older, commit to a an entire season and dedicate up to three hours per week to practice and game time.

Source: Roten, Ashley. “Do One Thing: Volunteer as a Youth Sports Coach.” Online Athens. N.p., 17 Dec. 2014. Web. 18 Dec. 2014.