By Ken Reed
As a society, why do we put so much time and money into youth sports?
Does anyone ever stop to ask that question? Or, do we all just walk our kids down to the local youth sports organization and sign them up in a robotic-like fashion?
Why youth sports? Is it the quest for a college scholarship? For some, yes. Is it to get our kids in shape? That’s the primary goal of some parents. Is it to teach teamwork and other life skills? Some parents will say that yes, that’s why they spend their time and money on youth sports.
Of course, if you drive by any athletic field on a Saturday morning and watch the behavior of parents and coaches, you’ll think the primary reason parents sign their kids up for youth sports is to win. Winning too often seems like it’s the only thing in youth sports.
Steve Foster, pitching coach for the Colorado Rockies, believes the “heart of the child is the point” of youth sports.
“In a culture that teaches winning is everything, that skill development is essential, and that only the strong survive, we lose many hearts along the way!”
Foster believes youth sports coaches play a critical role in the development of young people — positive and negative.
“I once heard it put like this; a coach can be a stepping stone or stumbling block to a young athlete’s heart,” says Foster.
“A coach can be a stepping stone by encouraging, equipping and engaging each individual player as they develop this relationship. A coach can also be a stumbling block to a player by discouraging remarks, demanding fundamental disciplines at a young age, and by disengaging and showing favoritism.”
Foster says building relationships — at any level, from youth to the pros — is the key first step in successful coaching. And it’s especially important at the youth level.
“The only way that I see a young athlete being taught discipline and fundamentals at a young age with success is through relationship regardless of the age,” according to Foster.
“All of the information in the world to help a young athlete perform a task does him or her NO good at all if there is no relationship in place first. A coach can mean well and have a vast amount of knowledge in the sport but if information is all it takes in teaching then a coach could just distribute a book and demand for all to read it! A relationship is built on trust. And trust is built in the arena of sport when an athletes sees and believes that the coach loves them more than they do the task.”
So, youth sports parents and coaches out there, are you a stepping stone or a stumbling block to the young athletes in your lives?
At young ages, developing a love for the sport, encouraging creative expression, and building confidence are more important than focusing on discipline and teaching fundamentals in a militaristic fashion.
If more parents and coaches took this approach, the high drop-out rate in youth sports would fall considerably.
What’s the point of youth sports? If your answer is “the heart of the child,” like it is for Steve Foster, the kids will benefit. And, as a by-product, the joy of being a youth sports parent and/or coach will increase as well.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.