For many, their best childhood memories involve playing in a local youth sports program. Whether they recall practicing football on a cool autumn evening or baseball in the spring, they have taken both sport and life lessons with them off the field and into adulthood. From physical activity to social skills to teamwork, there are multiple benefits to sport participation.
However, what makes the difference between children walking away with positive or negative youth sports experiences? The answer lies in the attitudes and behaviors of the volunteer coaches who serve as role models to the young athletes.
“I greatly welcome volunteers, as any recreation professional does,” said Willis Whitley, youth sports coordinator of the Town of Clover recreation department in South Carolina. “I’m always researching ways to make sure our volunteers are accountable for their job to us.”
This means not only making sure the coaches have an understanding of the sport they are coaching, but also that they uphold the recreation department’s youth sports program philosophy.
One way the Clover recreation department holds their volunteer coaches accountable is by using the Coach Rating System, a program developed by the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS). The Coach Rating System is an online tool that anonymously collects feedback from the parents of players on key coaching areas, including the coach’s knowledge of the sport’s rules, how effective their practices are, how well they teach sportsmanship, their proficiency at identifying and correcting improper technique and how effective they are in motivating players, among others.
“Our youth sports program has greatly benefited from the rating system and more importantly, so have our coaches,” Whitley said.
In fact, Whitley reports that most of the coaches enjoy the coach rating process.
“There’s an overall consensus from our coaches that they want to know how they’re doing, and they want to know before it’s too late,” he said. “They understand that they represent our program.”
Receiving high marks in each coaching area, for example, provides positive reinforcement that the coach is handling their responsibilities successfully. Meanwhile, if a coach learns that he received high marks in every category but one, he can focus on improving that particular skill.
In the midst of a digitally dominated world, an online tool like the Coach Rating System is an efficient way to collect information. The staff sends the parents of each child on their roster an email containing a digital link to the evaluation form. After the parent submits their evaluation, it is available instantly online, allowing the coach to make quick adjustments in his or her coaching style.
“It adds to the parents’ comfort to know there’s an online form for not only me to see the results of, but also for our coaches to see and improve immediately upon,” said Whitley.
Since the parents’ evaluations are done in anonymity, the staff and coaches can expect honest feedback.
“They don’t have the feeling that they will be negatively impacted because of their answers this way,” said Whitley.
Whitley believes that the Coach Rating System is a way they can show the community that they are dedicated to providing the highest quality recreation programs in the area.
“The rating system only increases our standing as a valuable, respected program,” he said.
Giving the parents and families in the community an outlet to express what they want helps the recreation department to best serve the needs of those in the community. For instance, Whitley finds that the constructive feedback the Coach Rating System gives helps the coaches provide excellent service on behalf of the recreation department.
The Coach Rating System is just one component of the four steps NAYS emphasizes in managing volunteer coaches. When parks and recreation professionals utilize NAYS resources for background screening, coach training, evaluation and accountability they can create a youth sports program built around providing a positive environment where youth athletes can learn both sports and life lessons.
Founded in 1981, NAYS is America's leading advocate for positive, safe sports and activities for children. The non-profit 501(c)(3) organization is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla. and works with more than 3,000 community-based youth sport programs across the country to provide programs and services for everyone involved in youth sports experiences, including professional administrators, volunteer administrators, volunteer coaches, officials, parents and young athletes.