Youth sports participation has long been touted for the many benefits it offers children. From leadership and teamwork to sport specific skills, youngsters learn lessons that they will take off the field and into their daily lives.
However, many children quit youth sports before they can experience the full benefits of participation. A staggering 70 percent of children drop out of organized sports by the time they're 13. Why? The most reported reason is that they’re not having fun anymore. What can youth sports professionals do to keep youngsters progressing through their programs and ensure a safe, fun experience?
Today, most youth sports programs mandate that volunteer coaches complete a formal training in their responsibilities as a coach. After all, the youngsters will spend much of the season under the coach's instruction and look up to them as a role model. Some even take their training mandate a step further and require any coach that uses their facilities – even for youth sports programs that aren't offered through the agency – to receive training, too.
Over the course of 25 years, the Town of Henrietta (New York) has trained more than 3,500 volunteer coaches. "Most recreation department supervisors knew the value of having volunteer youth sport coaches being trained," said David Moriarty, the town's senior recreation supervisor. "It was harder to convince independent parent-ran sports programs."
The Town of Henrietta operates leagues for flag football and tackle football. However, some sports like baseball, softball and soccer are offered through independent youth sports programs. Moriarty made presentations to these groups about the value of coach education, and successfully got them on board. "It is now mandatory for all independent sports groups to have coach’s training in place and have them certified each year that they coach," he said. "All volunteer coaches need to be on the same page. Training allows the coaches to have the ammunition they need to coach effectively."
For the Town of Henrietta and independent programs, volunteer coaches are trained through the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), a program of the National Alliance for Youth Sports. For more than 30 years, NYSCA has provided volunteer coaches an education on topics such as the psychology of coaching youth sports, communication skills, working with parents, child abuse, injury prevention, as well as nutrition and hydration while reminding coaches to give each child a fun, memorable youth sports experience. The coaches must also complete sport specific training.
Rather than take a "warm body" approach to recruiting volunteer coaches, agencies need to be clear on what is expected of coaches. Similar to the training a new employee may experience to learn their job and what is expected of their work, volunteer coach education empowers coaches to take their role on the team's sidelines. According to Moriarty, "coaches feel better about volunteering and more confident when they go through NYSCA training."
He adds, "This ultimately benefits the youth that they serve because they will have coaches who are knowledgeable in all of the appropriate safety measures along with teaching sportsmanship and self-esteem to them. Also, having the coaches teach correct sport skills is very important to the players' development."
Founded in 1981, the National Alliance for Youth Sports 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.