Too many youth sports parents still don't get it

Too many youth sports parents still don't get it


By: Greg Bach, VP, Communications
National Alliance for Youth Sports

As the recent ESPN The Magazine piece on youth sports captured so perfectly, today’s landscape is becoming more and more defined by parents pushing the fast forward button on their kids’ lives.

Youth sports are no longer about enjoying the moment for a growing number of parents. Instead, it’s all about getting their children to that higher level as quickly as possible, no matter what the injury risk, financial cost or psychological strain. It’s about shoving kids into programs at ridiculously young ages, before they’re even able to tie their mini cleats; and it’s about seeking out ultra competitive programs featuring calendar-stuffed schedules of practices, games and absurd training regimens that have sucked the true essence of childhood out of many kids’ lives.

Welcome to the chaotic world of sports specialization: If parents want to soothe their ego they can take their moderately coordinated 8-year-old and turn him into the best baseball player in the community with a heavy training schedule and year-round specialization, but at what long-term cost to the child’s overall health and well-being?

Parents know smoking cigarettes causes incredible damage to the body and talk to their kids about staying away from tobacco; parents know being in a vehicle without wearing a seatbelt is dangerous and make sure their kids are buckled up; and with all the research out there parents know that specializing in sports at young ages is disastrous for a child’s physical and mental health, yet they somehow kick common sense to the curb and choose to send their child down that path, where the end result is often disastrous.

Having the best kid on the team, participating in the best programs and chasing college scholarships has become top priority.

How many children are going to endure painful surgeries and lengthy rehabilitations due to overuse injuries before parents get the message that children need diversity in their athletic activities before the age of 12?

How many kids do we have to witness give up on sports because they’re simply burned out from playing the same one year-round before we understand the importance of them participating in different sports and using different muscle motions?

The National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) – the nation’s leading advocate for positive and safe sports for children since 1981 – understands that travel and tournament play have become prevalent in today’s youth sports environment – and it can be a great experience for many kids when the experience is handled the right way by caring coaches who understand there is a lot more at stake besides just wins and losses. Because of this trend, NAYS developed the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) Select training program which supplements coaches training with advanced information for those moms and dads who are coaching elite and/or competitive athletes. One of the focal points of the program is that it stresses to coaches of these teams the importance of incorporating a variety of different drills into practices so that children are constantly using different motions, resulting in less wear and tear on their bodies while reducing their injury risk.

The NYSCA Select program delivers an e-learning experience in eight key areas established by the National Association for Sports and Physical Education’s 2006 National Standards for Youth Sports Coaches. Some of the sections within this training feature video clips with college coaches from around the country as well as leading experts in key topic areas. The eight sections are:

Philosophy & Ethics: This is about the kids. No matter what the coach or parents feel – it’s always about the kids. Sports are important but only if used correctly. They can be essential in a child’s growth and just as damaging if not done correctly. Developing life skills should be a coach’s priority.

Sports Safety & Injury Prevention: Have a clear, pre-planned injury plan. Know sports injury symptoms. Listen to what the child says, not the parent. Prepare for the worst – don’t be caught off guard when it comes to safety.
Physical Preparation & Conditioning: Warm-ups and cool-downs are important. Avoid negative training and drills. Stress proper nutrition and hydration.
Growth & Development: Kids progress differently at different ages. Even kids within the same age range vary in their progressions.
Teaching & Communication: Communication is a big part of an athlete’s development. Coaches are teachers. Not every kid responds the same way. Failure is part of playing sports. Teach sportsmanship and how to be a gracious winner and loser. Punishment must be clear and concise and the same for all players.
Organization & Administration: A coach plays many different roles. Being an instructor is only one of those roles. Keep records of issues. Know what your kids have done in the past. Remind parents that you are here for their child as much as they are. Work as one to make sure you are both developing the child. Set appropriate avenues for interaction with parents.
Skills & Tactics: Teach appropriate skills in a proper progression. Be age and player specific.
Evaluation: Set a checklist and maintain realistic goals. Focus on the process of learning and not just end results. Make sure the parents are on the same page.

Upon successful completion of the program, coaches receive a downloadable certificate and a liability insurance policy. Coaches also have access to several free NYSCA programs including:

Concussion Training, Bullying Prevention Training and Protecting Against Abuse Training.

Youth sports are about the kids. It’s about time adults around the country start doing a better job remembering that.

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