As youth sports becomes more commercialized, parents have become more stressed. Some kids are left behind, missing out on the benefits of sports due to money or ability. Other kids are having poor experiences due to the adults (coaches, parents, league organizers), causing them to quit sports altogether. Parents are left to navigate the confusing and frustrating world of sports on their own.
Project Play is here to help. Each month, we will answer parents’ youth sports questions on this page. Got a question? Send it via email (with your name and state) to firstname.lastname@example.org, or share the question with us on Twitter at @AspenInstSports.
Let’s get started with our first mailbag.
As a youth coach I show up for all of the players. I do not teach tactics that injure or take advantage of rule vagaries. I do not teach win-at-all-cost or even that we have an enemy. I do not use war terms. I do not chastise children. I do not disagree with officials. I do not call anyone out. If I did any of these things, I would be revealing a hierarchical ideology that did not place things in order of importance to the child.
Parents appreciate this, but other adults in the game don’t get it. Many coaches deny or won’t process that the will to win does not allow them to disregard the opponents’ health and safety. Many coaches deny that their crystal ball is faulty on who are the best athletes. Does Project Play have good science that I can use to persuade coaches at clinics that a more pragmatic and less frustrating approach is available?
First, thank you for being positive with kids. It’s the right way to coach kids. Imagine if teachers treated their students the way some coaches treat their players. Parents wouldn’t stand for it. For decades, there was a notion that coaching behavior can be tolerated because of the bottom line (winning and player skill development). That philosophy seems to be evolving.
There is literature strongly suggesting that sports offer a unique opportunity for coaches to model and teach social, emotional and cognitive skills. Given how often kids are around coaches, a coach will likely have an influence on the child, either positively or negatively. This year, Project Play commissioned the EASEL Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to produce a white paper called Coaching Social and Emotional Skills in Youth Sports, which explains the evidence behind effective strategies for youth coaches.
A simple resource for your fellow coaches is our Calls for Coaches brief. This translates the white paper into actionable calls for coaches to implement in after-school and community-based sports leagues. There’s even a checklist at the very back. Coaches are encouraged to print it out and put it on their clipboard for practices and games.
We would also encourage you to have your fellow coaches take the free How to Coach Kids online course and use the website’s accompanying resources. There are resources by sport and topics, including how to keep kids physically and emotionally safe.
Finally, ask your coaches to think about what kids want out of sports. Do these coaches ask that question to their players? In a 2014 George Washington University study, nine out of 10 kids said “fun” is the main reason they participate. When asked to define fun, the kids offered up 81 reasons – and ranked “winning” at No. 48. Young girls gave “winning” the lowest ratings. Project Play has resources about the value of asking kids what they want.
As a parent and a coach, I want to offer a place for kids to free play some sports. I had the idea that I would rent out one of the local elementary school gyms and just let kids play. It turns out that I, as an individual, cannot simply do this because I need to have special insurance.
So, I looked into the insurance. But I can’t get it as an individual. I need to set up my own company – and on and on. Why can’t I find a place to let my kids and their friends free play sports? Why are there so many hoops for me to jump through? I pay about $250 per month in property taxes for these schools and I can’t even use them. It is super frustrating.
That’s frustrating. Without knowing all of the specifics of your situation, it’s difficult to say exactly why this is happening. Fear of liability is usually the greatest concern. You’re right about the broader point: schools offer a great opportunity to be a community hub for physical activity and unstructured free play.
First, find out if your local school district has a shared-use agreement for its gyms and fields to the public after school hours. Shared-use agreements allow public and private owners to broaden access to their underutilized facilities for community use. They’re something in writing that allows two entities to create needed boundaries for the use of a facility while opening up access to more kids.
Studies have shown that expanding recreation spaces through shared-use agreements has positive effects on increasing physical activity among children. Just having these conversations can open up doors, but there’s not a lot of information out there on best practices to create these agreements. One valuable resource is from Change Lab Solutions, which developed different models for shared-use agreements based on the relationship between the parties. Good luck.
This past spring season was the first real time with my kids that we had activities (soccer and lacrosse) happening at the same time for the same kids. This is something that many families face, but I have not found a lot on rules of thumb to use regarding calendar conflict.
I found this one post from a parent helpful: “Our basic rule of thumb is a tournament trumps a game, and a game trumps a practice. If games conflict, then the team with the fewest players/greatest need usually wins. When practices conflict, we try to be as fair as possible. If one team holds more frequent practices, the team that practices less frequently is the one we’ll attend. We try to be as fair as possible, but it is a balancing act.” Thoughts?
There is no doubt that the time demands on kids and parents are real. Our new youth sports parent study shows that kids who play lacrosse average 14.1 hours per week in the sport – more than any other sport and above the national average (11.87). Soccer’s average is 10.79. So, if your child meets those averages, he or she is playing soccer and lacrosse about 25 hours a week.
Worth considering: Should your kids really be playing two sports at the same time and for what purpose? Maybe your kids truly love both sports, and if so, that’s great. We are bullish about encouraging kids to play multiple sports. But what seems to be happening increasingly is that kids play multiple sports simultaneously – meaning they’re likely still playing one sport year-round against the advice of medical experts, who warn against burnout and overuse injuries when kids play too much.
What really needs to happen is sport providers in a community should talk with each other and come to agreement about how best to resolve scheduling conflicts, based first and foremost on the needs of a child. Right now, that rarely happens – organizations and coaches are operating in silos. That creates conflicts and health hazards, while also crowding out room for family dinners and free play, which is so important for youth and even athletic development (as Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw spoke about in support of our Don’t Retire, Kid campaign).
Stay tuned, as Project Play plans to release in the coming weeks the Teamwork Toolkit, a resource designed to help parents and local organizations talk with each other and develop a shared agenda to improve the state of youth sports in communities like yours.