Let’s face it, without all the moms and dads and other individuals who step forward to coach teams around the country every year, organized sports programs as we know them would disintegrate.
These volunteers--the ones who surrender time after work to run practices during the week and devote Saturdays to coaching games--make programs happen. How they interact with the kids, design practices, teach skills, and behave during games directly impact whether youngsters have a positive or negative experience.
It’s also a major factor in whether kids decide to continue with a sport or bail out.
Sure, most of these folks do a fantastic job, and I applaud them for being positive role models and changing young lives for the better. Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, it’s downright scary how we continue to allow far too many coaches on our fields and courts--you know the type I’m talking about--who shouldn’t be overseeing children.
Bad Coaching Breeds Problems
There are many coaches working with limited knowledge when it comes to children and sports.
Now, I’m not talking about the X’s and O’s of the sport.
I’m talking about the really important areas--building levels of confidence and self-esteem, teaching sportsmanship and winning and losing with grace, and abiding by the rules and respecting officials.
Think about it this way: We require teachers to have specialized training and go through job-performance reviews to weed out the lousy ones and those who just aren’t cut out for teaching children.
Yet in youth sports, which I’ll argue is equally as important in a child’s development as what happens in the classroom, many programs don’t have an answer for the lousy coaches in their communities.
They rant and rave on the sidelines, disrespect officials, deflate their players’ confidence, slice away at their self-esteem, and show up again next season at league sign-up time to do it all over again.
Since many programs have hundreds of coaches, it is almost impossible to track the behavior of every single volunteer and determine who’s really good and who really shouldn’t have a whistle and a group of kids calling him or her ”coach.”
Rating The Coaches
The National Youth Sports Coaches Association--the organization I started to help volunteer coaches get a handle on their roles and responsibilities--has been the nation’s training leader since 1981. We’ve launched a state-of-the-art evaluation system through our Web site (www.nays.org) that allows recreation agencies to identify the coaches who are doing things the right way, as well as those who should be sent packing for the negative impact they’re having on kids.
In brief, the system allows league administrators who are affiliated with the National Alliance for Youth Sports to provide a digital link for parents to evaluate coaches. The link can either be placed within an e-mail or posted directly on a league or organization’s Web site. The questions hit all the key coaching areas, such as safety, sportsmanship, teaching skills, etc.
Coaches can log on and see how parents rate them. The parents’ answers are confidential, but a coach can see his or her average score in each category, perhaps finding an area to work on for improvement.
For the league administrator, low overall scores probably signal a problem that needs examining. Perhaps a brief chat with the coach to reinforce the program’s philosophies is all that’s needed to get him or her back on track. It also provides administrators the opportunity to validate or reject complaints from parents. When an administrator receives a call from a parent about a particular coach, other parents can be asked to evaluate the coach and determine if the complaint is valid or if that parent just might not be happy with the child’s playing time.
If a league’s true desire is to have the best program possible only with coaches who are doing what’s best for kids, we need evaluation tools in place to hold coaches accountable for their actions.
We’re accountable for our behavior in all other areas of society. It’s time we held our volunteer coaches accountable, too.
Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla., which has been advocating positive and safe sports for children since 1981. He is also the author of “Why Johnny Hates Sports,” which is available on Amazon.com. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org