Culpable Coaching

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a volunteer coach nearly three decades ago.

I had just created the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA), a training program for volunteer coaches to help them get a handle on their roles and responsibilities to best meet the needs of the children under their care.

A local youth baseball league had mandated the NYSCA program for its coaches, so I attended to see how the program would be received.

Early in the training videotape, a prominent psychologist was featured, discussing the role of winning and losing in youth sports, why kids play sports, and why they quit.

During a break in the program, one of the coaches approached me, and totally caught me off-guard when he asked if I thought he should be a coach.

Perplexed, I responded with a question of my own: “Why are you asking me this?”

He said that when he listened to what the psychologist had to say, as well as what the other coaches in the room brought up during some of the breakout sessions regarding winning and their roles as volunteers, he began to question his own motives.

“I’ve been coaching baseball for several years, and for me it’s always been about winning the league title,” he told me. “Now, I’m starting to realize that that’s not what it’s all about.”

I smiled. This man got it.

“You just told me that this program works,” I said.

He started to walk away but then turned back and said, “I have to tell you something--I’ve damaged a lot of kids.”

The Accountability Factor

I’m sharing that exchange because I am continually amazed how little accountability there is in youth sports today.

Through the years I have often wondered if that coach really did get it after our conversation ended. Did he soak up the right message and walk away from that training session a changed man--and an improved coach? Or did he revert to his old ways the moment the scoreboard lit up and turned his focus to winning games?

I don’t know.

And that’s part of what drives me today when stressing the importance of making volunteers accountable.

Yes, volunteer-coach training is important. Moms and dads who volunteer to coach teams need all the quality resources they can get their hands on. We want them to make a positive difference in the kids who show up for practices and step onto fields and courts for games.

Yet, organizations that train their coaches--but don’t have a system of accountability in place--are fooling themselves.

And they are risking causing major harm to kids.

It’s a gamble that’s not worth taking.

Leagues that offer training--whether it’s through NYSCA or another outlet--must have some type of monitoring arrangement in place once coaches begin running practices and overseeing games.

Kids Or Adults--You Decide

Take a step back and ask yourself if your programs are truly meeting the needs of children, or do they tend to lean more toward appeasing the adults? If volunteer coaches aren’t adhering to the philosophies of the program, that’s a problem. Furthermore, if you’re not aware--or unable to track everyone with the dozens of duties you have to tend to--that’s a much bigger problem. Plus, it makes the bulk of your training fairly useless.

NYSCA recently unveiled a coach-rating system that allows administrators the opportunity to obtain comprehensive feedback on every coach in their program. The system gathers information on all the key coaching areas. In addition, it can be used by coaches interested in learning what areas, if any, they need to improve on. It also allows coaches to have a clearer understanding of what type of impact they are having on the kids.

I urge you to check it out at and I’d love to hear what you think.

Our youth sports programs are no better than the volunteers who coach all the teams--and every one of them must be held accountable.

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 He can be reached via e-mail at