Making Headlines

Although only 3 percent of volunteer youth sports coaches are real jerks, they monopolize 95 percent of the media’s attention.

How do I know this? At our headquarters we continually receive reports from around the country of everything that is wrong with youth sports. You know what I’m talking about because you’ve read some of these accounts yourself.

There’s the fighting, bloodshed, arrest warrants and assault charges--all those ridiculous behaviors that make a mockery of youth sports--while traumatizing who knows how many children in the process.

Besides that unsavory 3 percent, I will throw out a couple more numbers. There are also 7 percent that I classify as borderline. These are the individuals who basically get what coaching youth sports is all about, but who also damage kids emotionally and physically at times--often without realizing it.

And then there is that wonderful 90-percent group. These are the moms, dads and other dedicated individuals around the country involved in youth sports for all the right reasons. They love teaching skills, building kids’ confidence, enhancing self-esteem, and making a positive difference in their lives.

Kudos To The 90-Percenters

This special group of men and women has a genuine passion for wanting to help kids have fun and rewarding experiences. This group deserves more of our attention and praise.

Sure, the majority get involved because they have a son or daughter on the team, and they may only stick around for a handful of seasons before their child moves on and they step back, but that doesn’t diminish their efforts--or their value.

These people recognize that sports provide a social outlet for kids, and there is great value in teaching teamwork and discipline as well as dealing with success and failure, among so many other key areas.

Years ago my group did an informal survey and found that the average volunteer coach spends roughly 80 hours with his or her team during the course of the season.

These people rush to the fields, courts and rinks, and deal with the never-ending challenges of running fun-filled and effective practices, motivating players, and helping them develop an array of skills to enhance their experience.

It’s not an easy job but they do it, and do it well.

Worthy Of Recognition

Volunteer youth sports coaches are just that--volunteers. Despite their efforts, there isn’t a paycheck awaiting them at the end of the week. Quite often there is little gratitude, either. Even worse, many endure unspeakable forms of abuse from parents--the ones who weren’t willing to volunteer their time--upset with how much playing time their child is receiving or what type of game-day strategy the coach employs.

As you go about your seemingly endless daily tasks, take a moment to realize that volunteers are what make organized youth sports happen.

And then think about what you do to acknowledge their efforts and show your department’s appreciation for their time and commitment. Host a Coach Appreciation Night at your facility to show the department’s gratitude. Or let the local newspaper know about the mom in the program who is at the facility every night because she volunteered to coach three different teams, or about the dad who has coached a team every season for years, even though his children have moved on.

When you look closely, these are the stories that help make youth sports so special and rewarding.

Sure, the fisticuffs and bloodshed will always have their spot in the news--and deservedly so--but there is always room for an uplifting story that acknowledges volunteers, while also putting a program in a positive light.

So, alert the local media and share with them the people who help make a program special.

The media will never know if you don’t tell them.

It’s up to you to make it happen.

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