Practice Pitfalls

Being a physical-educator by profession, I am more sensitive than most to the health benefits that organized sports provide--when they are conducted the right way.

But there are plenty of youth-sports coaches who arrive at fields and courts unprepared to conduct beneficial practices. And players suffer as a result.

One of the basics of coaching kids is keeping everyone engaged--not forcing players to stand in lines like statues, waiting endlessly for a few coveted seconds of action fielding a ground ball or lofting a jump shot.

Sobering Study

Researchers from San Diego State University monitored 200 children ages 7 to 14 from more than 25 teams in the San Diego area during soccer, baseball and softball practices.

Sensors tracking the athletes’ levels of physical activity determined the children were inactive an average of 30 minutes per practice. That amount of standing-around time translates into boredom rather than fun and skill development.

Experts recommend that children have 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day; many parents assume that their child is meeting this quota during practices.

Also, the study found that only 24 percent of the participants met the 60-minute recommendation; the numbers dipped significantly among the 11- to 14-year-olds--only 10 percent were achieving the recommended levels of exercise.

What’s more, girls generally were active approximately 11 minutes less than boys, while softball and baseball players were active about 14 minutes less than soccer players. In girls’ softball, players had particularly low activity levels with only 2 percent achieving the recommended minimum.

Time To Change

How many readers remember playing for a coach or enduring a gym class where you stood in line behind a dozen other kids, wondering why you were there and bored out of your mind? There’s no need for more children to suffer the same fate.

On the flip side, youth athletic programs certainly don’t need volunteers going overboard and adopting the drill-sergeant mentality to keep kids on the move, either.

What they do need are volunteers who understand the importance of crafting practice plans well in advance--not at the stoplight on the drive over to the field, or at the start of practice as a dozen sets of eyes anxiously wait to get started.

They need coaches who are focused on keeping every child involved--from the super-talented to the uncoordinated.

And they need volunteers who minimize standing-around time, who focus on providing a steady diet of action.

Pay a visit to the practices going on at your facility this week. You may be shocked at what you see. Now the question is, what are you going to do about it?

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.