Curbing Overzealous Coaches

The concussion issue—and all the talk it has generated—is minor compared to the damage caused by some overzealous youth-football coaches. I’m talking about a guy you trust, who is with your child for a few hours a week, out of sight, pretending he knows how to coach.

After many, many years of working closely with recreation agencies nationwide, I believe that youth football has some of the worst individuals on the field with kids, macho men who probably never made it in football and couldn’t care less about the safety of kids. They are all about winning at whatever cost. They need to prove that, after all, they aren’t losers, and they will prove it by training a championship team. These people are damaging kids physically, emotionally, and psychologically by making them pawns in their little game of “Hey, I’m a big-time football coach.”

After undergoing concussion training, provided by many youth football programs today, these coaches ignore the training that will keep children safe.

Here’s how some Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSA) are dealing with this serious issue:

Better Coaching Staff

Rance Gaede, athletics supervisor for the city of Tamarac (Fla.): “We had similar issues with the tackle-football program in our community three years ago. This group was formed by a contingent of parents approximately 20 years ago and had operated at our fields through an agreement with the city.  In 2012, we began to look closely at who was coaching and how they were selected.  We found coaches who hadn’t been screened and were not the representatives we wanted for a program in our city. We forced the board to disband and opened up the opportunity for running a youth football program to any group that wanted to make a reasonable proposal. The proposal had to include procedures for recruiting, interviewing, and ‘hiring’ volunteer coaches. The city would handle (at no charge to the league) all of the background checks. Because of a recent policy, all of our volunteers have to submit to a level 2 background check that is performed in our offices, so that was the first group that went through that process.

“That policy has provided the program with a much better coaching staff. Coaches must sit for interviews with the board of the league before the city screens them. This approach gives both parties a chance to impart our philosophy of youth sports. It was not an easy transition as we lost players over the first two years. This past year, though, we had the largest turnout we have seen in tackle football, which is surprising, given the negative publicity on youth playing tackle football.  We have grown, not because our football teams were great, but because we provided the best experience for the kids. It began with great leadership and setting an example for coaches working directly with the players. The board also has an appointed director of coaching who meets with the coaches on a weekly basis to cover important items, but also to re-emphasize the importance of being positive leaders.

“The problem with tackle football, and sometimes with youth sports in general, is with the volunteers we select to lead our kids. Because our new model has worked, we have since applied it to all of our youth sports within the city.”

Moral Courage

Jeff Ryder, Athletic & Fitness Manager for the Huntley Park District in Illinois: “For all sports in our community, a pre-season meeting between the administration and coaches is a must. We divide the meeting into two sessions. The first session takes about 90 minutes and relates to all of our sports. We discuss the philosophy of our programs, the role and expectations of the coaches, the role of the administration, players, and parents, and the importance for all of the adults involved to work together to make the best possible experience for the kids. The second session lasts about 60 to 90 minutes and is more sport-specific. We typically cover administrative issues for the particular league, league rules, and safety concerns. The goal is that every coach leaves with an understanding of the objectives of the league, the safety considerations, and the expectations for behavior.

“The other part of these sessions is to demand accountability during the season. I have seen other organizations set up great league policies and host meetings, but fail to make the coaches accountable. You can’t just brush off behavior that goes against the standards we have set and communicated without having accountability. Without accountability, the problems will only grow. To me, having the moral courage to stand up for what is right for kids is one of the key character traits for both good administrators and coaches.”

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