By Fred Engh
As a recreation professional, I came up with this statement many years ago: “As long as Billy and Mary Jones have a mother or father, you will never have to worry about having enough coaches in a youth-sports program.”
Why? Because I have yet to hear of any league shutting down because it couldn’t find anyone to coach. When the local league announces that baseball and softball signups will be held on a Saturday morning, Billy tells his parents he wants to play because Tommy’s playing. And Billy’s dad doesn’t realize it, but he is soon to become a baseball coach. When Saturday rolls around, there’s Billy’s dad being told, “We look forward to you signing up to help coach.” Therein is the dreadful phrase millions of parents have heard for years.
Plus, there are also parents who willingly volunteer, simply because they can’t stand the idea of someone else coaching their kid. After all, that person just might screw up their child’s shot at a major league career!
It’s an interesting and challenging dynamic. Read what these Certified Youth Sports Administrators had to say:
Linda Barnard, Recreation Manager for the San Francisco (Calif.) Recreation and Park Department: “The challenges we face with the recruitment of volunteers is the time commitment and availability. In San Francisco we are landlocked with our fields. In order for every team to have a practice time slot, we utilize every possible moment. The first practices begin at 2:30 on some fields, which is in the middle of most people’s work day. One way around this challenge is to work with the local colleges and universities in recruiting students who need hours to qualify for internships. We also have contacted some of the senior or retiree organizations, as they have more flexible schedules. We also work with the local police department and fire department for volunteer coaches.”
Tory Miller Mocock, Athletic Program Manager for the City of Raleigh (N.C.) Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department: “In the world of over-scheduling and too many things to do, we are finding during each season that parents are not the coaches. When we have teams without coaches, parents continue to say, “We’re just too busy.” This seems to be a sign of the times. We have tried to shift our focus in looking for coaches. Where we used to have all parents as coaches, we are now looking toward young professionals to fill these roles. We have utilized some of our adult athletic teams in order to advertise for coaches. We have positioned ourselves with some of the local universities and businesses. We are finding that early 20- to 30-year-olds are very interested in being involved in the community and are excited to give back.”
Ensuring Quality Volunteers
Barnard: “When recruiting volunteers, you never really know what you might be getting. It’s like a grab bag. You may get a diamond, or you may end up with a cubic zirconia. We have an extensive training program that is mandatory for all coaches, no matter how many years they have had in coaching. Using baseball as an example, we require coaches to attend one classroom training and two half-day field trainings. We also do our best to conduct a hands-on evaluation at practices. We have been blessed in finding and developing some very good coaches.”
Miller Mocock: “We all wish we could thoroughly screen coaches for skill level and coaching abilities. Unfortunately, we can’t, and sometimes we just have to put a body on a field. But our job does not end when we find a coach to supervise a team. It is our responsibility as league administrators and as Certified Youth Sports Administrators to turn that body into a coach. With new coaches the biggest concern we have is confidence—it is our job to assist in instilling and developing that confidence.”
Micki Soft-Heim, Sports Director for the Maize (Kan.) Recreation Commission: “We use the Parents Association for Youth Sports (PAYS) program with all of our parents, and I think that with this program they are less likely to act out, which makes people want to volunteer to coach more often. In the past few years, we have had too many volunteer coaches for certain leagues. We then contacted those who were new and asked if they wouldn't mind co-coaching with another volunteer. So far, this strategy has worked. Sometimes, if the volunteers don't want to co-coach, someone will step down and just offer to help out when needed.”
Miller Mocock: “We do allow our head coaches to utilize assistants as they see fit. Some coaches say, the more the merrier, while others prefer to have only one or two assistants to avoid conflicts of teaching techniques. We try to support the coaches with the approach they use, as long as they are falling in line with our overall vision and goals for the league.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit www.nays.org or contact Emmy Martinez at email@example.com or (800) 729-2057.