Takeaways From Sports

By Fred Engh

Years ago, I was conducting a coaching youth-sports seminar in Louisiana, and after the presentation a man in his mid-40s approached me.

He shared that he had coached youth sports for many years and had recently received a phone call from one of his former players whom he had coached about 15 years earlier.

The player was calling with a question: Would his former coach serve as the best man at the player’s upcoming wedding?

The coach was obviously surprised and wondered why this former player wasn’t simply choosing a sibling or friend to fill this important role.

The player—whose Dad left home at age seven—responded that it was the coach who had made him into what he was, and that without his encouragement and teaching life lessons, the player knows his life would have veered down an ugly path.

So, he’s forever thankful for the lessons learned on those fields of his youth.

That’s what coaching youth sports is all about, and that only happens when programs stress that to the volunteers who come on board to coach kids.

Check out what some Certified Youth Sports Administrators (CYSAs) had to say on the subject of making sure young athletes are leaving fields and courts with the tools to navigate life:

Eduardo Martinez, Park, Recreation and Open Spaces Manager III for Miami-Dade (Fla.) County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces: In Miami-Dade County, the youth-sports programs are run by Community-Based Organizations. They are guided through our Programming Partnership Ordinance. The programs mandate that all coaches much have specific training. I would say most of our Community-Based Organizations have coaches who not only teach X’s and O’s, but also teach each player some life skill. I have seen firsthand coaches talking to kids about the importance of respect and how to be a good teammate. Those two go hand in hand. A player cannot be a good teammate unless he is respectful. You encourage the kids to shake hands after a game regardless if they won or lost. You teach them not to heckle opposing players. You teach them not to make fun of others. You teach them to be a teammate, not an individual player. They win as a team; they lose as a team. You teach them to work hard and overcome adversity. I have seen these attributes in most of the Community-Based Organizations. They also have policies in place governing these aspects. The concept of working as a team in real life is important in today’s society. Individuals are not as successful as a team of professionals. Kids should be educated as to proper morals and values, so they can be successful in life. Finally, they should be educated on the importance of hard work, networking, and building relationships. All of that translates to their future careers.

Jeff Shelton, Recreation Specialist for Naval Station Rota, Spain Youth Sports and Fitness Program: Here at Rota, I try to meet at least one of the parents of each of my 400-plus kids in the program. I explain the philosophy of the program and inform them that their child is now a part of the Rota Youth Sports Family. I have my staff or coaches greet each child as he or she enters the sports facility so the child has to respond respectfully to the adults in the program, and if they do not, we instruct them on proper communication on the fields or courts to ensure the child knows the proper response. The pre-season parent brief reiterates the code of conduct for all participants in our programs. The coaches, parents, players and officials are all held accountable for their actions. They are all briefed on the by-laws, rules, and an expectation of sportsmanship, and know and understand the consequences for not following the rules.

We do our best to ensure that our program gives a unique sports experience that makes a complete child—not a complete athlete.

Kristen Maiden, Program Supervisor for Evendale (Ohio) Recreation: We believe we are making a difference in the lives of our youth by instilling good sportsmanship and teaching all participants the skills they need to advance. That, in turn, will impact the rest of their lives. The coaches are reminded of that when wearing a coach’s shirt; they represent the community through their behavior. We spread the importance of good sportsmanship by relaying our expectations ahead of time and having staff monitor practices and games.

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