Dear Youth Sports Organizations:
What is the most important thing when it comes to youth sports? Is it to develop children to play a sport? Is it to maximize exercise for the most people? Is it to develop talent for the NCAA and accrue scholarships to gain schooling? Is it for recreation, for fun and to get to know others in the community? Is it to win at various levels?
Youth sport organizations are almost entirely run by volunteers; they have paid staff, but much of that ‘person power,’ including coaches and managers, are parents who volunteer. I am grateful to these organizations, and so far my boys have had positive experiences.
As someone who has been involved in coaching and organizing youth athletics leagues for the past twenty years, I recognize there is tension between competition and participation.
Parents are not neutral. If we have our own children on the team, which is the norm, we must be careful to ensure that our players are treated equally. Things such as equal playing time and rotating people through all the positions work well.
I have heard stories and seen children not liking sports, but playing because their parent is interested. Children under ten show up ready to play and only get a couple of minutes of playing time.
Things are not always equal, from playing time and preferred positions to getting the numbers you would like. Children need to learn to deal with losing and the adversity that comes with playing sports. It makes them stronger. At the same time, it is incumbent on the adults to take care of the children who are playing and give them a positive experience.
In the past month I have witnessed my son’s coaches give him water while he was in goal for hockey, and shading him with their clipboard when he was on the sideline for soccer. In addition, I see many parent volunteers working with club coaches and volunteering countless hours to give everyone a positive experience.
The most important thing is that we have each child’s interest in mind: that we as coaches value and emphasize fair play, sportsmanship and equal playing time; that children have fun, positive experiences that may lead to a lifetime of playing the sport; and that they reap the benefits that stem from athletics, such as the fitness and lifelong connections.
Organizations must have a concrete set of values and then train people to follow their vision. Even though people begin with the best intentions, if left for people to decide, it is too easy to not create a fair, positive environment. Players and parents will know and appreciate when things are run fairly. We owe it to our children.
Dave Proctor, Coquitlam