What do you think is the biggest challenge in the youth sports culture, and what can be done about it?

I think the biggest challenge in our current youth sports culture is the education of parents.  Most parents have played sports, so they have this innate sense that they know what to do.  We want our children to be successful, but we’re not really sure how to go about it.  If we proceed with caution and patience, we’re afraid that all of the other kids are going to get ahead, and our kids won’t have a chance.  So we “push” just like everyone else, and thus continues the vicious cycle.  It’s all done out of fear.

There is a rush to higher levels of competition at younger ages and this is the reason that 75% of all kids quit all sports by the age of 13.  I propose an experiment that every soccer parent try.  Play a 10 minute game of soccer with 4-5 year olds (6-10 kids) where we have two (2) teams, one (1) ball and two goals.  Watch what happens.  The beehive moves around the field and only a couple of the kids get to touch the ball.  Now, play another game for only five minutes.  This time, have two (2) teams, give every player a ball, and add two more goals on the sides of the field.  Tell the children that they are to score as many goals as they can in 5 minutes.

At the conclusion of the game, ask the children which game they enjoyed the most.  (I already know the results, but most parents want to see a “real” game of soccer, even if the children and not yet psychologically or socially ready for it.)  Kids just want to have fun.

Most parents, when offered this second option where every child has a ball, would pass and choose to engage their child in a “one-ball” game.  Too bad!

How can parents navigate youth sports and have their children play for the long run?

How do I motivate young players to pay attention without using punishment?

Question: I have a few kids on my U-10 boys soccer team that do not pay attention every time I am giving out instructions or teaching them something. How do I motivate them to pay attention without using punishment?

Response:  First, you should know that you are not alone in this matter, and that this type of behavior is quite common in boys of this age group.  However, there are two very important sides to this issue, and I will address both.

When discussing behavior, I always find it best to begin my season by sharing my expectations with the players.  I let them know that when I am speaking, they must show respect and listen.  The same as they would do for a teacher in school.  Next, it is critical that you remain firm and consistent in the enforcement of this expectation.  If you are not, they will take advantage of you as much as you allow.

If you are further along in the season and the problem has escalated to the point that you can no longer tolerate it, then you need to have a team meeting.  I might suggest that you include the parents in the meeting.  (By doing so, you now have allies working to help you.)  In a very serious manner, you let the boys know that their lack of respect and attention has reached a point that is no longer acceptable.  Moving forward, they will be held accountable.  One way of doing this is to tell the boys that they will be asked to sit out for five minutes for their first transgression.  For the second occurrence, you will call their parents and have them picked up from practice.  This should get their attention.

Remember, it’s always easier to begin your season by being strict, but it’s critical that you remain firm and consistent throughout the entire season.

The other side of this issue that we sometimes get caught in as coaches, is that we tend to over coach.  It’s a good idea to constantly check yourself and make sure you are not falling into this category.  Kids don’t want to stand around and listen to us adults….they want to play!

The Impact of Tournaments on the Development of Players

How does your child’s participation in weekend tournaments impact the way you feel about his/her development?  In recent years, weekend tournaments have evolved into mega events for youth in all sports.  Kids seem to like them because they get to stay in hotels and hang out with all of their friends, swim in the hotel pool, run around the hotel, and generally do all kinds of fun, kids things.

Parents seem to enjoy them because it’s a great excuse to have a captured social audience.  Lots of pizza and beer, and the kids are off playing around the hotel.  I agree, a weekend get-away in a hotel with the families of our kids is often fun.

But what about the developmental question?  Is playing so many games or competing so intensely really good for young children?  Another challenge with this format is trying to match an appropriate level of competition.  Often times, you have teams or individuals competing at levels that are not commensurate with your own.  This usually results in many lopsided scores.

I come from the perspective that more is not always better.  In many sports, kids are competing in far more contests than we have ever seen in our recent past.  All of this with the notion that the more we compete, the better we get.  Wrong!  I propose a return to one game a week that is of high quality and good, even competition.  Couple this with a few good training sessions each week, where we can teach skills and communicate with players, and we’ll begin to see some real development of young players.

Dangling trophies in front of our kids and parents at weekend tournaments seems to elicit a change in perspective.  All of a sudden we shift from a philosophy where we want to develop young children to one that creates a frenzy to win that trophy.  Now we have kids, coaches, and parents who are just a bit more revved up to win, combined with the struggle to find adequate referees, and we have a recipe for disaster. 

Wouldn’t it be nice to save a little money, spend some quality time with our families, and play one really competitive game on the weekend?

Second Nature Sports is a program that helps develop coaches that work with children in the game of Soccer. Second Nature has designed Coaching Newsletters, DVD's,Workshops and a book that will foster purposeful fun at practice and during games. Our goal is to help children learn the sport, feel confident and love coming to practice! This philosophy will keep them coming back year after year.

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