Youth sports organizations (YSOs) provide a valuable service: a safe way for kids to learn the fun of sports and to build physical fitness in a supervised manner. Unfortunately, youth sports can disappoint everyone involved when parents don't do enough research before signing their kids up to play a sport.
As a parent, it is important to take the same care in choosing a YSO as you would a day care center. You wouldn't place your child in day care with people who weren't trained to work with kids, yet when it comes to youth sports, many parents never take time to research a YSO and interview coaches before signing up their child for a team to know whether they have received even minimal training.
Coaches aren't qualified simply because they love the sport
Most coaches are volunteers. They may or may not know how to teach children. If a YSO's training consists solely of teaching volunteer coaches about logistics, such as how to fill out and turn in score sheets and what to do in case games are rained out, your child may very well be assigned a coach who doesn't know how to teach and lead kids.
YSOs are managed and run locally and have different philosophies
Just because a YSO is affiliated with a national organization like Little League Baseball® or the United States Specialty Sports Association (USSSA), don't assume that they dictate how the local organization is managed and run. Local management sets the tone for and culture of the program, which in turn greatly influences the attitudes and emphasis of its coaches and teams. It is important for parents to ask some crucial questions about the people to whom they are entrusting their children.
Listed below is a checklist of questions for parents to determine if a YSO and its coaches share their philosophy and values. Communication between parents and coaches is vital. Being proactive about evaluating a coach and YSO increases the likelihood that your child will have a great season.
Questions for YSO directors:
1. Do the YSO have a mission statement and, if so, what does it say? A league's mission statement should be focused on providing a healthy environment for kids that encourage the coaches and kids to have fun. If that isn't the mission, go somewhere else.
2. How are coaches selected and what training do they receive?
- Are criminal background checks performed?
- What sport-specific skills training do coaches receive?
- Do coaches have experience teaching the sport?
- Is leadership training provided to coaches?
- Are coaches taught how to coach and work with kids and about child development?
- If the YSO provides coaches with a training manual, is it available for review?
3. What does the program do to minimize the risk of injury to participants? Are fields and equipment properly maintained and periodically inspected for safety?
4. How are conflicts between parents and coaches resolved? (The absence of a formal conflict resolution process may indicate that the program doesn't want input, or has no way to resolve issues.)
- In the event of conflict, does the program engage in follow-up to make sure it was satisfactorily resolved?
- Does the program encourage feedback from parents? Are parents asked to evaluate the program and the coach at the end of every season?
Questions for the Coach:
- Has he or she coached before? If so, how would he or she think other parents, if asked, would describe their coaching style?
- How accessible will she be outside of practice if you need to talk? The coach should be willing to give you a contact number and return phone calls within a reasonable amount of time.
- What are his or her goals for the season? (Listen to hear if they share your goals for your child.)
- Is he respectful of the players? Encouraging? Prepared?
Youth sports should be about building up kids, instilling leadership qualities, and encouraging a love for physical activity that will follow children throughout their life. By asking questions like these in advance, parents can pick the program that best suits the needs of their child and their values.
Debbie Lantz is a single sports mom and the author of the book, I Just Want to Play, which contains other helpful tips for parents on how to make sure their child survives and thrives in the competitive world of youth sports, which can be ordered by visiting her website.