I think for most kids, at some point, they dream of playing professional sports. I know I did as a kid. My dream ended with surgery after a miserable year of baseball playing for a small college. I think lots of parents have that dream for their kids as well. However, the reality is that your son or daughter is probably not going pro. The stats are pretty grim. From high school to the pros here are the stats on high school athletes going pro: Football:.09%, Baseball .5% Basketball .03%, Soccer .08%. Not very good at all. (notice baseball seems like the best option, but that is going pro – which includes the minor leagues). However that will not deter many parents from pushing their kids to the brink through youth sports. Although I do believe that you should always allow your kids to dream of going pro. I admit it’s a pretty awesome day dream!
I had no idea the amount of select teams, travel teams and opportunities to keep your kids in sports all year-long. And no I am not one of those parents that thinks each child needs to be in a select league. I think that too much too soon can lead to burnout and overexposure for a child. I believe that kids just need to be super active, having fun, getting exercise and that will help them to develop the skills they need to excel in sports, which can be going to the park with their friends and playing pick-up games. For my boys, they will have the chance to join a select team once they are really old enough to make the decision and are prepared to put in the time that is required. At this point neither of them are there yet. I am also a big fan of doing multiple sports. I know as a parent I love the changing seasons and the excitement that each new sports season brings. I think I would be bored to have my kids in just one sport all year round.
Granted we are a big sports household and both our boys are constantly going from one sport season to the next. Thus I am not different than anyone else for that matter. We all want what’s best for our kids. Which we all should strive for as parents. We want them to succeed in everything they do, which includes sports. The barrage of sports has led to my involvement in coaching. My first adventure in coaching started early. Jessica and I were on a walk with Colby in a stroller he wasn’t very old. We were walking by a park where a baseball team was practicing. I stopped and was watching the team practice. The coach broke out his players into various drills and was teaching some techniques that were totally wrong. I watched in shock and wanted to jump in and tell the coach that what he was teaching was totally incorrect. Jess wisely stopped me from saying anything. My feeling became that I had to volunteer to coach since I didn’t want someone teaching my kids bad technique. If anyone was going to teach them bad technique, it would be me. Since that day, I have been involved with football – flag and tackle, baseball, and wrestling.
Through the process of writing this blog over the years, I have realized that some of the people who have had some of the greatest lasting impacts on me were coaches that I had during high school and competing in youth sports. I still repeat things that I learned to my kids. “Can’t aint a word”, “Winning takes care of itself”, “Put the hay in the barn”. I model lots of what I do as a coach after what I learned. Heck for flag football, the basis of my playbook is the ISO series that Gene Yerabek brought to Tolt/Cedarcrest High Schools. That series of plays led to a couple of undefeated flag football teams. My time spent playing sports has shaped the way I respond to life and for sure how I approach coaching. Over the past several years, I think I have learned several things from coaching.
I would like to think that I do an OK job working with kids, but I am sure that there are some that didn’t like my approach, or were offended by how I handled something with their child. I think that its probably impossible to coach and not have some type of issue like that. I am also sure that I have some other coaches that I am on their top list of coaches whom they would like to beat. Most likely for something I did against their team. But that is part of the job. You are not going to please everyone…
Here are some of the things that I have learned and the philosophy I try to use when I am coaching.
1. Have Fun: That is the most important part of sports, to have fun. I typically think the kids always do a great job at this, but parents are the ones who typically ruin this for the kids. My goal each year is that every kid I coach will be excited for each practice and game and will want to play the sport the following year. If every kid I coach wants to play again the following year, then my main job is done.
2. Teach technique that lasts: This is a huge one. I think baseball is the biggest offender. Coaches will take a kid that is struggling at the plate and have them fake bunt or take pitches, hoping they walk. That might work as they are young. But the reality is that they need to learn to hit the ball or they will never get better. Sloppy technique can work in lower leagues, but stops working as kids get older. I would rather watch one of my boys fail with good technique than get lucky with poor technique.
3. Try to put kids in a position to succeed: Typically I spend a fair amount of time, trying to figure out the best place for each kid to play. With the goal being to allow each kid the opportunity to succeed. Often times in youth sports, I think kids are either not given the chance to succeed or are put in a very difficult spot to succeed. For example, in baseball, if you are working in a new pitcher, don’t bring him late in the game with runners on, have him start an inning so that the pressure is less. If you help a kid to succeed it builds their confidence, which is huge and can last a season.
4. Structure, but still fun: I would not consider myself a “yeller” when I coach, but I do try to set the tone early with rules about paying attention and following the rules. I put in ways to get the kid’s attention quickly and then teach them to focus in when I need them to. I don’t like it when the kids are goofing off too much. Setting the early tone is huge, if you give them an inch, they will take a mile. But at the same time you can’t be all structure, you need to let them have some fun.
5. Everyone needs encouragement: Encouragement feels good and helps keeps kids motivated. I try to give kids that high five or nice comment to keep their heads up and them being positive. Some parents are not fond of coaches that are considered “hard” or who are yellers, but my take is that a coach can be hard on his/her players, if they provide the corresponding love and encouragement. The player needs to feel supported by their coach, even if they are tough on them.
6. Each kid is unique: It’s true, I don’t treat each kid equally. I do try to provide equal opportunity, but I try to treat each kid based upon their unique personality. The same things do not work on each kid, so I try to figure out how to work with each kid on their terms, so they will listen and be receptive to what I am saying. When I am working with Colby and Cade, I treat them completely different because they each have very different personalities.
7. Winning takes care of itself: This is one that I took from Ralph Kuehn, my high school wrestling coach – his brother Art would also say the same thing. Sometimes the more we worry about winning the more difficult it becomes. It is when we focus on playing hard and our best that typically winning will happen. In my opinion there is nothing worse then watching a kid end up in tears after a strikeout or lost game. There are too many other things in life to cry about. Youth sports should not be one of them. If someone asks me the score, my response is always zero to zero. If I am asked who we are playing, my response is always the best team in the league. About halfway through the season the kids stop asking me those questions.
8. It’s always about the kids: In the end, youth sports are all about the kids, not the parents. Sometimes as parents we forget that.
9. Coaching your kids is not always easy: The truth is that I am harder on my kids than anyone else. I expect more from them and come down harder on them when they make a mistake than other players. This is something that is still a work in process for me as it is a super hard thing not to do. I remember talks with my Dad about this. He coached me when I was young and then coached Keri as we got older. When I asked about that, he said that he thought that boys sports became way too political and didn’t want that to negatively impact me, thus he worked with Keri as at that time, girls sports didn’t have quite the same political fireworks. However, he was always the first person I went to after games for advice.
10. Ask for something and you get the opposite: Kids will always ask if they can leadoff, get the hand-off called to them or be first for anything. My rule is that if you ask to be first, you will then be last. I have all of my line-ups pre-set before the game, thus I don’t honor in game requests. I think the moment you give in to a request, then you are setting yourself up to let the kids run the show.
Granted I am not the perfect coach by an means, but I try to do the right thing. I am sure that I have also failed at some of the items I just listed many times. But like the kids, I am constantly learning and growing too. As much as I would like to think I try to leave the ultra competitive side of me at home. Because really the more important goal then winning is to develop the kids skills. However, I have succumb to the desire to win. I have to admit this was not my finest moment as a coach and some would probably not worry about this for more than a second, but it still bugs me that I have let winning drive the bus. I also crossed one of the cardinal rules of coaching your own son. Don’t bench another kid to put yours in the limelight. It was flag football play-offs, I was coaching Cade. His team had gone through the regular season undefeated. We found ourselves down by 4 with about 2 minutes to go, thus this was our final drive. Without hesitation, I subbed in Cade and put him at QB, putting a kid on the bench who should have played that whole half. I called the next play to one of the best players on the team and he ran the ball down to the 2 yard line. Basically the game came down to one play, if we get a TD, we win and advance to the next week, if we lose, our season ends. I won’t go through the rules of flag football, but on this one play, we were required to pass, thus no two yard run to end-zone and victory. (yes think the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, but you can’t call a running play.) Thus my sub to Cade came into play, he tossed the winning pass on the final play of the game. Game over. We won and then advanced to the next week. I still feel guilty about that series. I think as a coach that was the one time, that I threw out everything and just did what I needed to do to win the game. It was not my finest moment. It still bugs me.
Nope I am not perfect. I do my best and try as much as I can to adhere to the items I listed above, but I do know that I am not banking on my kids going pro. I want them to have fun, learn some life skills, learn success, learn failure, be active and as I repeat have fun. And I do know that I have a blast coaching and plan on doing it as long as I can…or as long as my boys will allow me to.