Note: the opinions expresses in this blog post are from a parent who’s son plays at a high level of youth sport and not sour grapes from a parent who believes the amateur volunteer coach carries a vendetta against their children or their family. They are also founded on the basis of a degree in Kinesiology with emphasis on instruction & coaching, skill development and over twenty years in the business of personal training.
There we were right in the thick of everything wrong with youth sport. Aligning ourselves with the influencers, nodding in disbelief with every new piece of information and politicing with the coach while inadvertently compromising the most important aspect of all; our sons experience. We knew better, seven years of coaching 300+ days / year across many sports, you see & hear it all. Every well intended parent wanting ‘the best’ for their kids. How can that be wrong? Well, it’s wrong when it’s misguided.
We had the fortune of listening to Drew Mitchell. Drew is a head of state with the BC Sport Agency who has spent years collecting data on the practice & business of sport (from youth to community, to provincial & national sport organizations). Drew was at a conference we held around the decline of physical literacy and shared their findings;
- significant decline in enrollment at the ages of 11-12-13 due to the differentiation in coaching quality between rep & house levels
- secondary decline in participation at the ages of 13-14-15 due to those rep kids being pushed too hard and subsequently burning out.
- am alarming lack of overall physical literacy by the ages of 16 & 17 from the conditions above as well as social influencers such as gaming, poor nutrition habits, decreased activity time, dual income earners, PE cuts in schools all the way to PE teachers with poor literacy skills themselves.
We can personally attest to these findings as last year we were hired to lead a dryland training program for an ‘elite level’ program. We had big goals for the kids which all changed on day #1 when we found out 9/10’s of the 10 & 11 year old players lacked the basic physical literacy skills to stand, run, and move through space properly. Interestingly, these players were & still are considered ‘high level / rep athletes’, which tells us there may be even more work to do at the lower levels.
Through their research, Drew & his team are attempting to address these issues by attempting the following.
- share best coaching practices in a mentorship type formula
- encourage youth to be as active & try as many different sports as they can vs. skipping stages, or specializing in a single sport year round
- partner with initiatives that promote physical literacy at early ages (5-10) so activity, quality nutrition, PE programs & teacher training are introduced and reinforced in early stages of development.
Naturally we concur, however the lynch pin still relies on one very important character; the parent(s) who seemingly don’t’ understand or are not willing to take responsibility for just how much damage they are doing. We’re all familiar with ‘that parent’ who;
- stands rinkside yelling & coaching from behind the glass while his kid is playing hockey
- puts their kids in 50 different sports / year and wonders why mid season they just want to sleep or are chronically injured
- writes letters and files complaints every time their daughter / son is ‘wronged’ by the evil association of volunteers who donate their free time bcs they are passionate about youth sport.
- generally lives vicariously though their child under the auspice of ‘just wanting to provide the best for them’.
We’ve got news for this type of parent. The biggest favor you can do for your child, team & association is a) educate yourself prior to the season on what’s necessary b) disappear during practices or games or c) press your lips tightly together before, during and after practices & games and let those who are qualified to teach skill acquisition.... Teach skill acquisition.
- You probably wouldn’t try to dispense pills if you were not a pharmacist.
- You wouldn’t likely prepare tax forms if you weren’t an accountant.
- So don’t try to coach when you are not qualified to teach/coach youth sport.
*To be clear, coaching at youth sport is much more than stepping on the ice, pitch, pad, court, diamond or field and running a series of drills. Coaching is empowering confidence, inspiring performance, and building character, which if you are behaving like ‘that parent’ already... you’ve likely already blown. So while you’re scratching your head at how, where & why Johhny has a bad attitude, pull up a mirror.
What is clear is that the challenges with youth sport are real & widespread. With over 1/3rd of Canadian children being overweight and the ‘middle class’ of active/healthy children disappearing, it’s obvious we need a paradigm shift and we will need it quickly. What we can control is our influence and message and that needs to be fun as a 1st priority. Fun is the foundation of all performance at low / medium and high levels of sport (inclusive of winning), and we need to make sure we’re bringing that back at it’s essence in a non scripted, non pressured, no stigma manner.
With fun, there needs to be a specific intentional education on physical literacy, practiced and graded at the same frequency as reading & numeracy.
The time is now!