Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Technology To Solve Youth Sport’s Big Problem

   Here's a guest post from Brian Covert, Community Builder with Up My Game, a company that connects athletes and coaches, using video analysis to enhance individual skill development. Brian takes a look at youth sports participation, some discouraging trends, and offers a suggestion on how to help keep kids playing.

There is a problem with participation in youth sports.

Unknown to many though is just how big the problem is. Right across the board, no matter the sport, the number of children starting and staying active in sports is decreasing. The good news is that technology offers solutions that could help reverse the trend.

A Drop-off in Participation

But first it’s important to understand just how serious this downward trend has become. The data, tabulated by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and presented by the Wall Street Journal, says the numbers of kids aged six to 17 playing the four most-popular sports - baseball, football, basketball, and soccer - declined from 2008 to 2012. Surprisingly it’s basketball that saw the largest drop off, losing 8.3% of participants over the study while soccer dropped 7.2% of its players, baseball 7.2%, and football down 5.4 %. These numbers become increasingly worrying when placed against the backdrop of a childhood obesity epidemic along with concerns over childhood bullying and the like.

No Fun, and Some Reasons Why

But to properly evaluate possible solutions, we must understand why these children are dropping out in the first place. According to data from ESPN’s 2013 Kids In Sport Focus, the most often cited reason (the reasons were presented in a list and participants were able to check off multiple reasons) given by both boys and girls for leaving sport is that “they were not having fun.” Unfortunately, this is largely subjective as the survey can’t determine exactly what is and not fun. Going down the list a clearer picture begins to take shape: 22% of boys and 18% of girls said they didn't get along with their coach, 18% and 16% reported not getting along with their teammates, and 15% of both felt they just weren't good enough.

What this data does is paint a picture of a young athlete who just isn't developing or able to participate in a sport to a level they feel they should. These feelings then lead to a belief they are inadequate, that leads to feelings of resentment towards both coach and teammates, which leads to the feelings that the sport is no longer fun which inevitably ends in the youth leaving the sport altogether. The whole scenario is quite heartbreaking and is the exact antithesis of what youth sport should all be about.

However, studies suggest several approaches to address this problem. Among the top are focusing once again on the fun aspects of the game, encourage effort and not focus on results, and skill development.

Skill Development

This is where adopting technology into youth sports can come in. And the most promising technology application in this regard is online video analysis. The reason for this is that these video analysis applications can directly address skill development which in turn gives a young player confidence which then helps them to have more fun playing the sport.

One study that looked at the correlation between video analysis and skill development was done in Italy where a group of female volleyball players were divided into two groups - the first, a control group who received no special treatment and the second, an experimental group that used video analysis of their technique but got no feedback from their coach. The results showed “the importance of video analysis training and visual feedback” and that the “the experimental group improved more and in less sessions.” Putting the improvement into numbers, the experimental group saw a 12% improvement over the control group in terms of blocking and spiking success over the 10 week experiment. Now imagine a coach providing instruction and feedback. With this additional input, video analysis would become an even better tool.

There are several companies offering up video analysis technology to coaches and athletes alike. And while all these companies vary in functionality and such, they all operate around the same premise: that through technology any athlete can receive positive feedback on their skills and technique from any coach from anywhere at anytime.

This technology holds very exciting possibilities for sport development. In fact, it’s quite realistic that these technologies can help address the majority of the reasons youth are dropping out of sport. Through use of video analysis technology, any young athlete can get one-on-one coaching for any part of their game they may be struggling with. The opportunities for positive reinforcement abound and focusing on skill development is of utmost importance. With this focus on development, there is the potential for the young athlete to develop and to discover what is fun about sport.

Improved Skills, More Confidence, More Fun

It would be wrong to say these technologies are the one and only solution for keeping kids engaged in sports. But they certainly have the potential to become a very important tool. Through these applications, kids can receive the attention and positive reinforcement they need to properly develop their skills. That will give them confidence which in turn leads them to having more fun. And in the end, that is what’s most important.

Editor's Note: Individual skill development undoubtedly plays a large role in whether a child perceives sports as "fun." As Brian states above, and as I have echoed in my books and this blog, improved skills lead to more confidence, success, and a desire to further improve. Establishing this "virtuous circle" is key. Besides skill development tools like video analysis or my How to Rock Sports apps for young beginners, there are other ways in which parents can help make sports for their child more fun. Providing opportunities for kids to engage in self-directed pickup play is chief among them. In this setting, "process" is emphasized. Kids play the way they want to. Games can be competitive, or played more for relaxed fun. Kids play different roles (scorer, defender, etc.) depending on the mix of players. Everyone plays. Community is established. And the child continues to play and enjoy sports!

Brian Covert is a Community Builder with Up My Game (, developers of an app that is committed to helping athletes and coaches connect and communicate.

Up My Game's aim is to help athletes improve their performances by perfecting their skills and training, believing this is possible when the athlete-coach relationship is combined with video analysis and a process of learning, analyzing, and measurement. Up My Game's goal is to provide its users with an environment where this is possible

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Friday, July 11, 2014

Free - The Joy of Youth Sports E-book

  To celebrate the release of our How to Rock Sports series of sports instructional apps for kids, we've got a special offer for our readers. Starting today through July 15th, you can download The Joy of Youth Sports for free!

This short book provides parents with a concise overview of how to create a great youth sports experience for their child. It includes 5 steps that parents need to take to help their child both compete and have fun.

And if you haven't checked it out already, take a look at our free Let's Play Ball app on the Google Play store. This is an introduction to the How to Rock Sports series and includes a number of instructional tips that can help a young child get in the game and have more fun.

Finally, if you're looking for a gift for your older athlete, check out The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports: What Every Athlete Needs to Know to Play, Win, and Have Fun. Endorsed by leaders in the sports community, this book contains tips, techniques, and approaches that will help any player, in any sport, improve his or her game. It's also an excellent read for parents who want to provide guidance and instruction to their child.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Friday, June 27, 2014

The Art of Throwing a Baseball

   Most of us who enjoy sports probably laughed the first time we saw the Volkswagen commercial of the father and son playing catch. (For those of you who haven’t seen it, click on the picture.)

Of course the father and son have it all wrong. Even those who never played baseball probably recognized that something just wasn't right. But what?

Years ago, before girls participated widely in sports, a boy watching the video might have remarked, “They throw like a girl!” That’s because many girls back then, and some boys, were never taught the most basic aspect of throwing a baseball--lead with the leg opposite the throwing arm.

A goal of the How to Rock Sports app series is to teach young kids these important skill elements--the fundamental aspects of key sports skills like throwing, catching, and shooting. Learning these essential skills is the first step to playing and enjoying sports with friends and family.

For kids just starting out, these apps provide an engaging, interactive look at how to perform these important skills. Animated characters walk the child through each step of a skill. Audio instruction and interactive props (flowers, butterflys, frogs) make the experience even more fun for the youngest beginners.

These apps can also help parents more effectively instruct their child. They help remind a parent of which skill elements to teach and how they are performed.

So if you haven’t yet taken a look, check out the free Let's Play Ball app on the Google Play store. And if you really want to find out how NOT to throw like the father and son in the VW commercial, consider downloading the companion How to Throw a Baseball app!

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Rock Sports Apps for Kids and Parents

   In my last post, I talked about the importance of kids learning the fundamental individual skills associated with the sports they play. The timing of that post was a bit self-serving, as today I’m announcing the availability of the How to Rock Sports series of Android apps.

Using animated cartoon characters and audio instruction, these apps teach basic sports skills in a way that will appeal to young beginners. These apps will also help those parents who want to teach sports to their child.

As an introduction to the How to Rock Sports series, the free Let's Play Ball app is available on Google’s Play store. This app provides tips related to throwing and catching a ball and shooting a basketball.

I've also released Throw a Baseball and Catch a Baseball. These apps break down each part of these skills, providing more in-depth instruction. Shoot a Basketball and Throw a Football are in the works, with more to follow.

I've worked hard over the past year putting together these apps. I hope the readers of Inside Youth Sports find the results worthwhile. If you download and like Let's Play Ball or the other apps, please pass the word on to other parents!

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Importance of Individual Sports Skills

   As a youth coach in participation-based programs, I often struggle to teach everything within a short season. Individual and team skills, game strategy, and tactics are all part of a well-rounded learning experience in youth sports. It can be a challenge getting all of this information across to the entire team when the opportunity to practice and play is limited.

Sometimes I find myself placing too much emphasis on team and situational play. With the abilities that each player brings to the team, this is often the easiest path to chalking up victories. Set plays, passing, zone defenses are examples of this type of instruction. It’s easy for a youth coach to fall into this coaching pattern.

Focus on the Foundation

Team-oriented instruction is of course essential to the success of any athlete playing team sports. But the foundation of excellent sports play begins with the individual sports skills particular to each sport. Throwing and catching a ball, shooting a ball or puck, ball handling, defending an opponent one-on-one are all examples of key individual sports skills. When coupled with basic physical traits (size, strength, endurance) and related physical skills such as running and jumping, a young boy or girl possesses the necessary tools to progress and achieve success in sports. And that’s the real goal—enabling each child to reach his or her athletic potential, and to do so in a way that protects the joy of playing.

The Right Coach

As a parent of a child who plays and enjoys organized sports, you need to pay attention to this aspect of your child’s education in sports. When your child is young, try to place the child in programs that emphasize the teaching of basic sports skills. Look for the right coaches—the ones who are there for the teaching and have a well-balanced, informed view of how to develop each child’s potential. Make sure that your child’s coach is not focused simply on team tactics and winning games.

What You Can Do

If you've played sports, spend time with your son or daughter and teach them essential skills like throwing and catching a ball. Participate by “playing catch” with your kids and making this a regular part of your interaction. Possibly add these games to your after-dinner family routine.

Whenever possible, promote to your child the idea of playing in pickup games. It’s this desire to play with friends that will often lead to even more self-directed play. And that means more practice and repetitions of key sports skills.

You can also place your child in local clinics that teach young kids basic sports skills. Often, your local high school, college, or other community organization will sponsor these clinics. Whether it’s basketball, baseball, tennis, or another sport, these clinics are usually inexpensive. For those of you who have more financial resources, personal coaches and trainers can often get your child started in the right direction. And of course there are other resources including books, video instruction, and computer software that can provide guidance to a young athlete or parent.

Copyright © 2014 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)