Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On Becoming a Youth Coach

   Are you thinking about becoming a youth coach? Besides considering your qualifications to teach your sport, you will likely run through a number of questions in your mind including, “Do I want to get involved? Am I ready to commit my time and energies?” Implicit in these personal questions is another one: “What are the benefits?”

If you’re coaching your own son or daughter, the benefits may seem obvious. But there are a host of other reasons to coach youth sports—both good ones and bad ones.

Why I Enjoy Coaching

Coaching youth provides many benefits including a strong sense of personal satisfaction in teaching young children how to both participate in and enjoy sports. As a coach, I feel rewarded when a young player realizes that they too can contribute and play the sport—when their self-esteem takes a step forward as a result of my efforts.

I also enjoy building a team—developing each player’s skills and understanding of the game, and then watching a bond slowly form among them as they begin to share a common goal. More selfishly, I like being part of a team, competing, and staying connected to the child inside me. I also enjoy playing basketball with my former players when they become adults, each of us appreciating the unique community and circle we are a part of.

My First Experience

To help you better decide whether youth coaching is right for you, here’s a story that describes my first “big” moment in coaching. As you read the following words, ask yourself how you would feel if you were in my place. What rewards would you take away from this experience?

As a town recreation counselor during my college summers, I taught fourth through sixth graders fundamental basketball skills. At the end of the summer, an All-Star game was played between teams representing each of our town’s two parks.

On the team I coached was a sixth grader named Chris who was an outgoing boy who loved to shoot the ball and score. But when it came to playing good defense, or expending energy on anything other than the offensive side of his game, Chris seemingly could care less. Although good-natured, he was also lackadaisical.

That All-Star game was closely contested and went into overtime. With little time left and the score tied, I called a timeout and ran through what I wanted my team to do. Chris, bending over, still breathing hard from his all-out defensive effort, looked up at me and proclaimed, “Coach, if we win this game, I promise to hustle the rest of my life!”

More experienced coaches and parents are probably accustomed to these types of grand statements from young boys. But for me back then, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing at these unexpected and exceedingly earnest words. Besides the humor of Chris’s prospective life commitment, I was also struck by his desire to succeed and willingness to expend all of his remaining energies to help our team win. That moment revealed a noble part of Chris’s character I hadn't seen before.

I don’t remember whether our team won or lost the game, but I haven’t forgotten that timeout. To finish the story, I happened to run into Chris years later when he was a young adult. He introduced himself to me, and we talked briefly about those summers in the town park.

Before our conversation ended, Chris said, “Mr. Rhoads, do you remember that All-Star game I played in?” I told him I did. He went on to talk about the thrill he experienced playing in that game. Years later, that game still represented a fulfilling moment in Chris’s life—a proud remembrance of meeting a challenge early in life and playing to the best of his ability.

Although Chris’s experience came in the heat of an All-Star game, I've many times since seen the same response from players of limited skill engaged in a competitive game. They too have found themselves playing an integral, exciting part in something larger than themselves. They've also experienced the personal satisfaction of contributing to the success of their team, whether it was sinking a shot or setting a screen that freed a teammate to score.

And for me, being a part of that experience is what youth coaching is all about.

So Coach, "Are you in?"

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)


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)