Youth Parent Goal for Kids; Joy or Victory?

I came across a well-written post on the Independent Coach Education blog that asks youth sports parents what are the goals for their children who participate in youth sports.

The authors ask if there is a choice besides pursuing either the performance agenda or the participation agenda.  I think they nail the concern with respect to the performance agenda:

The early developers monopolise the game time and the influential positions. They are allowed to reign supreme, scoring multiple goals every week.  They become dominant players, but lack the physical and emotional qualities to become great players once maturation has evened everything out.  The less able and late developers receive little game time or encouragement, and eventually drift away from the game carrying into later life the badge of dishonour – “I’m not sporty”.

At first blush, I considered the Hustle & Attitude philosophy as falling right in line with the participation agenda.  However, as the authors suggest there is a third alternative – a culture that values mastery over outcomes – I think H&A actually fits in this category.  Over the course of my coaching career, every player on my teams improved; the exceptional players got marginally better while the new or less skilled players improved significantly.

The authors conclude with a discussion about how leagues ought to be structured in order to ensure that the players’ desires and needs are put first.  My hope is that leagues would establish rules and policies that would encourage this behavior.  Further, training their coaches – whether H&A training or other – can go a long way towards ensuring this type of behavior.


Are Youth Football Groups Doing Enough to Protect Kids From Injury? – InsideSources

Interesting piece from Thayne Munce about youth football. 

He asserts that youth football is doing enough when it comes to safety.  He cites the NFL’s Heads Up program as evidence. 

I think he’s 1/3 right.  When it comes to making football safer; there arre three areas of focus:

  1. Training of players & coaches in safe technique
  2. Enforcement of rules against dangerous or unsafe technique
  3. Better, safer equipment

The Heads Up program addresses the first by emphasizing good tackling technique.  However, I think a critical evaluation of how youth football is doing with the other two is still in order.  At all levels, rules against ‘targeting, leading with the head, and hitting a defenseless player are being put in place.  These rules need to be strictly enforced such that the penalties – and proper coaching – change the way players play instinctively.  Finally, improvements in helmet technology and other padding can help. 

I appreciate Munce’s opinion about youth football.  A decent start; but more needs to be done.

Is Your Child Ready for Travel/Select Sports?

The good people at League Network offered four criteria for parents to evaluate in determining if their child is ready for travel/select sports.  Although the Hustle & Attitude philosophy is geared towards recreational sports, there is often a progression from recreational teams to travel / select teams and opportunity for overlap in the coaching philosophies.  I think their recommendations are solid.  I particularly like the emphasis on education and determining whether your child is doing well academically.  This recommendation recognizes that children are more likely to see long term benefit from a solid education than from sports (think the ever-increasing search for scholarships).

What do you think?

How Do Youth Sports Coaches Define a Successful Season?

Last month I held Hustle & Attitude coaching clinics for the Flag Football Fanatics leagues in the Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton areas.  This time around, I tried a new software application called Mentimeter.  It’s a really cool app that allows a presenter/instructor/speaker to ask questions of the audience, poll them for their responses, and have their responses display in the presentation.  All the participants need is a smart phone or tablet as they enter a code to participate in the questions.

I asked the coaches who participated in my clinics ‘How would you define a successful season?‘  I do this before I lead them through the Hustle & Attitude response:  a successful season is one where the kids have fun and learn the sport they are playing.  My primary measure of success is whether the child decides to play the sport again the next season.

I used the Word Cloud option so that we could see which words or phrases popped up most often in their responses.  Here are four of the word clouds together in a montage:

Fall 17 Clinic Word Cloud MontagePretty cool, huh?  Notice the word that is large and in the middle of three of the word clouds – FUN.  A general theme of the kids having fun and learning the sport (and about life) can be seen throughout the words on the clouds (along with the clever ‘Better than the Rams’, ‘Nobody breaks a leg’, and the battling ‘Go Blue’ and ‘OH – IO’ that only my friends here in the midwest probably understand).

I think these coaches get it.  My hope is that all youth sports coaches feel the same way – and the Hustle & Attitude philosophy is intended to help make this happen.

Kids Sports, Inc.

Time Cover

I don’t think it was a coincidence that the same week of the Project Play Summit (see my summary here), there was a Time magazine cover story on youth sports.  Sean Gregory does a nice job of covering a wide range of issues relating to “How your child’s rec league turned into a $15 billion industry”.

The boy pictured on the cover is 10-year old Joey Erace.  Joey’s family has a $15,000 batting cage in his family’s New Jersey backyard.  Joey plays for nationally ranked teams in Texas and California.  $15,000 batting cage…for a 10-year old!?  National rankings for 10-year old baseball teams?!?!  Seriously?  Gregory admits that Erace is an “extreme example” of the youth-sports economy that resembles the pros.  I hope so.
There are several statistics included in colorful graphics including:  the odds of playing sports competitively after high school (e.g. it is 1 in 47 boys will play Division I baseball); the costs to play in terms of equipment, team fees, travel, and training; and a telling graphic indicating how the rising costs associated with many youth sports are shutting out lower income families.
Overall, the article doesn’t introduce anything about youth sports that people who follow youth sports closely don’t already understand – although I guess I naively thought that there was no such thing as youth sports rankings for 4-year old baseball players!  The issues of access to sports – whether in terms of geography or income level, sports specialization, and the commercialization of youth sports have been written and talked about before.  Indeed, they were prominently discussed at the Project Play Summit and are concerns the Project Play 2020 initiative is seeking to address.  Gregory does a service to those of us who advocate for positive youth sports experiences for our kids by bringing the issues to a mainstream audience.



Kids Playing Football Same as Letting them Smoke?!?!

Another columnist highlighting the crisis I have been writing about for about a year now.  Kass’ statement that “Putting your kids in football would be akin to giving them cigarettes” is sure to draw some criticism.  I feel like it is a little strong, but need to think about it more.

What do you think?

More Honest Contemplation About the Future of Football

This Washington Post article provides more thoughtful consideration about whether kids should play tackle football.

Brewer is – I think appropriately – critical of the NFL and their role in the future of the sport.  Football is facing a crisis and the leadership at the highest level of the sport doesn’t seem to recognize it.

Project Play 2020 & Future of Youth Sports Coach Training

Project Play Summit Logo

Today I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 Aspen Institute Project Play Summit.  I was interested in their initiatives to improve youth sports (check out the link to read about the Aspen Institute and the great work they are doing), but specifically as their work relates to youth recreational sport coaching.  There was a lot of great discussion during the sessions.  Highlights included:

  • Moderator and fellow Arizona Wildcat Dan Hicks doing a fine job, including moderating a panel of kids telling the group what they like about sports
  • Craig Robinson (VP Player Development, New York Knicks and 2016 Summit guest speaker Michelle Obama’s brother) made a point that the effect of improved coaching can be transformational
  • Former MLB player Rick Ankiel sharing his experience in youth sports – a very demanding father made it less than ideal – and how he feels it’s his job to break the cycle and give his kids positive reinforcement
  • The President of Little League International saying he wears the label ‘Rec League’ as a badge of honor (in a conversation where he shared that some in social media had intended it as a put-down)
  • MLB commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about initiatives the league has in place to increase youth participation
  • There was much discussion about why, despite what seems like a significant amount of research and information suggesting that sports specialization is bad for kids, it continues…the consensus of the attendees was to continue to educate parents on the dangers and corresponding benefits of playing multiple sports

In general, Project Play has 8 big ideas (‘plays’) that can get and keep all kids active through sport.  Number 7 is near and dear to my heart:  Train All Coaches.  Here’s an excerpt from their seminal 2015 Sport for All, Play for Life report about coaches:

“Coaches are the delivery mechanism for quality sport programming.  They determine how much exercise occurs during practice.  Research aggregated by the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition shows that goo coaches also lower kids’ anxiety levels and lift their self-esteem.  They help boys and girls enjoy the sport.  They can make an athlete for life – or wreck enthusiasm for sport altogether…  Trained coaches do best.  One study found that only 5 percent of kids who played for trained coaches quit the sport the next year; the attrition rate was 26 percent otherwise.”

Today there was a session dedicated to this area as well as an announcement about a bigger initiative relating to it.  NBC broadcaster Rebecca Lowe moderated a panel asking “What’s fair for parents to ask of coaches?” that included the CEO of US Lacrosse, Steve Stenersen.  Lowe made a good point when she referred to the state of rec sports coaching today:  we have a nation of well-meaning volunteers.  Stenersen made a bold statement when he said what the US needed was standardized consistency across leagues/sports.

The bigger announcement was part of their Project Play 2020 initiative that will focus on two of the areas:  Encourage Sport Sampling and Train All Coaches.  This initiative intends to grow the quality and quantity of coaches and address the fact that less than 1/3 of youth coaches are trained in competencies such as safety and sport instruction.

Project Play Coach Training Data

In the post-conference survey, Project Play asked what attendees would like to do to partner with them in this initiative.  I responded that I am very interested in seeing what role the Hustle & Attitude philosophy can play in helping achieve their goals of increasing the number of well-trained coaches available to work with youth recreational sports participants.

All in all, it was a very well done summit.  Industry and youth sports organization leaders were able to get together and discuss the issues and concerns related to youth sports today.  I appreciate the efforts of the Project Play team to make sport accessible to all children regardless of zip code or ability.



George Will on The Fading Pleasure of Football

I have written numerous times here that I believe tackle football is facing a crisis.  Parents are asking themselves whether their son should play football given the risks that are highlighted by the reports about chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in the news.  I found George Will’s column in this weekend’s paper.  In the Dayton Daily News the title was “As CTE evidence mounts, pleasure of football fades”, but I actually prefer the Washington Post’s title, “Football’s enjoyment is on a fade pattern” (mostly because it is clever word play on a football play).  In any event, Will makes a bold statement; football “will never die but it will never again be, as it was until recently, the subject of uncomplicated national enthusiasm”.  I wanted to disagree and suggest that the risk is real that the sport could possibly die – if an entire generation of parents decide that football isn’t for their sons.  However, Will goes on to make the point that what might happen is the risk will only shift demographics.  “But because today’s risk-averse middle class parents put crash helmets on their tykes riding tricycles, football participation will skew to the uninformed and economically desperate”.

Why share this?  I recently auditioned to give a TEDxDayton talk on this subject.  When asked who my audience was and what my purpose in giving the talk was, I told them that I was trying to start a national conversation about the future of tackle football; when young people should start playing tackle football, and what reforms ought to me made to the game to keep it alive.  Will’s column is yet another indication of the need for a national discussion about the future of football.

I wasn’t picked for the TEDxDayton line-up, but later had a very intelligent debate with a friend of mine who is adamant that his sons won’t play tackle football.  I was put in the position of defending the sport – which I believe provides athletic and life lesson opportunities that aren’t readily available in other sports.  However, my friend’s concerns are legitimate and he likely represents a good portion of parents in America.  I agree with another Post column that I found as a link off the Will article, that “football must change”.

Let’s start talking about ideas like modified tackle football for children, emphasizing flag football before high school, ensuring quality coaches and athletic trainers are available for all tackle football games at every level, enforcing rules that emphasize player safety, de-glamorizing the types of head-to-head and leading with the helmet hits that we too often see on ESPN and the NFL Network, improving the equipment players wear and use, and dedicating some of the billions of NFL dollars to hard core research to truly understand the risks to players at all ages and levels of play.  These are just some of the ideas that I am aware of – I am sure there are others.



90 Flag Football Coaches Trained!

Coaches – mostly 1st timers in the Flag Football Fanatics league – are saying that the latest round of Hustle & Attitude coaching clinics was Very Useful to them.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve held two clinics in each of the Flag Football Fanatics locations:  Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton.  90 coaches attended!  According to the survey data thus far 75% were exactly the target audience these clinics are geared towards – 1st time coaches in this league.  The clinics provided information about the Hustle & Attitude philosophy, as well as practical tips on how to prepare the equipment, how to work with kids, how to set-up and run effective practices, how to set line-ups and manage games, and how to deal with referees and parents.  When asked, on a 5-point scale from 5-Extremely Useful to 1-Not Useful, the average response for the entire clinic was 4.08 or ‘Very Useful’.  Coaches particularly liked the portion about how to work with the kids, scoring it at 4.25.

With more and more coaches attending and the consistent survey ratings over 4.0 – Very Useful, I look forward to providing more clinics for the coaches in the Flag Football Fanatics league.  If you think your child would benefit from a coach trained in a philosophy that puts the children first and has practical tools to work with them, run practices, manage games, and deal with parents and referees, please refer the league director to me.  I would love to discuss how I could create a tailored clinic for the coaches in your child’s league.

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