Youth Have Right to Trained Coaches

Recently, the Aspen Institute introduced their Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports. I’ve been following the Aspen Institute’s Project Play Initiative for a while now. The Bill of Rights for Youth Sports is a fantastic initiative that is endorsed by dozens of sports luminaries and organizations. While #4 resonates with me because I believe there is plenty of time for our children to grow up; as you might imagine, right #3 is the one that speaks the most to Hustle & Attitude.

Children have the right to play under the care of coaches and other adults who pass background checks and are trained in key competencies.

– Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports, Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative

It would be great if every youth sports organization provided training opportunities to their volunteer coaches. Project Play has been advocating as much for a while now – ‘Train All Coaches‘ is one of their 8 “plays” – strategies that stakeholders can use to get and keep more children playing sports. As their Sport for All, Play for Life report suggests, the minimum they suggest for coaches includes training on:

  1. Coaching philosophy on how to work with kids
  2. Best practices in the areas of physical literacy and sport skills
  3. Basic safety

Notice there isn’t anything in the list that is sports-specific. It is my experience that leagues often provide that kind of training – whether internally or via an organization like Major League University. It is also my experience that – because of league, city, or state rules – basic safety is a training requirement. That leaves number 1 and 2 as requirements for leagues/organizations. Hustle & Attitude coaching clinics spend a great deal of time on #1. We devote a quarter of each clinic to things like getting on the player’s level (both physically and emotionally), understanding 4-year olds in youth sports, and coaching your own child.

It’s interesting to look at #2 – training coaches in best practices in the areas of physical literacy and sport skills. Recall, that Dr. Etnier’s book Coaching for the Love of the Game included a developmentally appropriate activities table that speaks to this area. We don’t currently cover this type of information in our clinics. In some cases, the league’s/organization’s rules are shaped by these considerations, though.

I’m constantly updating the content in the Hustle & Attitude coaching clinics. I am an avid reader of books and articles on the subject of youth sports and particularly coaching. I incorporate the best of what I’ve learned into the clinics. Perhaps it’s time to include some physical literacy content. In any event, I applaud the Aspen Institute’s Children’s Bill or Rights in Sports initiative and believe that Hustle & Attitude clinics go a long way towards providing the trained youth sports coaches under which each child has the right to play.

It’s Little League World Series Time

For those of you longtime readers (thank you, by the way), you know my position with regards to the Little League World Series. I was looking for my favorite sports talk show (Pardon the Interruption) this afternoon and it wasn’t on because…ESPN was broadcasting the Louisiana-West Texas Little League World Series qualifying game. So, I left it on. Here’s what transpired:

  • The game was interrupted three times for video replays – and I only tuned in after the 4th inning! Two replays to determine if a player was hit by a pitch and another to see if there was catcher’s interference. None of the calls on the field were reversed. But the game was delayed for something like ten minutes.
  • A player that was hit in the face earlier in the week and has what the announcers referred to as ‘orbital fractures’ and a very clear black eye was celebrated for his toughness in coming in to pinch hit. I watched the at bat. He was bailing out on every pitch and…OF COURSE HE WAS! He was hit in the face the last game he played.
  • There was an advertisement for a new Little League program called Sandlot Fun Days. I was intrigued by the commercial and went to their website. The concept is to give the game back to the kids by removing the adults from the equation. The players use the local Little League equipment on a Little League field. There are no umpires and no coaches. The players self regulate the game – if they play a regular game at all…the site highlights that the players can make up the rules of the contest they play. Initially, I thought this sounded great. This is in line with the Aspen Institute’s 2nd Play – Reintroduce Free Play. But then I watched the video on the site of the Dunedin Sandlot Funday from 2020. After two minutes of video of kids having fun and adults explaining why this is a good thing, there was a quote that struck me:

It’s more fun for me to watch this game knowing there’s no pressure on the kids – they’re just out there for fun.

Dunedin parent

Why aren’t all Dunedin Little League games no pressure and for fun?

Again, there is much that is good about Little League Baseball. However, televising the games nationally with play-by-play and video replays, celebrating the toughness of a young man who probably shouldn’t be playing at all, and advertising that you have to create an alternative program to yours so the kids can play without pressure and have fun…there’s the bad and the ugly.

Youth Sports All Stars – How Do You Pick?

I recently was tasked to choose players from my team to be candidates for the League’s all star team.  You might wonder given my philosophy, whether I think there should even be all stars in a recreational league.  If done correctly, I think selecting all stars, recognizing them, and having them play additional games is a good thing.  I know the players enjoy being recognized – that’s one of the reasons we do the offensive and defensive MVPs after each game.  Typically, the players on my teams recognize the more skilled players, both on our team and our opponents.  This is one of the reasons I don’t think participation trophies are the harbinger of the end of the world with our current generation of athletes.  In any event, nominating and voting on the right players to represent the league as an all star can be challenging.

I appreciated how the league in which I am currently coaching recommended that we consider the player’s coachability and attitude when selecting all stars.  One of the things to remember when picking all stars is that these players will often be representing your community in other towns.  In Little League Baseball, the all star team is the team that competes against other cities’ all star teams (i.e. when you watch a team in the Little League World Series, it isn’t the best team from that town’s league; it’s their all star team).  I’ve encountered many a young player who is talented and gifted AND KNOWS IT.  Often, this player needs to add some humility to their repertoire.  These life lessons are a key reason why youth sports can be such a positive experience for children.  You don’t want to select a player only to have him or her yell at an umpire for what they think is a bad third strike call, storm into the dugout, and through their bat and helmet.  That doesn’t make the right impression of your community. 

When I am selecting the players from my team

Identifying the best players from your own team is easier than voting on other team’s players.  I’ve seen my players a lot more than the other ones.  I know which ones fit the criteria because they are talented, skilled in the game, and coachable.  I also compile pretty comprehensive statistics over the course of the season.  I use these stats to help me identify the best players on my team.  Statistics aren’t the whole story though, as I also use my judgment.  It could be that a player has a lower batting average than another, but that’s because they have had worse luck in terms of where they hit the ball and maybe having hits stolen by really good defensive plays.  Generally speaking, in baseball, I will select players who hit the ball hard consistently, can field multiple positions (extra points if they can play catcher adequately), and can be relied upon to pitch either as a dedicated pitcher or in a pinch.  Being the best players on my team isn’t the only consideration.  I also take into account the quality of the other players in the league.  I might not select four players because I know that the #4 player, although the 4th best on my team, isn’t one of the top 12-15 in the league.
Over my career, I’ve had a couple of interesting incidents when it comes to selecting my players that highlight challenges associated with selecting players for all star teams:

  • Picking one of my twin sons, but not the other.  When my boys played T-ball, the league had an all star team.  Several players would be picked from each team and the players would make one of two teams and the two teams would play a single all star game.  The league gave us a limit of three players from our team that could be all stars.  That season, only one of my boys was in the top three on my team.  When I told my wife, she said I couldn’t pick one of them without picking the other one.  I was caught.  I totally understood the possible issue in our house of only one of them making the all stars.  However, I didn’t want to add the other son for peace in our house; that would have been favoritism towards my children and unfair to the player I removed from the all star team.  And, I didn’t want to keep my otherwise deserving son off the team; that wouldn’t be fair to him.  Thankfully, we came up with a solution – my son that wasn’t selected for the team got to be the bat boy.  That way he could be in the dugout and be involved with the game.  In hindsight, I don’t know that either of them remembers their T-ball all star experience – other than to lump it in with what I believe they have always thought was a fun time playing youth baseball.
  • “And you’re happy with your selections…”  I had a player’s family member ask me after one of our games what the process was for identifying all star candidates.  I told them that it was the manager’s decision.  They asked, “And you’re happy with your selections?”  I recall thinking that was an odd question.  Of course I was happy…I made the selection.  I responded, “I am.  But apparently you aren’t?”  The family member didn’t want to engage further.  I pressed a little, suggesting that I would be happy to have a discussion about their concerns.  They just told me they were thankful for my time. I suppose they just wanted to be heard expressing their opinion that I had not identified the right players, at least as far as this family member was concerned.

These incidents highlight how, as a youth recreational sports coach, you’re not going to make everyone happy when it comes to selecting players for the all star team. 

When I am voting for players

I struggle with not wanting to show favoritism to my own players and on the other end of the spectrum, trying so hard not to that I unfairly exclude them.  After 10 or so games of a season, I have a pretty good idea where my players stack up against the best players on the other teams.  There have been times I have had one of the top 2 or 3 players in the league.  That one is a no-brainer as no one would question a vote for them.  And usually the top 5 or 6 players in the league can be somewhat unanimously identified.  It’s the selection of the other 6 or 7 players for the team out of the pack of 10-15 worthy candidates that gets tricky.  As I do when selecting players from my team, I often use statistics.  I will go back through our scorebook – thankfully I have an excellent scorekeeper every season…my wife – and compile the stats for the nominated candidates.  Some of them stand out statistically in the book such that I recall them from the game.  In those cases, I often have a good enough impression to feel like I can vote one way or the other (there have been times that they stand out in my mind because they were very arrogant, cocky, or otherwise disrespectful in the game they played against us). 
If you know your league is going to have an all star team, at the beginning of the season ask the league director how the all stars are selected.  If the head coaches or managers are the ones who select the players, you have the opportunity to keep this in the back of your mind as the season progresses.  When you play against a team and one of their players pitches a fantastic game, note that player’s name and number.  Later, when you see that player’s name on the all star ballot, you will recognize that they were at least an all star against your team and will be likely to vote for them.

Coaches should do the best they can in nominating and selecting players for an all star team.  The bottom line is that a Hustle & Attitude coach will put in some time to thoughtfully consider who ought to make the all star team; from their team and the rest of the league.  Hustle & Attitude coaches don’t show favoritism to their own children or the players on their team over other more deserving candidates.  Finally, Hustle & Attitude coaches will consider the whole athlete when nominating or voting for a player for all stars.

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