Having Fun is Key to Successful Youth Sports Season

In what is a both expected and yet still very gratifying result, coaches once again most often identified ‘Fun’ as the one word they would use to describe a successful season. The image below represents the word clouds created using a Mentimeter poll over the course of three coaching clinics the last couple of weeks for the Flag Football Fanatics coaches. Word clouds are built showing all the responses from the poll. Responses provided the most often appear in larger font and in the center.

I enjoy including these word clouds in posts (see here and here). It helps validate my philosophy while also showing that the coaches who are participating in the clinics get it – the primary measure of success for a youth recreational sports season is that the players have FUN.

I also like seeing the other words that coaches use (and those who apparently have trouble following directions and use three words…’experience working team’!). Other words/concepts that appeared frequently include:

  • Learning/Education/Growth/Development/Improvement/Better; As I’ve written before, one of the most important roles a youth sports coach plays (and my favorite) is that of a teacher. In the clinics, I provide a statistic from a Sports Illustrated for Kids survey done a while ago that found:

95% of the children said the #1 quality in their ideal coach is the ability to help them improve their skills

  • Encourage(ment); I recommend to the coaches that they be more positive than negative in their comments to the players. I tell them that they should applaud the players’ effort regardless of the result. The development of the skill or technique will come…so long as the player is encouraged to continue to work at it.
  • Teamwork; This is one of the key benefits of playing youth sports. More and more we are asked to work in teams. Young players learn very early that to be an effective teammate, you sometimes have to lead, sometimes follow, and many times compromise to get along and achieve whatever goals your team has set.
  • Friends(hips); According to the March 2021 State of Play Central Ohio report by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, the number one reason kids said they played sports was “to be with friends”.

Once again, I was able to discuss my Hustle & Attitude philosophy and provide practical tools and tips to almost 100 coaches in hopes of helping them have a successful season. And, again, not surprisingly (but reassuringly), the majority of them agreed with me that the players having fun is the most important contributor to a successful season.

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.

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