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.
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.
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.
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.