A Youth Sport Coach Can Influence Lives For The Better, But Is Having Too Many Responsibilities Hurting The Effort?
Never has the role of the youth sports coach been more important. Never has the list of tasks they are responsible for been greater.
Coaching in 2021 is not like 1980, 1995 or 2010.
The youth sports coach has always had the opportunity to influence young people in a positive and important way. Coaches arguably have the most influence on young people besides their parents and teachers.
This is not a small responsibility, and it can be a heavy one, especially in 2021.
A coach can build character and confidence and drastically influence how a young person perceives themselves, the role physical activity for the rest of their lives and as a result their health.
If the list of duties were spelled out carefully to each coach before they start out, they may run back to the car for the lawn chair and say thanks but no thanks.
Was not always this way.
Coaching did not always carry a heavy burden of tasks requiring multiple skillsets to execute. The demands have changed on the coach in the last 40 years. While a coach had young people in the 1950’s to 1980’s, we as a society did not rely on them to do so. Coaches did not carry with them the level of responsibility that they do today.
Let me explain.
For those of us old enough to have been coached or to have coached 30 + years ago, we can remember that the role of the coach was to teach strategy, etiquette and rules of the game being played. They might be involved with registration to some degree, and they would need to come up with practice and game plans.
Life lessons were built into the journey of a competitive season. Each season had a hard stop and start date. Baseball and soccer ran May through August. Hockey and basketball ran September to March. Football was in the fall. Kids played multiple sports, and the coaching commitment meant 5-6 months of time.
In the mid 1990’s things started to change. Certain sports started to take on another level of importance and priority than in the past. Season’s started to get longer, specializing in fewer sports started to take precedence as well and sports academies started to pop up.
The reasons for this included increased concern safety in playing outside, the rise of the video game and the reduction of regular school physical education. The only physical activity our kids were getting were now in organized activities and sports.
For profit sporting programs starting to get some traction. When the investment of time and money started to go up into specific sports, the expectations and role of the coach really started to change.
It was no longer enough for the coach to simply support registration, teach the game skills and etiquette around the sport. Parental interference was introduced to a much higher level, and not in a constructive way.
There was more focus and pressure on the kids to perform in the beginning of the specialization age, and that still holds true today. With this increased attention came with it increased involvement from outside those immediately connected with the team. There was more administration in the picture, a influential board of directors with their own agendas became another thing on the coach task list.
The evolution of super elite teams bred consistent tryouts and tryouts meant disappointed families would jump to other communities for playing time. Recruiting for youth sports became and expectation as well, and the kicker of it all was the competitive seasons became longer and longer as did the coaching commitment.
Fast forward to 2021 and the offseason in many sports is down to 2 months or less. Coaches not only have a much longer commitment but also have so much more on their plate.
First and foremost, the physical development needs of the young athlete are much different than years gone by. In many cases, the only physical development the young person is getting is through their chosen sport. Schools no longer contribute to developing a physical literacy base for our young people, which has a domino effect on the coaches’ responsibility, let alone our young person’s long-term health.
In the past, children learned how to move through running around, chasing, dodging, jumping, skipping, skating, twisting, turning, starting, stopping informally through unstructured play. Today, it is up to the coach to integrate these into their sport skill development. This alone changes the scope of the coach’s responsibility and influence. As young people head into their teens in sport participation, strength and conditioning is one of the added responsibilities for the coach to oversee.
Then there is the mental/emotional/social and psychological development of the young athlete under coach’s responsibilities.
There is also a need to focus on character development in the modern era.
Participation is declining, and in some areas finding enough kids to fill a team has put a new sense of urgency to recruiting. Less that 5 years ago, my son’s community travel ball team had a hard time getting enough kids on the team in the 16 to 18 year-old age bracket. We live in a community of 150 000. Part of the coaches’ responsibility was now ensuring they had the minimum number of kids to field a team.
Recent world events have put the spotlight on diversity and inclusion as well as gender and race. These have become front of the room issues that need to be addressed in a transparent and genuine way. Another area of focus for the coach.
The influence of social media has opened the door to another level of bullying that was not present 20 years ago. The coach needs to be up to date on dealing with that.
Last but not least, the last 17 months have added pandemic restrictions and guidelines for the coach to implement.
Very quickly one can see how the role of the coach has changed in the last 30 years. Today’s coach is not only the person coordinating organized activities for our youth and skills teacher, but also social worker, psychologist, physical educator/strength and conditioning coach, human resources expert, therapist, public relations expert, public speaker, CEO of their team and the expectation is to do all of this for 10 months of the year for below a living wage or on a 100% volunteer basis.
This is a lot for 10u soccer or 12u basketball or 16u baseball coach.
If the above description sounds like the coach needs the same skills as running a small business, it is because he/she does.
This is where youth sport organizations must recognize the demands on the coach and create structure and processes to support them.
Youth sport organizations having a structure that mirrors those of a successful small to medium size business has become essential. Many of these youth sport orgs have enough revenue to be considered big business. The Greater Toronto Hockey League has 40,000 players. The Ontario Soccer Association as over 350, 000 registered players. Each province, state or community has youth sport associations that have 5 digit and 6 digit registration revenues. Many have significant corporate sponsors.
These revenues can support organizational structures that provides coaches the support they need.
In the meantime, a sharp skillset with a blueprint is required to them navigate the demands of the modern day youth coach.