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Navigating Youth Sports Politics

Welcome back to the Next Level Sports Blog! Fall sports have just ended and winter sports are now in full swing. Undoubtedly, some of you experienced difficult seasons with your son or daughter on their last team due to other players, parents, or even coaches. While I have not had a child experience youth sports yet, in my years as a private and high school coach, I have heard hundreds of complaints about other coaches and programs, as well as my own. This blog entry is designed to help you navigate and keep athletics fun for both your child and you.

As a coach, I have had the joy of watching players improve their skills and develop a passion or in some special instances, a love of the game. It is empowering to see a child dedicate themselves to a single activity where they set a goal and institute the steps necessary to achieve that goal. I have also seen players come to me dejected, hurt, bored, and scared because parents and coaches took their position for granted and did not fulfill their duties. Our job as parents and coaches is to help these children achieve these goals. It is not to set these goals for them or to relive our successes of failures through them. It is to serve as an avenue to help them discover the limitless potential they were born with.

That said, here are some tips for ensuring that your child has a positive experience with their next sports team.

Determine how serious your child is about the sport they are playing. Coaches and parents need to differentiate their interactions based on the seriousness of their child and the child’s expectations of the game. A child that eats, sleeps, and breathes a single sport should be handled differently than a child that just wants to make new friends and have fun. Most children are like the latter and involving yourself in the politics of the league or team is simply just not worth it and tends to have a negative affect on the child.

Be honest about how good your child is. This is a difficult thing to accept as a parent and a coach. We spend so much of our time, energy, effort, and love to help those close to us succeed. However, having unrealistic expectations of your child can leave a negative impact and damage their love for a game. As a high school coach, I have had countless parents tell me that their child was D-I material. In my 8 year high school coaching career, coaching all over Southern California, I have had 0 players earn a D-I scholarships. My time coaching at the D-I level also taught me that to make it to that level, one had to be special. The players we recruited were physically special athletes, had high game IQ’s, and worked extremely hard. According to the NCAA, of the 8 million high school athletes, 480,000, 6%, will go on to play at an NCAA school. That does not mean D-I or even a scholarship. The numbers for men’s basketball, soccer, baseball, and football are even lower. Check out the statistics here. It tends to put things in perspective. Now, this information doesn’t mean that we should not encourage our kids to work hard or dedicate themselves to a particular sport, it means that we need to develop them as people first and athletes second through our own actions and examples.

Be smart about the teams/leagues your kids play for. This follows my second point. Many parents and players want the aura of playing for the best program or team in town. While it is great for the top few players, I have seen many players waste their time because they never get to play. One of the top local club programs near me has two teams for most grade levels. One year they had an influx of young athletes in a certain grade so they made a third team. The third team was used as a practice team, meaning the team would play a few games a year but primarily they would just practice with the other teams. When parents told me of this, I was shocked and could not believe these things existed at the youth level. Between 4th and 8th grade, players should be developing their skills and testing them in games. While these kids had the prestige of playing for the top program in town, they weren’t playing. They would have been so much better off on a “lesser” team playing and improving.

Every player, parent, coach, and situation is different but these three guidelines will give you a baseline to navigate those challenging practices, games, and seasons. If you are looking for a positive sporting experience for your son or daughter, sign up for our summer sports camp July 17-21, hosted by Santa Barbara's best local coaches who "get it!" Check back next week for my next blog!

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