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How to Get What Your Child Wants (and Needs) Out of Youth Sports Programs

Why Kids Play Sports And Why They Quit

(2-minute read) Youth sport programs. Whenever I hear parents talking about them, the conversation seems to go on and on. However, there is a vast difference between what parents who prioritize competition have to say, versus those parents who prioritize fun.  It is the latter group with whom I connect.  Why you ask? Because research repeatedly finds that having fun is the number one reason children participate in sports.  And not having fun is the primary reason they quit.  Therefore, despite which camp we fall into regarding what we want out of youth sports – competition or fun – we simply can’t disregard this unfortunate trend. So when parents who echo my beliefs have negative feedback about the programs that their children participate in, there’s reason to listen (and to act).  

The top 8 comments from parents about youth sports (regardless of age, sport, or community):

  1. The coach doesn’t teach the rules of the game, proper form/skills, strategies and/or how to communicate during the game.
  2. The coach’s behavior and attitude are not in line with the goals set forth by the team/organization/league.
  3. I signed up for the non-competitive team and yet the coach and/or the parents are competitive.
  4. The coach doesn’t do anything to focus on team building, then wonders why they don’t function as a team.
  5. The coach is not a good role model and/or the coach is not motivational or inspirational.
  6. My child doesn’t enjoy going to practice. She is not having fun and/or does not like the coach.
  7. My child didn’t get much time to play even though there is an equal time rule.
  8. My child leaves practice and/or games feeling deflated. I was hoping this program would help build my child’s confidence.

Despite dissatisfaction, most of us (myself included) keep signing up and paying for the same programs instead of making a change. Why don’t we voice our thoughts and concerns in an effort to effect change? Or, why don’t we try to find programs that deliver on our expectations? I’ve asked parents and here is what they’ve told me.

The top 5 reasons we don’t make a change.

  1. I don’t have the time. 
  2. I don’t like confrontation.
  3. No one else is doing / saying anything to make a change. I don’t want to be the only one.
  4. If I express my dissatisfaction, I fear it will be taken out on my child.
  5. I can’t find any other programs that deliver on what I want or the programs aren’t near us.

These are all understandable reasons, to which I can relate. Often times it is simply easier to stick with the status quo than to go against the grain. But, if we do nothing this downward trend will inevitably worsen.  So if we want our children to get what they need, and what they deserve from the countless hours they dedicate to these programs, we need to act. 

Baby steps. Change doesn’t happen overnight.

Lets start by focusing on the type of environment we expect.  This approach is not only easier to talk about, it is less confrontational, and avoids putting coaches on the defensive. A great way to kick off the conversation is to have parents (and players) create a list of expectations at the onset of the season. By sharing and discussing these with the coach, everyone is able to get on the same page. And when there is a consensus on what the season will look like, it makes addressing any issues that aren’t in sync with the plan much easier.  By working together toward the same goals, we can hopefully create a supportive, strong, and understanding environment where every child thrives.

Here are some ideas about what to include in your plan:

As parents, we want this program and/or our child’s coach to…

  • Teach fundamental physical skills.
  • Teach the rules of the games.
  • Teach strategies to use while in action.
  • Motivate and inspire each child to be their best.
  • Applaud positive attitudes, effort, and improvement.
  • Build self-confidence by recognizing every child for what they bring to the table and allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings, so they come to learn that others are experiencing the same.  
  • Create a culture of unity – help children build relationships amongst themselves – this means providing an opportunity for the to speak with one another – whether it be on or off the field.
  • Help each child develop important life skills such as:
    • Leadership
    • Communication
    • Teamwork
    • Sportsmanship
    • Respect
    • Focus
    • Problem solving
    • Decision making
    • Commitment
  • Teach children to stop focusing on what they can take away from their participation, but instead ask what they can give.

Valuable Coach Resources

Share with us… Our goal at GAALS is to provide best practices that will aid you in helping your daughter to build character, confidence and life skills. However, we recognize that there is no one size fits all solution for parenting. That’s why we are grateful when we hear questions and comments. It enables us to see new perspectives, and to pass along our learnings to our community.  Please email us at info@GAALSusa.com

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