By Tim Bradbury, Director of Coaching Instruction, Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association
If you look around, you can find reports and podcasts that shed a very open and honest light on youth sports and the disturbing figures and facts. One such report is available at the link below
The report and, please read it carefully, presents many facts. Perhaps the most disturbing is
“The average child today spends less than three years playing a sport, quitting by age 11, most often because the sport just isn’t fun anymore.”
With a bit of effort and research it is easy to access and watch, listen or read the following :
1. Nike Designed to Move Report https://news.nike.com/news/designed-to-move
2. ESPN videos and kids quitting sports https://youtu.be/WQgCDghLiHM
3. Dr. Amanda Visek and her work on Fun Maps https://changingthegameproject.com/woc-30-makes-sports-fun-athletes-ages-amanda-visek-phd/
I urge all parents who believe that they want their child to live a long and healthy live to both read, watch and listen to all the above and THEN READ ON!!
What is apparent is that most soccer clubs have it wrong and that the overemphasis upon winning before development and FUN has created an environment that the kids are clearly saying that they want no part of.
I think it is time we listened!! It is too important to get wrong! Every time I watch the news or read a newspaper, I am more convinced than ever that good youth sports environments are crucial. In a culture dominated by gun violence and hatred, video games and social media (along with the pressure that comes with it) we need a flag of hope.
I believe the best place for kids to develop both as people and lifelong athletes should be youth sports clubs. All clubs should be taking stock of their mission statement, core values and the environments they place players within. What is obvious is that change is needed. I offer the following as a suggested list of best practices that may help ensure we get to keep kids in the game for more than three years.
1) Have a definite plan for parent engagement. Without the support of the parents, your efforts will be futile. Youth coaches have to stop seeing parents as the enemy, they want their kids to have fun and develop.
2) Have a definite plan for coach development and education and PUT your best coaches with the younger ages. If we get it right at square one, they may play for life.
3) Kids naturally compete but they don’t need or desire an atmosphere that is totally dependent on wins and losses. Have a clear and consistent message for coaches and parents alike about the place of FUN, development and learning.
4) Connect with all your players as people first. Part of this is coach education but part of it needs to be club philosophy. Become a transformational club with fun days, barbecues, beach parties, charity events and simple social gatherings where the ball is put away and parents, players and coaches simply get to connect with each other.
5) Have a long-term plan that protects players from the win at all costs stress-ridden atmosphere. Find jamborees instead of tournaments.
6) Think outside the box. It seems many of our athletes who may enjoy being in one sport are leaving due to extreme experiences in another. Why not become a sports club? Perhaps soccer, beach volleyball and basketball. Think of the positives: periodization, culture, broad based physical development and philosophy.