Monthly Archives: April 2015

Great Blog from Changing the Game Project!

We’re all working hard to change the culture of youth sports, fitness, and physical activity. One of my favorite blogs that I follow is Changing the Game Project by John O Sullivan http://changingthegameproject.com/.

Here is one of his most popular posts.

The 4 Biggest Problems in Youth Sports Today

When you run an organization such as the Changing the Game Project, you hear many youth sports stories from parents, coaches, and players. Some stories are absolutely heartbreaking, others inspiring.

Recently I encountered the absurd.

Many of us have seen the news about a volleyball player from Washington DC who was taking her playing time issues off the court, and into the courts. The article, which originally appeared in the Washington Post and can be read here, detailed the story of Audrey Dimitrew, a 16 year-old from Virginia whose family sued the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association (CHRVA) to force them to let her move to another team in the league. It seems she was not getting the “promised” playing time at her club and she wanted a change, but the league would not allow it.

The article has elicited all kinds of opinions on parenting, spoiled children, bad coaching, and ridiculous rules and regulations in youth sports leagues. It brought up talk of the Philadelphia dad who was suing for $40 million because his son got cut from the track team, and the Dallas father who brought a racketeering suit against a lacrosse camp. They are a reflection of so much of what is wrong in youth sports today.

But can all these wrongs finally make it right, and encourage the sensible people stand up and be heard?

This situation in Virginia brings to light four major problems that are destroying youth sports and must be dealt with. They are:

Problem #1: Parents who won’t let the game belong to kids

Why did mom and dad bring a lawsuit? Because they wanted to get their daughter noticed by college coaches. Well, mission accomplished, every college volleyball coach in the country now knows who your daughter is…and I bet the majority just crossed her name off their recruiting list.

You don’t sue and waste precious taxpayer time and money because your child is not getting playing time. Your daughter says she isn’t even sure she wants to play college volleyball! Mom also wrote to the coach, “It is important that she plays, and plays the position you offered her of setter as that is the position she plays in high school.” Really? You don’t get to tell a coach where your kid plays. Just be a parent, let the coach be the coach, and let the game belong to your child. The parents in this case have taken a teachable moment and ruined it. As Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching says, “Release your child to the game!”

Problem #2: Athletes need to OWN their decisions, both good and bad

We need to put an end to the helicopter and lawnmower parents, those who mow down all the obstacles for their kids, and give ownership to the athletes. This is a case where a player made a poor decision on team selection. Many athletes make bad decisions or face trying circumstances, but then choose to live with their decision and get better because of it. While I believe every athlete picked should have the opportunity to play, that does not mean an athlete cannot ask himself “what is good about this?”

When players quit a team solely over playing time or position issues, they lose an opportunity to learn. Even without getting playing time, a player working with a great coach should be improving every day in practice. She could be pushing herself to get better, and earn playing time instead of expecting it. She could find other ways to contribute. Don’t just walk away because the going got tough.

Great athletes love the game, work hard and improve everyday, and the rest takes care of itself.College coaches recruit players because they are good players, good people, good students and good teammates, not because they happened to see you in 10th grade.

Problem #3: Coaches who fail to respect the kids and the sport, and ignore the massive impact they have on athletes’ lives

Sadly there are many coaches who do not belong working with children. I am not saying that is the case here, but it is the case in many places. Winning does not make for a great coach. Being a great role model and leader for your young athletes, teaching character and life lessons, caring about your athletes, and coaching a child not a sport, those things make for a great coach.

sad basketball kid in locker room croppedOne of the most destructive forces in youth sports are coaches that take huge rosters of players for financial reasons, and then don’t give kids playing time. I firmly believe if you pick them, you play them! When we take people’s money and then sit them on the bench, it destroys love of a sport, and drives out the late bloomers. I don’t care that this is competitive volleyball; if the coach cannot find playing time then she should not have been picked. Far too many teams fill their rosters NOT for the benefit of the players (who get less playing time or none at all) but for the bottom line of the club.

To be fair to this coach, it seems he did try to make amends. I know firsthand that honest mistakes can be made in tryouts. You have limited tryout time, tons of players to choose from, and multiple teams offering a kid a spot. You are forced to offer spots with no opportunity for additional evaluation or to get to know a kid. I have been in that situation as a coach, and I have made mistakes in player selection. Clearly in this case, the coach made a mistake in selecting the player, and was willing to fix it and let her transfer to another team, so kudos is due for that. But this was not allowed to happen because of our final issue…

Problem #4: Youth Sports Organizations that Serve Adults, Not Kids

There are far too many clubs and sports leagues that are putting their own needs, values and priorities above those of the kids. Youth sports has become a business that serves them, and thus creates barriers to play for too many children.

“Should CHRVA allow players the ability to move teams when they are unhappy with the amount of playtime they are receiving, we would be overwhelmed with requests to change teams,” a CHRVA official wrote to the Dimitrew family.

This could be said another way: “We don’t want to put in the time or energy to make rules or run a league that serves the needs of the players, even in situations where all parties agree that a change in team is in the best interests of the child.” They had a coach willing to let a player leave, a player who wanted to try another team, a team willing and able to take her, and a policy that would have allowed it to happen. What they didn’t have was a dose of common sense.

If they think this will open a floodgate of player transfers due to playing time issues, why not make a rule that allows a player to transfer midseason only once in her career? Do not allow teams who release players to add new ones, to prevent continuous roster shuffling. Why not have guidelines over playing time so there are no playing time issues? There are so many solutions here.

What are we to do?

These are four of the biggest issues I see in youth sports. In this particular situation, I think every party involved can shoulder some blame. The athlete should have toughed it out, the parents should have found a better venue to deal with this, the coach should have known better, and the league could have done more. I am sure there are many sides to this story, and I have only read the one article. I am also sure there are many good people involved here who are getting dragged through the mud, which is sad.

But that is not why I wrote this article.

There is something much bigger at play here.

We all are to blame for this mess, including me, and every one of us who is reading this. Why?

Because we have stood by and allowed youth sports to become professionalized, adultified, and stolen from our kids. This is not a sin of commission; it is a sin of omission, a failure to act.

Too many of us coach from the sidelines and make the car ride home the most miserable part of the youth sports experience.

Too many of us treat youth sports as an investment in a future scholarship, and thus push for more and more at younger and younger ages.

Too many of us have our children specialize early in spite of the preponderance of evidence that it is physically and psychologically harmful, and has a detrimental effect upon their long-term chances of athletic success.

Too many of us allow our kids to participate in sports clubs that make cuts and form “elite” teams at 7 years old.

Too many of us ask our kids after a game “Did you win?” instead of “Did you have fun and learn a lot today?”

Too many of us have deemphasized free play and replaced it with organized activities governed by adult values, needs and priorities.

The list could go on and on.

We are to blame because as a collective we have done nothing about this, even though the great parents and coaches are the majority.

There is a huge majority of parents and coaches whom do not like the current situation, the toxic sidelines, the over the top parents, the bully coaches, the politics, the specialization, and the fact that college coaches are recruiting middle school athletes these days. We don’t like the costs, the travel requirements, or crazy commitments that make us choose between the 7th tournament of the summer or grandma’s 90th birthday celebration. If you are reading this, you are likely one of the great parents and coaches.

Yet we do nothing. We say nothing. We do not demand change. We simply complain. And then we watch our kids burnout, dropout, and quit.

It is high time that the sensible people, the silent majority, take over this conversation. We must stand up to the parents, coaches, clubs and leagues that are failing our children. If 70% of kids quit school in 7th grade, we would make radical changes, yet when they quit sports, we just shrug. No more!

If your sideline has an over the top mom or dad who yells at referees, coaches players, and creates a toxic environment, don’t just complain about it. Please get together with the coach or club directors and fellow parents and confront the behavior.

If your school or sports club does not have core values, or a proper ongoing parent and coach education program, demand that they be implemented.

If you can get great competition for your team within a 1 hour drive, sure, go to an out of town tournament once in a while, but not every weekend!

If your child is trying out for a team, look beyond the wins and losses and look for coaches of positive significance, and organizations that value human beings, not simply athletes.

Maybe the absurdity of this lawsuit is what will wake enough of us up. Maybe all these wrongs will be the spring board for making sports right again.

We don’t need the judicial system to fix our youth sports problems. We need every one of you who has read this far to share this article, to join our project to reform youth sports, and to read about reform initiatives promoted by Project Play and others that are trying to change youth sports.

We need you to stand up and be heard, so that the next time there is a youth sports dispute, it can be settled by the athletes on the court, instead of the adults in one.

Let’s Change the Game!

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Why is LTAD Not Universally Embraced?

Evidence is clear that youth that participate in a variety of sports have lower injury rates, more enjoyment, and perform better.

OhioStrecruits

Sports are often the hook that excites kids to be physically active. If they receive developmentally-appropriate, fun activities that involve them in the process, they are very likely to continue to be physically active. So, why isn’t every child involved in youth sports?

The concept of long-term athletic development (LTAD) arose from the need to provide our kids a better opportunity to learn the sport skills and life skills to become productive members of sports teams and (in adulthood) work teams. Due to lack of coaching education requirements at all levels of youth sport, not every coach understands the concepts of positive youth development, pediatric exercise science, and pedagogy necessary to make youth sports a positive experience for every child. It is no wonder, therefore that nearly 70% of youth drop out of youth sport by age 13.

The phrase long-term athletic development still confuses coaches, athletes, parents, and even professionals in the field! Each component of the term can be easily misinterpreted. Long-term should denote the entirety of childhood and adolescence, not this week or this season. The term athletic should produce images of each child performing to the best of his/her abilities within their personal developmental phase, not compared to all other kids or at only one point in time. Development should focus on the holistic growth and potential of every participant’s physical, social, and psychological well-being, not just their physical performance in a specific sport or contest.

To address the need for widespread adoption of LTAD concepts, two harmonious models have been developed. One model, the Composite Youth Development Model http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2015/05000/Long_Term_Athletic_Development__Part_1___A_Pathway.36.aspx integrates the physical and psychosocial needs of youth from the strength and conditioning context. The other, the American Development Model http://www.teamusa.org/About-the-USOC/Athlete-Development/Coaching-Education/American-Development-Model highlights the principles and stages of youth development through sport. Together, the two models create a holistic experience for all kids to successfully participate in sport and strength and conditioning programs.

Together, we can fill the talent pool with kids who love sports and physical activity, coaches that understand how to positively engage kids to be lifelong movers, parents who rally behind their kids’ positive youth development, and we might even educate the professional naysayers who fail to recognize the value of sports and strength and conditioning for all kids.

LTAD Models and Filling the Talent Pool by Rick Howard

We are all “athletes”

Long term athletic development (LTAD) is a hot topic. I am excited to be part of two national initiatives to identify how best to implement a long term plan for children and youth in the US. I feel that LTAD is not the best name for a long-term plan to engage kids in a lifelong effort to not only play sports but also be physically active across the lifespan.  Being “athletic,” as it relates to having motor skill competence, self-efficacy of movement skills, and positive experiences in physical education, sports, and play are key indicators of continued participation in sports and physical activity. If athletic is properly defined, we can all agree that it is appropriate, but other terms such as participant, youth, or physical activity have been suggested. Some key contributors to the plan may be turned off by the term athletic, so it is critical to the success of an LTAD plan that all key players in youth sport, recreation, physical education, health, government and education agree on the terminology in order to work together to make an LTAD model a successfully implemented reality.

LTAD models and filling the Talent Pool

To fill the talent pool, we need to provide ALL kids multiple opportunities to participate in a wide variety of sports and physical activities. LTAD models create a generic guide that can be used to plan the long-term phases and progressions of any sport/activity. With our current over-emphasis on product (winning, competition, and early sport specialization) and our under-emphasis on process (learning fundamental motor skills and applying them in a variety of activities, based on where each child is on the developmental continuum) we clearly need a document to guide and educate coaches, parents, teachers and other persons of influence to do what is best for kids.

The cornerstone of an effective LTAD model is an early start (often between 6 and 8 years of age) on learning fundamental movement skills in a fun, interactive, and dynamic environment. Part of physical literacy is that powerful movement vocabulary must be taught before specific sports skills can be learned and applied. This is why it is so critical to have a certified movement professional, that is, quality physical education teacher, at the elementary level. Without successful adaptation within the critical preadolescent years, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage youngsters in physical activity and nearly impossible to coach them on the path to the master level of athletics when they reach adolescence.

The most popular model to date is the Canadian LTAD model (www.canadiansportforlife.ca).  The visual representation of their model looks like this:

The Canadian model established clear stages for developing physical literacy and is predominantly physiological in design (more so than social and psychological).  While it has an exit to their Active for Life stage it does not include re-entry points for physical activity throughout the year, which I feel is extremely important (see Ford: http://www.sportni.net/NR/rdonlyres/991FF96E-C6DB-4700-A900-F4DF2732E81A/0/ParticipantDevelopmentinSport.pdf for more information on this key topic). For example, when kids are pushed into early specialization in one sport and they end up not being as competitive as their peers by age 10 or 11, they have not only lost out on key periods of developing fundamental movement skills but also often find themselves without the skill set for other sports and activities and drop out entirely. Key Ingredients for a successful model, then, include identifying key participants, focusing on positive youth development, and incorporating both sports and play.

Challenges to Implementation

Establishing a national model for LTAD is imminent, but there are several reasons we cannot simply adopt a model already created:

  • US Sports model differs from other nations– we do not have a government run sport system and our school-based sports program is unique. Funding, equitable access, and partnering need to be addressed as appropriate to each sport program, community, and stakeholder.
  • Not every sport progresses in parallel and not every participant progresses at the same rate– many models follow a chronological age format with sports developmental levels based on age groups, which may not be the best way to set cutoffs and categories.
  • Requires paradigm shift from product to process– our culture is so ingrained with our “win at all cost, no matter what age” mentality that it is going to take a Herculean effort by everyone involved to change that mindset.
  • Need all shareholders to buy in for maximum implementation– there are many agencies, institutions, systems and individuals that must come together to provide a consistent message that positive youth physical, social, and psychological development is Priority #1.

I will keep you posted on my blog as we continue to develop the plan and work on the implementation strategy.

Playing lots of games without practicing is like taking lots of tests without studying (Learning)

 

(A related article I wrote for the National Strength and Conditioning Association can be found here:

http://www.nsca.com/ContentTemplates/PublicationArticleDetail.aspx?id=2147484713 )

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