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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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Toward a Youth Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification to Fill the Talent Pool (Defining Quality Instruction) By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW

The most popular blog to date. Still a huge topic of writing and conversation.

youth centered sports and fitness

The cornerstone for teaching and coaching youth properly designed, developmentally-appropriate strength and conditioning programming is quality instruction. Quality instruction is referred to in leading position statements and guidelines as a key component to safe and effective youth fitness, sports participation, and strength and conditioning programs. What defines quality instruction?

Top 10 Outcomes for Quality Instruction for Youth to Fill the Talent Pool

  1. Demonstrate a solid understanding of pediatric exercise science concepts and principles
  2.  Integrate factors along the developmental continuum, physically as well as psychosocially
  3. Appreciate the significance of simultaneously developing, refining, and mastering motor skills and muscle strength, as well as other contributory fitness attributes
  4. Recognize the important role of a long-term approach to talent development to fill the talent pool with as many youth as possible
  5. Implement key strategies for safety and practice design efficiency and effectiveness
  6. Apply the concept of periodization to program design
  7. Infuse coaching methods…

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Toward a Youth Strength and Conditioning Specialist Certification to Fill the Talent Pool (Defining Quality Instruction) By: Rick Howard, M.Ed, CSCS, *D, USAW

The cornerstone for teaching and coaching youth properly designed, developmentally-appropriate strength and conditioning programming is quality instruction. Quality instruction is referred to in leading position statements and guidelines as a key component to safe and effective youth fitness, sports participation, and strength and conditioning programs. What defines quality instruction?

Top 10 Outcomes for Quality Instruction for Youth to Fill the Talent Pool

  1. Demonstrate a solid understanding of pediatric exercise science concepts and principles
  2.  Integrate factors along the developmental continuum, physically as well as psychosocially
  3. Appreciate the significance of simultaneously developing, refining, and mastering motor skills and muscle strength, as well as other contributory fitness attributes
  4. Recognize the important role of a long-term approach to talent development to fill the talent pool with as many youth as possible
  5. Implement key strategies for safety and practice design efficiency and effectiveness
  6. Apply the concept of periodization to program design
  7. Infuse coaching methods and techniques that use relevant cueing and feedback mechanisms for each level
  8. Use testing and assessment as a snapshot to identify areas in need of improvement and to further develop areas toward mastery
  9. Provide opportunities for preadolescents and adolescents to enjoy a variety of sports, physical activities, and strength and conditioning in a positive nurturing environment
  10. Establish a positive youth-centered shared vision, philosophy and goals for the program and the participants

There is a need for a nationally accredited youth certification. Pre-qualification should include a basic understanding of exercise science, growth and development, and strength and conditioning. Unfortunately, there is no nationally accredited certification available that properly addresses all 10 outcomes.  Steps toward the development of such a credential may include

  • Curriculum development and implementation for undergraduate physical education and exercise science majors
  • Youth-serving organizations that design accredited certifications to unite to provide a recognized, valid, and credible certification that can be the gold standard
  • Professional development and community outreach to educate all stakeholders in youth positive development through physical activity, sport, physical education, and strength and conditioning, including coaches, parents, and community-based youth organizations

Our kids deserve to have knowledgeable, caring, certified coaches and teachers leading them in strength and conditioning exercises and activities. More details on the 10 outcomes for Quality Instruction for youth to fill the talent pool coming soon. Stay tuned!

Beware of Youth Sports Camps! by: Rick Howard

Unfortunately, regular participation in organized youth sports does not ensure adequate exposure to skill- and health-related fitness activities, and sport training without preparatory conditioning does not appear to reduce the risk of injury in youngsters (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21623307). With disturbing trends of eliminating or greatly reducing physical education, ill-advised focus on early sport specialization, not giving kids time for free play and the lack of emphasis on developing fundamental fitness skills before engaging in sports, does it make sense to send preadolescents to a sports camp? Many of these camps do not support physical literacy and long term athlete development.

Quality sports camps for preadolescents should teach ALL attendees the progressions and developmental combinations for fundamentals of:

  • health-fitness and skills-fitness activities integrated into the practice design
  • the game and how to play a variety of positions
  • the fundamentals of playing a variety of games and a variety of positions.
  • AND all that needs to be balanced with continued development of fundamental movements:
  • Body Management Skills
    1. Rolling
    2. Stopping
    3. Bending
    4. Twisting
    5. Landing
    6. Stretching
    7. Climbing

8. Static and Dynamic Balancing
9. Turning

  • Locomotor Skills
    1. Crawling
    2. Running
    3. Galloping
    4. Walking
    5. Hopping
    6. Skipping
    7. Dodging

8. Jumping

9.Leaping

  • Object Control Skills
    1. Throwing
    2. Catching
    3. Striking
    4. Bouncing
    5. Dribbling
    6. Kicking

Ignoring teaching the fundamentals of movement skills for lifelong movement and sports is like expecting kids to take algebra without mastering numbers, place values, operations, fractions and decimals, and problem solving.

Noteworthy findings from a recent study, Risks of Specialized Training and Growth in Young Athletes: a Prospective Clinical Cohort Study (http://www.newswise.com/articles/intense-specialized-training-in-young-athletes-linked-to-serious-overuse-injuries ) include:

  • young athletes who spent more hours per week than their age playing one sport – such as a 12-year-old who plays tennis 13 or more hours a week – were 70 percent more likely to experience serious overuse injuries than other injuries
  • young athletes were more likely to be injured if they spent more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spent in unorganized free play — for example, playing 11 hours of organized soccer each week, and only 5 hours of free play such as pick-up games
  • athletes who suffered serious injuries spent an average of 21 hours per week in total physical activity (organized sports, gym and unorganized free play), including 13 hours in organized sports. By comparison, athletes who were not injured, participated in less activity – 17.6 hours per week in total physical activity, including only 9.4 hours in organized sports

The authors recommend:

  • do not specialize in one sport before late adolescence. Encourage early diversification in playing a range of sports
  • young athletes should not spend more hours per week in organized sports than their ages. Do not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as you spend in gym and unorganized play
  • do not play sports competitively year round. Take a break from competition for one-to-three months each year (not necessarily consecutively).

•    take at least one day off per week from training in sports.

Additional recommendations from US Lacrosse’s Position Statement on Youth Participation (http://www.uslacrosse.org/Portals/0/safety/pdf/PositionPaperYouthParticipation.pdf) include:

  • provide 1-2 days off per week from competitive sports.
  • provide 2-3 months away from a specific sport during the year.
  • emphasize fun, safety and sportsmanship as goals of sport.
  • check that training and playing time increase no more than 10 percent each week.
  • allow children to participation on only one team per season.
  • reduce excessive playing time in all day, weekend tournaments.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should have at least 2-3 months away from sport specific training and competition during the year.
  • athletes at the U-9, U-11, U-13 and U-15 level should play on only one lacrosse team during a season. If an athlete is playing on more than one team in the same season, they should not participate for more than 16-20 hours per week.
  • tournaments should not be played at the U-9 level. The emphasis at this level should remain on skill development and team concepts.
  • All-Star teams should not be created at the U-9 and U-11 levels.

When searching for the best sports camps for preadolescents, consider those that meet the above criteria and develop athleticism, not sport-specificity. Sport-specific camps might not provide the instruction and opportunity for kids to develop their preparatory fitness and skills. Multi-sport camps would be a great idea to allow kids the opportunity to learn and sample many different sports and activities. It is the kids’ proficiency, self-efficacy, and positive exposure that will help them develop to their potential. Use the extra time for free play and family fitness fun!

How tall is your pyramid?

by: Rick Howard

Build the Base

According to Martin Rooney, author of Training for Warriors (not to mention awe-inspiring displays by Egyptians, Mayans, and esteemed mathematicians), a pyramid can only be as tall as its base. How does this revelation help you fill the talent pool?

 

All youth athletes need to develop a strong physical, social, and psychological foundation (the base of the youthsportfitnesscoach.com youth development pyramid) in order to realize not only athletic potential but also to have the skills, confidence, and poise to be physically active for their entire lives. Unfortunately, however, the youth sport and the youth physical education/physical activity popular cultures are “built” on bases that are too narrow to support complete youth development at each youngster’s appropriate level.

What should youth sports be doing to build the base?

Youth sport programs must produce results to generate customers. But being the U-9 champs should NOT BE the primary objective. The focus should not be on the product (winning) but on the process (engaging). Less than 0.01 % of Little League World Series players ever play professional baseball.  Statistics on the ever-elusive-college-scholarship are equally as dismal. The pressure to win often leads to burnout, injury, and discontinuation not only in the sport but in physical activity, in general. The result youth sports programs SHOULD BE producing is successful movers in a variety of environments, with an eye on continued improvement, enjoyment, and participation (did you know that 70% of kids drop out of youth sports by age 13?).

Is being physically active enough?

The physical education/physical activity paradigm has shifted emphasis from building a strong foundation through motor skill development, sports skills, tactics and strategies, and positive attitude toward games, fitness, and sport to what they call lifetime fitness activities (defined by adults, not kids). These activities include: walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, and weight training. While part of an active lifestyle, shouldn’t all youth be exposed to a variety of sports and activities so that they can make the choice which one(s) to continue throughout the lifespan? The answer, of course, is YES!!  Physical fitness (improving qualities like strength, endurance, balance, power, and speed) has been replaced with health-fitness (which, in theory would help kids decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, low back pain, etc. but has not been longitudinally measured) and includes cardiorespiratory endurance, muscle strength and endurance, flexibility and body composition.

Lifetime fitness activities and health-related fitness are only a piece of the puzzle, certainly not enough to build a pyramid. Sports are often what excite kids to exercise, be outdoors, go to school, etc. (It’s no accident that the spokespersons for most fitness and activity programs are athletes, with whom kids (and adults) can identify— —not low back pain specialists or cardiologists). By focusing on the end-product of being moderately to vigorously active within a very narrow performance base, with no measurement of progress of becoming proficient movers, is selling our kids short.

How you can broaden the base to help Fill the Talent Pool

So, how do you broaden the base of the pyramid with positive physical, social, and psychological skills to make the pyramid be as tall (leading to physically literacy) as possible? Include, at all developmental stages, for both boys and girls:

  • Physical components, such as strength building, agility and balance, speed, and fundamental motor skills, incorporated into a variety of sports and games opportunities
  • Social components, such as trying different activities with different groups of youngsters, providing non-structured play opportunities, and ensuring that a consistent message of sportsmanship, camaraderie, and teamwork permeates the organization
  • Psychological components, such as providing positive experiences that lead to the development of intrinsic motivation, matching youngsters to sports and activities that are age-related, not age-determined, and knowing how to provide proper cues and feedback at different stages of development,

The incredible challenge is that not every child is at the same developmental level at the same time and developmental progress is not always linear (i.e. there may be some back-sliding along the way—that’s ok!). The base of the pyramid does not need to be a regimented program of drills and exercises but a carefully thought out plan (which involves your aspiring lifelong sport/physical activity participant) that balances youth sport, physical education, structured and unstructured play, and being a kid!

Keep filling the talent pool!!

 

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