A couple of weeks ago someone complimented me on my ongoing efforts to highlight youth sports in general and minor coaching in particular. In the 23 years that I have been writing this column I have probably written more than 250 on various aspects of youth sports.
I am always humbled by the fact that people are not only reading, but paying attention as well. Like the mother who has my closing quote, which I coined many years ago, posted on the fridge door, to remind her each day of the value of sport in the lives of her children. The people who take the time to write, phone, e-mail and/or text, either with their comments, requesting information, or telling me of issues within their club, group or association, are the ones that make writing this column so enjoyable. Each time I walk into a venue and see one of my columns posted on the bulletin board, it not only gives me an ego boost but motivates and inspires as well.
I started my career in recreation as Assistant Recreation Director with the Iron Ore Company of Canada in Labrador City in 1961. I then became the provinces first full-time Municipal Parks and Recreation Direction for The Town of Gander in 1967. I tell you this, because it was all about kids for me back then - and it’s all about kids today.
In my experiences over the past 48 years I have seen it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. If this comes through too strong at times in some of my observations, I make no apologies. I have had the opportunity to observe and work with some of the best youth sport oriented people in this country, and I am blessed for that. On the flip side, I have seen too many executives, associations, coaches, officials, and parents, make lousy decisions regarding youth sports and the young athletes involved. In most instances, the only ones to suffer were the kids - and as much as I hate to say it, on it goes today. This has to change!
I must make a final comment on this year’s World Cup. The world’s most popular sport, both in participation and spectator interest. It had everything, glitz, glamour, fanfare, excitement, and at times, poetry in motion.
As the game was portrayed at its finest, one could not help but notice how big a role was played by use of the head, mentally of course, but for my purpose in this column, physically. The head is used to stop the ball, control the ball, advance the ball, pass the ball, and to score - which of course is the object of the game, which they did very well indeed this time around.
“On the flip side, I have seen too many executives, associations, coaches, officials, and parents, make lousy decisions regarding youth sports and the young athletes involved." - Don Winsor
That got me thinking about minor soccer, and the dangers to children in heading a soccer ball. There’s enough information out there to raise some concern about the impact (of heading) on children, whose brains are still growing. Some coaches overdo heading drills and teach the technique to kids who are too young to do it safely. The view from behind this bench is that this would include children under nine.
When kids are being taught they should use lighter-weight and smaller balls. For general purposes a No. 3 ball should be used for children under 8 and a No. 4 ball for ages 8 to 10. The higher the number, the bigger and heavier the ball. The No. 5 ball is usually recommended only for kids 11 and older. I know there are soccer programs that don’t follow these general standards, Does yours? Check it out!
As in all minor sports, good coaching is vital. I offer the following tips for teaching heading.
Make sure your child’s coach knows about them, and follows them: start by letting a little air out of the ball, or use a very light ball; at the outset, don’t spend too much time on heading drills — 10 to 15 minutes will suffice; make sure the player tucks his or her chin to stabilize his head and neck; and teach kids to hit the ball in the spot where the skull is thickest - at the hairline, slightly above the forehead, in the space right between the eyes.
I haven’t written the second half of this column to alarm parents or coaches. I myself consider heading, taught properly, as a safe soccer skill and should never become a headache.
That’s 30 for this week. Remember, “It’s easier to build a child than mend an adult and an ounce of pluck is worth a ton of luck!” Until next week.
Don Winsor is a former recreation administrator now living in Happy Adventure. He can be reached at (709) 677-2422 (voice/fax), by mail at Box 26, Site 6, Happy Adventure, NL, A0G-1Z0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org