Behind the Bench

Don Winsor
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The best for your child

How many books have to be written? How many seminars have to be held? How much must we watch, read, or write to allow kids to enjoy themselves while playing sports? Is it really that difficult these days to know how to coach, motivate, and work with children? Oh yes, times have changed a bit since we were growing up, but let’s face facts — aren’t kids still, for the most part, just kids?

Emanating from the above questions, along with many others, is the need for better information that can be passed on to the people concerned. We need to be reminded that we are dealing with kids, and what we’re doing with organized youth leagues is for the kids’ benefit, and not our own.  

This column is for those parents, among others, who have children who like sports — any sport — and who are eager to participate in organized youth teams within their community. I define the term ‘organized youth team’ as being a part of any league within your town that has structure, and has been set up and run by parents like yourself.

The common parameters of these leagues, which includes such well-known organizations as minor hockey, little league baseball, and minor soccer, usually involve volunteer parent coaches, team uniforms, schedules, referees/umpires, and in many cases, an ongoing compilation of team win/loss records. It is very important to make a most vital point regarding these organized youth leagues, and that is in most cases, these leagues tend to be positive, enriching experiences for the children and their parents. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that for many children, these early years in organized youth sports can result in a lot of bad experiences as well. There are just too many cases of kids who first get introduced to sports in a highly competitive environment, who decide to shut sports out of their lives a few years later. Instead of going on to enjoy amateur sports at the high school level, these youngsters have instead turned away from sport altogether. And that, of course, is a tragedy that should have, and could have, been avoided.

“There are just too many cases of kids who first get introduced to sports in a highly competitive environment, who decide to shut sports out of their lives a few years later.”

Just ask yourself, what is the goal for your child? The answer to that one question may seem simple or obvious, but it’s not.  Many parents just go through the process of signing their kids up for organized youth sports without giving it a second thought. It’s as though youth sports is merely a right of passage in every local nook and cranny, simply a part of growing up that has become totally reflexive in our society.

But if you take the time to think about youth sports and what you want your child to experience from them, you will find you’ve taken the first step to making your child’s athletic experience a positive one.  For example, do you want your child to use youth sports as a pathway to a professional sports career? Or do you simply want your child to enjoy him or herself? Do you want her to learn about team play and sportsmanship? Or do you merely want your child to get some exercise and fresh air?

There are more questions to ponder: Do you have total trust and faith in the people who are coaching your child? What will you do if your child comes home and hasn’t enjoyed the experience? What do you do if your child doesn’t play by the rules, or doesn’t even understand them? What if your child comes home upset because the coach yelled at her during practice? And what do you do if your child isn’t as good as his/her peers? Do you yank him off the team, or tell him to be patient, and that he’ll develop his skills as the season goes along?


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