Category Archives: Youth sports

Why Women’s Athletics? Selling Its Benefits In Tough Economic Times

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I wrote this article for the Fall 2010 NCAA Champion magazine.  I found that the more I talked to female athletes at all levels, many of them really didn’t understand Title IX or the value of women’s athletics.  My goal in this article wasn’t to prove that the volleyball team brings in as much money as the men’s ice hockey team, but that the benefit of sport (and women’s sports in particular) is more than the bottom line of a budget sheet.

Do you know what your team’s view of Title IX is?  More than likely, they view their athletic selves as the balance for men’s athletics…and I’d say that that should not be the case.  Women’s athletics stands alone as important and beneficial without the need to “balance out” athletic departments.  Viewing volleyball and softball and field hockey as existing solely to enable men to play their sports and be in compliance with the law is a pretty powerless and pathetic existence.

I read a great article on the Financial Times website titled, “A Good Economist Knows the True Value of the Arts”, which talked about how the arts, hospitals, and sports try to demonstrate their relevance by selling their economic value.  I’m sure you’ve heard the schpiel:  women’s volleyball is helping the university by bringing families onto campus and they’re buying concessions, the concessions stand is employing workers, and the facility is able to employ more folks for maintenance and crowd control.  But the author asserts that those are costs, not benefits, and that the savvy athletic director should (if it all comes down to finances) cut volleyball because the financial benefit does not come close to the financial cost taken on by the college.  Here’s a great quotation from that article:

The value of an activity is not what it costs, but the amount by which its benefit exceeds its costs. The economic contribution of sport is in the pleasure participants and spectators derive, and the resulting gains in health and longevity. That value is diminished, not increased, by the resources that need to be diverted from other purposes.

So if finances aren’t the way to sell women’s athletics to our colleagues (who may silently believe that we are there for balance only) or the higher ups who are taking hard looks at the budget…what are our selling points?  Where are the places that, like the quotation above says, the benefits of women’s athletics exceed its costs?  There are many advantages to sports participation that will stay with its participants for life, here are a few.

Health Young ladies who participate in sports reduce their chance of getting breast cancer by 60% according to Journal of the National Cancer Institute (1994)…at a time where one in eight women have gotten or will be diagnosed with breast cancer, that’s huge!  On top of that, it’s been proven that performing weight bearing exercises while young will help fight off osteoporosis later in life.

Mentors Little girls need to see that sports are for them too.  They need to see that women can be aggressive and competitive and achievers…that’s where our teams come in!  I don’t know about you, but I was never the stereotypical “girly girl”, wearing pink and playing with dolls, so sports participation was always a part of my life.  But what if, through watching our athletes play, that stereotype shifted to include having a lacrosse stick or golf club in her hand?

Learning to excel in a team environment Go to any business magazine or read any book designed for managers and you’ll see the word “team” over and over again.  The ability to strive within a team construct should be the hallmark of women’s athletics.  Our athletes learn leadership, how to win and lose with grace, how to recognize strengths and weakness in themselves and others…and use those to their advantage, and how to perform under pressure.  All characteristics that will serve them well after their time on our fields and courts is over.

Let’s all agree to talk to our teams about what they do and why it’s important.  To explain that both men’s and women’s athletics can stand on their own respective two feet…both strong and autonomous.  By doing this, we will equip them to answer the question: why women’s athletics?

What has your department done in terms of educating your student athlete population?  How about education for the coaching staff?  Any other ideas?

4 Guidelines for Sports Families

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A few weeks back Coach Dawn wrote a post that I think should be invaluable to any sports family.  Her notes on 6 Reasons Kids Quit Sports sparked a quick email conversation between the two of us.   With two young boys of my own, ages 9 and 11, I continue to be very interested in what keeps kids motivated in sports, and what causes them to “burn out”, often at rather young ages.

Our family, meaning my wife and I, have been working with a few guidelines that we’re hoping will help combat “burn out”.  We’ve both been coaches for a number of years, so naturally our children jumped into sports at a young age.  We could have hardly prevented it, if we would have felt we needed to try.  There’s been no study or formal testing of these guidelines.  These are simply what we’ve been doing.  And…we have no true data set…as we do not yet know for sure if our two boys will burn out or not.  So, I submit them to you for your review…

  • GUIDELINE 1:  They Can Play Any Sport They Want

At young ages, the more the better I think.  Dr. David Geier’s writings assert the same thing.  Have them play multiple sports.  Not only will it help prevent burn out, but it may actually make them perform better in their favorite sports.  As parents, it is understandable that we don’t like certain sports, or like some sports better than others, but maybe we shouldn’t overly influence what sports our kids choose.  I think logical parameters would have to exist, two examples would be time and expense.  I told Coach Dawn that if one of our boys decides he wants to take up base-jumping or jet-fuel racing, we might have to adjust this guideline!!  But generally, let them pick anything they want to play, mainstream or not-so-mainstream, go to it!

  • GUIDELINE 2:  They Do Not “Have” to Play Any Sport

This one is tough for us sometimes.  When I was in high school, I played many sports, but if you asked me, I’d say I was a “football player”.  That was my primary sport.  Now I coach volleyball.  My wife was a record holder as a collegiate swimmer and has coached swimming ever since.  Guess which three sports our boys show very little interest in playing?  We’d love to see them on the swim team, or at little league football, or into youth volleyball.   But it’s OK that they are not.  We’ve decided we’re not going to force them into our favorite sports, or into any sports.   They will play what they want to play…not what we want them to play

  • GUIDELINE 3:  One Sport at a Time

It’s rather obvious that you can now play just about any sport, all year round, at any age.  Good or bad, it is a reality that sports are available all the time.  It’s easy to fall into playing more than one sport at a time.  This guideline is one that I feel pretty strongly about.  It’s complicated, and maybe not fair, to have kids try to keep up with more than one sport.   One winter we ignored this guideline. Our older boy wrestled and played basketball.  Pretty soon he got real tired, every day.  And didn’t always look forward to either practice…and eventually wasn’t even excited about the games or tournaments.  It was just too much.   There might be overlaps when one season ends and another begins, but we’re going to try hard to stick to one sports schedule at a time!

  • GUIDELINE 4:  If They Start a Sport, They Must Finish that Sport

This means we will not allow them to quit mid-season.  Kids often like to be involved in everything, so they might want to try something.  And that’s all good, but we ask…no we make…them play it out for the season.  Give it a chance for the duration of one season before deciding that it’s not for them.  Furthermore, they’ve made a commitment to the team, and that is important to learn, even at a young age.  So, barring extreme circumstances of course, we will make sure they fulfill that obligation.

There you have it.  My Four Guidelines for Sports Families.  I’d love to hear feedback.  Tell me what you think, maybe you like them, maybe you feel they’re hogwash.  In any case, the discussion is important.  You hear story after story of the star athlete, with a bright promising future, who instead gives up the sport prematurely.  As a college coach, I always hate to see that.   It’s always a tragedy when a sport becomes a burden for an athlete.  Sports are great for so many reasons, let’s try hard to make sure they stay great for the young athlete, for a long time!

Keep reading Coach Dawn Writes.  Great stuff every post!!

Want more info on youth sports?  Check out Y Is For Youth Sports: 5 Reasons Kids Should Play Sports and 4 Reasons Our Children Should Play Sports (Or My Love Letter To Athletics).

Today’s post  was written by Randall Kreider, the Head Volleyball Coach at Elizabethtown College.  As you can see, he’s a coach and a dad…please contact him with any questions.

6 Reasons Kids Quit Sports

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Writing a post about how kids shouldn’t specialize in a particular sport when they’re too young may seem a bit disingenuous for me.  After all, as a college coach, I directly benefit from our culture’s obsession with organized youth sports.  In my opinion, most kids in youth sports aren’t playing because they have a deep and lasting love of their particular sport, but because their friends play and their parents make them go. Sport should be fun for even the most highly skilled young athletes.

Beyond fun, parents and coaches should encourage youth athletes to play all sorts of sports so that their bodies can rest.  Young kids can play volleyball in the fall, soccer in the winter, and run track in the spring.  They’re still working out and being healthy, but not overtaxing the same muscle groups by playing the same sport year-round.  You can read more about this by reading Dr. Geier’s blog post, How Young Is Too Young?.

So what makes kids decide to quit playing?

They’ve lost interest.  After a year of playing, maybe your eight-year-old realizes that soccer isn’t as great as she thought it would be…that’s probably okay.

They’re not having fun.  Even for my college athletes, I think fun is important.  We play games, not works, sport should be fun.

They’re tired of playing.  Think about the youth sport carousel: practice a couple of times a week after school, get up early on Saturdays and Sundays to play in tournaments…it can be a grind.  I always wonder how the parents balance it all, maybe it would be a similarly good question to wonder how the kids manage it.

There’s too much emphasis on winning.  While I believe in the value of teaching winning and losing with grace, if the coach or parent is just focused on winning (at all costs), I’m sure it can be taxing on the kid.  I certainly don’t think everyone should get a trophy at the end of the day, but we’ve got to teach the children that there are winners beyond what the scoreboard shows.

They want to participate in other activities.  Hopefully we want to create well-rounded children who play basketball and lacrosse…but who are also artists and singers and members of the orchestra.  Participation in sports shouldn’t exclude our children from loving other things.

They feel too much pressure.  It’s probably the coach in me saying this, but pressure from the moment (needing to hit a free throw shot to win the game) is a great life lesson.  Pressure from their mom and dad in the car on the way home as they dissect every moment of the game is probably not the best.

Of course, there may come a time for middle or high school aged kids to focus on a particular sport, but there’s no need to rush it.  Ultimately, we all want kids to love sports.  We believe that sports are great for many reasons, let’s make sure we don’t steal the love of the game away from our kids.

If you liked this post, check out Y Is For Youth Sports: 5 Reasons Kids Should Play Sports, 4 Reasons Our Children Should Play Sports (Or My Love Letter To Athletics), and 3 Reasons Why Sports Are Awesome.

6 Reasons I Love Coaching Sports

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I’m often amazed at how much I can write about coaching and never talk about a drill or an offensive scheme or a defensive strategy…there’s just so much to our wonderful profession.  To the point, there’s leadership and learning how to be great when greatness is required.  There’s also a place for coaches to practice what we preach and learn a little balance.  That’s just a bit of what the end of the A to Z series was all about.  Click away to read some of the alphabetical goodness!

The A to Z series: Letters U thru Z

It’s not often that I get to use the word “ubiquitous” and The 3 U’s Of Leadership was one of those times.  Leadership is a big topic and there are many thought leaders out there on the topic…this is one of my entries into the fray.

The Pyramid of Success and I are tight…we go way back.  The pyramid is designed to be a team’s road map to success.  While the peak isn’t competitive greatness (it’s success, silly), it’s certainly a strong measure of success.  I’d be hard-pressed to think of a team as successful if they weren’t also competitively great.  V Is For Victory: Cultivating Competitive Greatness talks about the three steps needed in order to be great when greatness is required.

As coaches, we’re all high achievers and think that we can do it all…but we can’t.  There are only so many hours in the day and only so many things that are truly high priority each day, we’ve just got to figure out what those are.  W Is For Work/Life Balance: How To Stay Sane In Season is a good reminder for all of us to remember that some stuff is going to get done while other stuff doesn’t…and that’s okay.

There’s a talent show on television that’s searching for the person with that “it” quality…something beyond just having ability.   That’s what the X Is For X-Factor: The Secret Of Success was all about.  We often know it when we see it, but what is the x-factor?  Read this post to find out!

I believe that sports are great for all kids.  The kids who are super athletic and love sports, as well as the artsy kids who think they’re not good at sports.  Why?  Because I believe in the lessons that sport teaches and they’re beyond just winning and losing…though that’s part of it.  Y Is For Youth Sports: 5 Reasons Kids Should Play Sports gives us five solid reasons why sports should be a part of every kid’s life.

As the title suggests, Z Is For Zenith: 8 Top Posts Of 2011 is about the articles that received the most love from the readers this year.  I won’t write a review of a review, you’ll just have to check it out to see for yourself!

That was the A to Z series, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  There’s so much to love about being a coach, I’m just happy I get to write about it here.

Y Is For Youth Sports: 5 Reasons Kids Should Play Sports

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Please join me for a fun series.  My mission, and I’ve chosen to accept it, is to write a post based on each letter of the alphabet.  The English major inside of me is very excited about this project…and my inner nerd is even more fired up!  Keep checking back as I tackle the intangibles of sport…from A to Z.

My purpose for writing here is to connect with other coaches who are as nerdy about coaching as I am.  Those folks who can’t get enough about leadership and team building and all sorts of intangibles.  Which seemingly puts the topic of “youth sports” squarely outside of the perimeters of what I’m supposed to be talking about here.  I’ve talked in many different ways about the wonderfulness of sport and the fact that I believe in the power of athletics to cultivate greatness.  Kids receive intangibles from sports as well.  They may be different intangibles than high school or collegiate athletes, but they’re intangibles all the same.

5 reasons I think sports are great for kids

Social network.  Sports are a great way to make friends.  Kids find other people their age who are interested in some of the same things they are…they get a sense of belonging.  Perhaps the young person who feels uncomfortable asserting themselves or being aggressive in a classroom environment will step out of their shell on the court or field.

Healthy habits.  At the youngest levels, kids learn that drinking water is good for them, orange slices give them good energy, and that exercise is a good thing.  Beyond that, they learn that relying on others for their own success is the hallmark of “team”.

Develop discipline.  Having worked with elementary aged students, I know that it can sometimes resemble herding cats…cats that are all hopped up on caffeine.  Sport teaches kids the importance of being on time, sticking with what you start, working hard when you’d rather be somewhere else, and that you’re accountable to others.

Manage emotions.  I’ve known folks who coach middle schoolers and they have to teach young people how to control their emotions so that they’re actions can stay under control.  Talk about a lesson that will last a lifetime!   Those who coach that age group understand how  to teach teamwork (and how to squash the fight between basketball players who think the ball isn’t being passed enough), conflict management (it’s not okay to blame your teammate for the team’s loss), and team roles (everyone can’t be a starter).

Personal success.  Sport is a way for our children to stand on their own two feet and have their own accomplishments.  They’re no longer so-and-so’s daughter/son/sister/brother…but a person of their own right.  Athletics is the place where they can say, “I did it!”

Most athletes aren’t going to play sports in college…and even fewer will get scholarships to do it.  Hopefully these are five solid reasons for you to get the kids in your life involved with athletics.

Like this post?  Check out 4 Reasons Our Children Should Play Sports (Or My Love Letter To Athletics).

Tom Hanks Was Right…There’s No Crying In Sports

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Here is Pet Peeve #249:  players that cry in practice.  You’re probably thinking, “oh Dawn, you’re so heartless, sometimes there’s a good reason for crying…stop being so mean!”  In my mind though, there’s never a reason to put self before team and that’s exactly what crying in practice or a game does.  Now, I’m not talking about tears that are the result of an injury or yay-we-just-won-the-championship tears…those are both acceptable reasons for crying in sports.  I’m talking about the tears that stem from frustration, anger, or just plain lack of knowledge as to how one’s behavior affects others.  Let’s look at why I have such a strong opinion about crying and what you should do when faced with a crier in practice.

4 Reasons Why Tears Aren’t The Answer

1.       It’s selfish. When a player cries in a practice or game, they’re saying that their interests are more important than the team’s…plain and simple.

2.       It’s distracting. When there’s a player that cries, the team and coach have a decision to make:  do we attend to the emotional player or do we get work done here at practice or our game?  That’s not fair!  Their teammates shouldn’t have to debate whether they’re being awful people just because they want to focus on the task at hand.

3.       It shows lack of respect. The crier doesn’t respect the work that the coach has put into practice planning, because we’ve got a time schedule to keep.  They don’t respect their teammate’s focus or desire to get better at practice.  And in turn, if it’s not nipped in the bud, the crier could lose the respect of their coach and teammates.

4.       It shows lack of control. There’s no age that’s too young to start teaching our athletes how to manage their emotions.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of sports?  They’ll learn how to win and lose with grace, how to earn or lose a starting spot, and how to succeed and fail in front of others…it’s great!  It’s also our job as their coaches to teach them how to handle life’s ups and downs without it negatively impacting the lives of others.

So You’ve Got A Crier…Now What?

1.       Explain the points above. If you don’t explain those things, they’ll just think you’re being mean…which could spawn more tears (*sigh*) and an exponentially higher level of frustration for you as their coach.  They need to understand that those four things above are contrary to any sort of team success and because of that, you can’t let it slide.

2.       Acknowledge whatever their situation is. Their boyfriend broke up with them, they failed a huge test, they’re playing at an amazingly awful level…whatever it is, you get it, right?  You understand why they’d want to cry, why they’re frustrated, and why they feel like they can’t handle it anymore.  You get it…you just won’t tolerate it, because you and the team still have work to do.

3.       Remind them that they’ve got a mouth. They’ve got to use their words.  You’re a reasonable human being, right coach?  If they came to you with a legitimate problem or concern, you’d listen and the two of you would work it out together, right?  Let them know that you’ll be there for them…but only when they can behave like an adult.  You love them and care for them, but poor behavior is poor behavior and it’s not to be tolerated.

4.       Give them a break. Sometimes the crier can get themselves together and refocus.  Sometimes they can’t and you might have to give them a break.  But it’s got to be legit…you can’t hold it against them!  You can’t say on one hand: come to me like an adult and I’ll listen and we’ll work it out…and then when the crier tells you the problem, you yell or scream or are just generally pissed.  Maybe you make them finish practice with the understanding that they’re going to be terrible, or maybe you send them home knowing that they’ll be better the next day.

So there you are folks, this is a tough one for a lot of coaches…tears are powerful and disarming.  But stand your ground and turn the situation into a teachable moment.

4 Reasons Our Children Should Play Sports (Or My Love Letter To Athletics)

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Only about 5 percent of high school athletes continue to play in college.  Some get partial scholarships, but no more than 1 percent of high school athletes, representing just the top layer of national-caliber players, get full scholarships.

Warrior Girls by Michael Sokolove

Age-group sports are a money-making machine.  Parents start their kids involved with organized, coach-led sports at a young age with the hopes of the elusive college scholarship being the carrot that directors use to get the big bucks.  You can go to most club or AAU websites and there is bound to be a section where their successful “alumni” are showcased…those folks who earned a full ride to a big university.  But what of those athletes who spent the same amount of money, but were much lesser skilled and were not able to continue on to earn a college scholarship?  How can their parents justify the expense?  I’d like to talk to you today about the reasons young kids should play sports…and it’s not because they want to brag to their friends about earning an athletic scholarship.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was a scholarship athlete at a major university and enjoyed my experience immensely.  But if that quotation at the opening of the article is true, I was in a pretty small majority, so again I ask…why play sports?

Well rounded: Aside from the small minority who are talented enough to merit intently focusing on one sport, I believe that we need to encourage young folks to play multiple sports.  Play field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter, and run track in the spring.  For years and years (before age-group sports became the financial juggernaut that it is now), this was the formula that elite athletes followed…and they were still elite.  In order to lessen the repetitive motion injuries that we see, as well as to increase the fun of sports, let’s go back to encouraging our athlete’s participation in multiple sports.

Healthy living: Even if you know that your little one is not bound for glory on the field, they can still receive the benefits of athletics participation.  Learning to work with others, goal-setting, and being a part of something bigger than themselves are all hallmarks of sports teams.    Beyond that, our children can learn to love working out and eating healthy and to enjoy living life in a balanced manner.

Love it: Some kids just love their sport.  It’s how they identify themselves and they truly cannot imagine their lives without it.  Many of those kids turn into student-athletes at small, liberal arts colleges where athletes can sometimes make up 25 to 40 percent of the student population.  Those colleges don’t offer athletic scholarships, but they do offer a student who loves their sport and values their education a place to compete and excel.

Future success: As I’ve said on this site before, girls who play sports are more likely to be successful in their future endeavors.  Sokolove agrees in his book, Warrior Girls.  He says that a 2002 survey of female executives revealed that 82 percent of them said that they had played team sports.  Learning to lead is just one of the fabulous benefits of sports participation!

I believe Warrior Girls says it best:  “We need to encourage parents, coaches, sports leagues, the culture itself to go back to multiple sports participation.  And there needs to be real off-seasons with unstructured play.  No adults.  No rules.  No leagues.  No registration cards.  One of the best sentences a parent can utter is ‘Go outside and play.’  One of the worst is, ‘It’s nine a.m.  Get in the car, we’re going to practice.’”  There are benefits to playing sports and being on a team that go beyond receiving an athletic scholarship and working like crazy to get it …hopefully I’ve got you thinking about a few of them.

Want to hear more?  Check out 3 Reasons Why Sports Are Awesome.