The Technology to Solve Youth Sport’s Big Problem

By Brian Covert, Community Builder, Up My Game; TeamSnap user

There is a problem with participation in kid sport.

Unknown to many though is just how big the problem is. Right across the board, no matter the sport, the amount of children starting and staying active in sport is decreasing. The good news is that technology offers solutions that could help reverse the trend.

young athletBut first it’s important to understand just how serious this downward trend has become. The data, tabulated by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and presented by the Wall Street Journal, says the numbers of kids aged 6 to 17 playing the four most-popular sports – baseball, football, basketball and soccer – declined from 2008 to 2012. Surprisingly it’s basketball that saw the largest drop off, losing 8.3 percent of participants over the study while soccer dropped 7.2 percent of its players, baseball 7.2 percent and football down 5.4 percent. These numbers become increasingly worrying when placed against the backdrop of a childhood obesity epidemic along with concerns over childhood bullying and the like.

To properly evaluate possible solutions though, we must understand why these children are dropping out in the first place. According to data from ESPN’s 2013 Kids In Sport Focus, the most often cited reason (the reasons were presented in a list and participants were able to check off multiple reasons) given by both boys and girls for leaving sport is that “they were not having fun.” Unfortunately, this is largely subjective as the survey can’t determine exactly what is and is not fun.

Going down the list, a clearer picture begins to take shape: 22 percent of boys and 18 percent of girls said they didn’t get along with their coach, 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively, reported not getting along with their teammates, and 15 percent of both felt they just weren’t good enough.

What this data does is paint a picture of a young athlete who just isn’t developing or able to participate in a sport to a level they feel they should. These feelings then lead to a belief they are inadequate, which leads to feelings of resentment toward both coach and teammates, which leads to the feelings that the sport is no longer fun, which inevitably ends in the youth leaving the sport altogether. The whole scenario is quite heartbreaking and is the exact antithesis of what youth sport should all be about.

However, there are several areas where studies suggest the problem can be addressed. Amongst the top are focusing once again on the fun aspects of the game, encouraging effort and skill development and not focusing on results.

This is where adopting technology into youth sport can come in and the most promising technology application in this regard is online video analysis because these video analysis applications can directly address skill development ,which, in turn, gives a young player confidence that then helps them have more fun playing the sport.

One study that looked at the correlation between video analysis and skill development was done in Italy where a group of female volleyball players were divided into two groups – the first, a control group who received no special treatment and the second, an experimental group that used video analysis of their technique but got no feedback from their coach. The results showed “the importance of video analysis training and visual feedback” and that the “the experimental group improved more and in less sessions.” Putting the improvement into numbers, the experimental group saw a 12 percent improvement over the control group in terms of blocking and spiking success over the 10-week experiment. Now, imagine  a coach providing instruction and feedback as well, and video analysis would become an even better tool.

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There are several companies like Up My Game, Ubersense and Coach’s Eye already offering video analysis technology to coaches and athletes alike.  And while all these companies vary in functionality and such, they all operate around the same premise: that through technology, any athlete can receive positive feedback on their skills and technique from any coach from anywhere at anytime.

This technology holds very exciting possibilities for sport development. In fact, it’s quite realistic that these technologies can help address the majority of the reasons youth are dropping out of sport. Through use of video analysis technology any young athlete can get one-on-one coaching for any part of their game they may be struggling with. The opportunities for positive reinforcement abound, and focusing on skill development is of utmost importance. With this focus on development, there is the potential for the young athlete to grow and to discover what is fun about sport.

It would be wrong to say these technologies are the one and only solution for keeping kids engaged in sport, but they certainly have the potential to become a very important tool. Through these applications, kids can receive the attention and positive reinforcement they need to properly develop their skills that will give them confidence which will in turn lead them to having more fun. And in the end that is what’s most important.

 

Brian Covert is a community builder with Up My Game, makers of an app that connects athletes with coaches and uses video analysis to help improve skills, technique, and training. 

 

Dealing with Difficult Parents on the Sidelines

By Erica Salmon, TeamSnap user, team mom, writer and guest author

In a perfect world, we all show up to our children’s sporting events to encourage them lovingly. When they do well, we give a polite golf clap, and when they have a mishap, we smile and remember that they are only kids, learning one play at a time.

Ha! So the real story is … parent behavior on the sidelines runs the gamut from the disinterested dad reading the paper while his kid is batting to over-the-top mom screaming at the ref for a missed foul. I am sure many of us have stories to tell about what we’ve seen at our kids’ sporting events. I know I have way too many stories!

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So, as a sports parent, how do you deal with difficult parents? Here are some suggestions I have found work for me:

1. You cannot beat them, but you don’t have to join them!

I have been known to get caught up in the moment and get carried away verbally. It is usually when my child has done something well, and I over-cheer, or it’s when a child on the other team is being too aggressive and it feels like the ref isn’t calling it. Whatever the case may be, it’s dangerous to start getting too verbal. Whether you realize it or not, you become one of THOSE parents. I have taken a Sideline Vow of Silence because it is better to say nothing at all than to accidentally get caught up in the moment and say things you might regret. Maybe the other (more verbal) parents will follow your lead! Of course, if your child really is in danger, you need to pipe up, but for general sideline behavior, less is more.

2. Separate yourself from the pack.

Do yourself a favor and do not sit next to the loud, obnoxious parents. Politely find a quiet spot under a nice tree and enjoy watching your child without the influence of inappropriate behavior. Afraid you will look like you don’t want to socialize? Good! That’s the message you are trying to subtly send!

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3. Coach.

If you choose to coach, you put yourself in a position where you can (often) select or draft the kids on your team. Choose kids with parents who are not difficult. You might not have the best team in town according to your wins and losses record, but you will have a much more peaceful experience. (Note to difficult parents: If you continue to be obnoxious, coaches will stop choosing your child!)

4. Talk with the coach.

Last year, my son’s coach sent around a “Parent Code of Conduct” we all had to sign before the season started. It was his way of expressing early on that he did not want to deal with difficult parents. If your coach has not done something like this, perhaps you can suggest it to him/her. That way, the message to “be nice” will come from the coach and not from other parents.

5. Move on.

If your child’s youth sports experience is being ruined by a bad batch of parents, move on! Life is too short! Check out neighboring towns or other leagues, or start a club team. The goal is to provide your child with opportunities to explore his or her interests in different activities, not to subject your entire family to difficult parents. Of course, there are difficult parents everywhere, but sometimes, bad behavior breeds bad behavior, and finding a new team (and different parents) might be the solution.

For more on how can we stop bad sports parent behavior, listen to this episode of the TeamSnap Youth Sports Podcast. John Engh, COO of the National Alliance of Youth Sports (NAYS), discusses parents on the sidelines and how we can keep youth sports positive and beneficial to its athletes.

 

Erica Salmon is a TeamSnap Mom, often seen on the sidelines of youth soccer, baseball, field hockey and basketball games as well as at dance recitals, concerts and art shows. Erica is a book author, former fashion analyst for NBC10 (Philadelphia) and the founder of several Websites and blogs including Fantasy Fashion League and Red Carpet Mom. Erica lives in Mullica Hill, NJ, with her husband, three children and their enormous dog Elvis.


 

How Your Team Can Save Lives … If You Coach Them To

I realized we were on to something the day I heard a 6-year-old baseball player ask his parent how he could help “sick kids in the hospital.”

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After having the opportunity to work with thousands of high school, collegiate and professional players all synced with the idea of the necessity of making an impact off the playing field, this question stopped me in my tracks. You can imagine the Minor League Baseball player or college senior trying to knock off a requirement from the team or a class … but a 6 year old? A kid himself? Wanting to help other kids?

What dawned on me, personally, as a mid-20s former athlete trying to make a path in this world was that those lessons were never instilled in me.

As a bright-eyed freshman baseball player at the University of North Carolina, I was diagnosed with cancer at 18 years old. Until that time, I had no idea that children even had the chance to get cancer.

I grew up a coach’s son in multiple sports — baseball, football, basketball, you name it — and will always claim that sports taught me so many lessons I would have never learned elsewhere: teamwork, tenacity, perseverance, overcoming struggles, etc.

One lesson I was not overtly coached up on from my father (and coach) was the sense of giving back. Granted, I love my dad, and you’d be hard pressed to ever find a more organized 6 year old batting practice. However, the ideals of giving back to the community, or using your platform as an athlete off the field were never in our practice plans.

This year, in coordination with the Vs. Cancer Foundation (the foundation I started after beating cancer), I watched a group of 6- to 12-year-old kids rally around the idea of funding childhood cancer research efforts and raise tens of thousands of dollars. They gave up an afternoon, shaved their heads and believed in helping others.

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The amount of funds they raised was undeniably significant. They literally changed the culture of how the children’s hospital in North Carolina help kids with cancer. But, even more significant, is the fact that they are learning this lesson at such a young age.

Any coach knows that the likelihood that any of their players will be the next Derek Jeter, LeBron James or Brett Favre is a slim one. Thus, with those stats of unlikelihood of reaching professional rankings (in any sport) at the forefront, should we not put more emphasis on what matters more in the game of life? More emphasis on the spirit of giving back and making an impact the communities we are from?

Here are some suggestions on how your team can make an easy — and quick — impact off the field, at any age:

  • Take a practice to make a visit to a children’s hospital, elderly home, urban food kitchen, etc.
  • Organize a season-long food drive connecting with a local food bank. Letting your athletes see the end result can create a huge impact.
  • During pre-practice or post-practice meetings, emphasize an issue or local charity. Talk about how players have been affected by issues like cancer and how they can affect others (looking for a charity? Check out the Vs. Cancer Foundation!)
  • Encourage a team fundraiser that raises money for a greater good than just the team. You’ll be amazed at not only what your players are able to do but also the team bonding that is created when you rally together for a cause both on the field and off

Granted, with limited practice times and ever-increasing schedules, especially at higher levels, this is difficult. We are strapped for time, and sometimes the decision of adding more free throws or practicing a bunt defense or a separate drill series can outweigh the desire to talk about cancer with a team.

However, when thinking about the kids themselves, you have to realize that you are coaching the next generation of lawyers, doctors, and professionals. You are coaching the next generation of philanthropists. Maybe that bunt defense can wait for a lesson on selflessness.

Imagine, now, the impact on the future if we can show how sports can give back? I never learned that at a young age. What excites me now is knowing that we have a 6 year old in Raleigh, North Carolina, dedicated to helping children with cancer, and what that child will grow to be years from now in those lessons instilled by his coach.

Want your team to help others? Simply coach them how to.

 

Chase Jones, founder of Vs. Cancer Foundation, experienced the childhood cancer world first-hand; in 2006, as an 18-year-old college freshman, he was diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer. Since beating cancer, Chase has had the chance to collaborate with multiple childhood cancer organizations, from local children’s hospitals to international efforts in the constant battle to help more kids. In college, Chase founded BaseBald, enabling student-athletes a platform to give back to childhood cancer, which grew to connect dozens of communities and thousands of supporters to donate to childhood cancer research. The Vs. Cancer Foundation, is dedicated to saving kids’ lives by empowering athletes and communities to fund lifesaving childhood cancer efforts.

 

 

10 Ways to Help Your Child Manage Sports-Induced Stress

Sports are competitive, and young players sometimes have a hard time dealing with the pressures of the game. Add in the demands of school, and you may end up with one stressed kid. Here are 10 tips for helping your child manage sports-induced stress.

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1. Provide the Right Encouragement

To help your child manage stress, you must provide encouragement without adding pressure. Don’t push too hard, overreact to mistakes or losses, or make your child feel like sports is the most important thing. It’s not.

2. Watch Your Sideline Behavior

Are you yelling at coaches, refs and umpires? Your sideline behavior can greatly add to your child’s stress both on and off the field. Help your child by keeping it in check.

3. Teach Deep-Breathing Techniques

Teach your child to find a quiet place to sit when feeling stressed. Inhaling slowly through the nose, then holding the breath for five seconds and releasing it slowly will help limit stress. This exercise should be repeated five times in one sitting.

4. Teach Muscle Relaxation

A good stress reduction technique is to contract a group of muscles tightly, hold for five seconds and release slowly. Cognitive thinking about muscle relaxation can make a stressed child relax significantly.

5. Walk Your Child Through Visualization

Ask your child close his eyes and picture a peaceful place, like his room or the beach. Then, have him imagine the stress flowing out of his body while he thinks of the happy, peaceful place. This can take a while for kids to grasp, but it is a powerful tool once they do.

6. Focus on Nutrition and Sleep

Kids need proper fuel and proper sleep to do well in any aspect of life, including sports. If you are rushing so much that you are forced to eat drive-thru food regularly, your kids’ overall health is going to suffer. Focus on proper nutrition and be strict about sleep schedules to help kids cope with stress.

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7. Find a Fun Distraction

You need a break from work, and your child needs a break from school and sports. Suggest that you take a walk together, have a sleepover with friends, go see a movie with you, or any other activity that will get your child’s mind off the stress and the sport that is causing it.

8. Don’t Require Perfection

Make sure you are not aiming for perfection, because your kid will pick up on that quickly. Perfection is not the name of the game in youth sports, and to limit stress, you must avoid perfectionist thinking.

9. Encourage Mastery

While perfection is not desired, kids who are unsure of their abilities will feel stressed. If your child needs extra help, arrange for some private lessons or coaching to help achieve mastery. Psychology Today found mastery coaching to be a highly effective way to balance winning with learning in youth sports.

10. Ensure Your Plate Isn’t Too Full

Kids need a chance to just be kids. KidsHealth.org warns that if your plate is overly full, you must find places where you can cut activities. You can encourage your child to focus on one sport or choose a new one that requires less work.

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Brandon Capaletti is the Vice President of Cisco Athletic, a Maryland-based athletic apparel manufacturer that designs, produces and distributes custom uniforms for 18 different sports including basketball, soccer, and baseball.

 

Soccer Tips: Successful Instep Juggling

By “Koach Karl” Dewazien, author and producer of soccer resources for all youth levels.

“Encourage your players to juggle every day … In time, their ball control problems will go away!”

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Typical Instruction:

“Toss-right foot laces-catch; Toss-left foot laces-catch; Repeat sequence!”

Unusual young players are able to toss the ball to either instep and are able to tap it back into their hands. These rare individuals are fortunate in having developed their eye-to-hand-to-foot coordination and will love to repeat the sequence because they are successful. These players often develop and fine tune their control of the ball, very quickly resulting in truly loving to play the game. They need to be challenged toward eliminating the “catch” in the sequence, resulting in “Right foot laces; Left foot laces; Repeat sequence!”

Usually young players are able toss the ball to either instep but have it glance out of control for them to chase. These typical individuals are unfortunate in that they have not yet developed their eye-to-hand-to-foot coordination and will hesitate to repeat the sequence because they are unsuccessful. These players seldom develop and fine tune their control of the ball which may cause them to dislike playing the game. They need to be in an environment that allows them to be instantly successful so that they can develop their confidence and eye-foot coordination. The key is finding them a surface where the ball will bounce.

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Sequence:

  • Use right laces to tap the ball up.
  • *Let the ball bounce.
  • Use left laces to tap the ball up.
  • *Let the ball bounce.
  • Then … right laces – bounce – left laces – bounce – etc.

Initially:

  • Ball can be picked-up with the hands to start it bouncing.
  • Ball must bounce after every tap.
  • Ball can bounce several times before next tap.
  • No height limitation on ball (random kicks are OK).
  • But insist on alternating right and left foot taps.

Eventually:

  • Ball cannot be picked-up with the hands to start it bouncing.
  • Ball can only bounce once before the next tap.
  • Eliminate bounce between taps.
  • Enforce height limitations (ball no higher than head, shoulders or lower).
  • Always insist on alternating right and left foot taps.

Create a Record Chart that includes the time, date, location and number of successive taps. Ask players to put their chart on the refrigerator or some other “special” place in the house. Then, have them post their scores of daily juggle results. Finally, have them come up with a reward they will give themselves at the end of each week, end the month or whenever they set a new personal record.

Suggest that they organize a Neighborhood World Cup Juggling Contest and that they keep a Neighborhood Chart. Have them contact a local store owner to put the NWCJ Chart in a “special” place in the store. Have the players post their scores of the daily results. Finally, ask the owner to put a picture on the wall to the winner at the end of each month.

In time, success in juggling may develop and fine tune their control of the ball, resulting in the beginning of a love affair with soccer.

Illustrations are from Koach Karl’s Coloring Book, “TOTALLY – FUNdamental Soccer”.

Koach Karl (Karl Dewazien) is the former State Director of Coaching for the California Youth Soccer Association (CYSA), Author of the Internationally Published FUNdamental SOCCER Books Series, Producer of the highly acclaimed ‘9-Step Practice Routine’  DVD. He can be reached at: cysakarl@comcast.net  or http://www.fundamentalsoccer.com