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Psst… we only have 9 bold ideas here, because we want you to give us the 10th. Leave your best idea for improving youth sports in a comment below or post it on the TeamSnap Facebook wall. We will select our favorite and the winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods. Go on – be bold!
Everyone seems to agree that youth sports should be fun, social, safe, and instructional. Even while competition increases as kids mature, no one wants to see the core objectives of youth sports diminished. Most youth leagues do a good job of providing a fun, social, and safe experience for their participants. And there are many knowledgeable volunteer coaches who offer top notch instruction to their individual players, however, most leagues could provide even more educational value by choosing to make teaching their sport the top systemic priority.
Change rarely comes easy in any organization. Even small leadership mindset shifts, however, can make a profound impact. While it’s more realistic to start with small ideas, a healthy thought exercise is to brainstorm bold ideas. To start that process, here are my bold ideas to improve youth sports:
- Share. Youth coaches should share their best ideas. Create a Document Library on your league’s website where coaches can upload their best coaching ideas, success stories, drills, and practice plans so newer volunteer coaches have resources to help them succeed.
- Collaborate. Youth coaches should help everyone in the league improve, not just the players on their team. Create a tutoring program in your league so a coach can help an individual player on an opposing team, 1-on-1, each season in fundamentals. The coaches who have the most to offer should seek opportunities to coach the players in the league who can benefit most from them. Youth coaches in a given league should see themselves as a selfless collective unit — similar to a staff of counselors at a sports camp — not competitive adversaries.
- Report. Instead of participation certificates, I give each of my players personalized “scouting reports” at season’s end. They include confidence-building highlights from the season and constructive suggestions on areas to improve. Create a communication system for your league that allows all coaches to provide helpful feedback to developing athletes. These players’ future coaches could also benefit from the collection of these insights from previous seasons.
- Survey. At the start of the season, ask parents and players to indicate what they hope to get, educationally, out of their participation. At the end of the season, solicit specific feedback and share it with coaches. Did the coach help the player reach his or her educational and developmental objectives? Players and parents could also be offered a chance to self-evaluate their own contributions to the team and their individual development at season’s end.
- Mentor. Create a mentor program to form bonds between older and younger players and teams. Assign older teams to younger teams and encourage them to attend each other’s games for support. Older players could attend an occasional practice of a younger team and assist with drills.
- Teach Back. Create a set of player-led skills clinics, pre-season, for younger players. Give your veteran players an opportunity to teach back what they’ve learned through their participation in your developmental league. Every age level in your league could teach back one level down the chain.
- Standardize. Develop a set of best practices that are taught all the way up. Introduce players to proper technique and vernacular, taught in a consistent manner, to build educational continuity from year to year. Tap into the most experienced coaches in your area to help establish these best practices.
- Shuffle. Mix kids up year-to-year. While many young players find comfort in knowing a friend or two on the team, youth sports should be an avenue toward new friendships. Kids should learn from youth sports how to navigate a range of teammate personalities to form a cohesive, productive unit. Phase out the practice of handpicking entire rosters based on existing cliques and social circles. And if a team wins a championship one year, its coach should have the chance to lead the last place team the next.
- Go Blind. If your league has a draft, encourage a blind draft where every coach works together to form balanced rosters, and then draw teams out of a hat after rosters are set. The current system probably won’t change, but suggest it anyway just to see who reacts, and how. Adults should realize, in most youth league drafts, highly-rated players are over-rated and lower-rated players are under-rated. Youth coaches should worry less about getting the best players at the outset and worry more about developing the best players over the course of a long season.
- Brainstorm. I’ve saved the last bold idea for you! I encourage you to brainstorm ideas that would improve youth sports and then share them with the Team Snap community. And if you have a different take on any of my ideas, I’d love to hear your perspective.
Leave your comments below or post on the TeamSnap Facebook wall with your bold idea for the chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Dick’s Sporting Goods! So go on, have at it and hit us with your best idea for improving youth sports. Don’t forget… be bold!