In June, a brawl broke out at a 12-under softball tournament in Tennessee. No, it wasn’t pre-teen girls fighting – it was their parents. As parents threw punches and tackled each other to the ground, the young athletes could be heard screaming and crying. This is an extreme example, but it’s reality for some teams with a bad sports culture. Obviously, no team wants to experience this and no club wants to be part of a negative viral video. So how can you avoid these extreme situations? It starts with creating a positive youth sports culture where players can flourish and parents and coaches are there to support the athletes.
Get tips below on how you can help create a positive youth sports culture.
Focus on Fun
Young athletes don’t begin playing a sport or join a team just to experience success. Youth athletes want to have fun. If players aren’t enjoying themselves, it can become a chore for parents to get them to practice or games. And if a young athlete isn’t having fun, they are unlikely to spend any extra time trying to learn new skills or make significant improvements. Eventually, this can cause the athlete to not want to play at all.
According to the National Alliance for Youth Sports, 70 percent of kids quit youth athletics by the age of 13 because they aren’t having fun anymore. This can be due to many reasons, but feeling pressure to perform at a high level from parents and coaches plays a large part. Kids want to be able to play with their friends, learn new skills, and not have to worry about the pressure to win.
Instead, coaches and leagues can focus on letting kids be kids and put their desire to have fun first. All athletes want to win, but the coach can set a positive tone by not pressuring the kids or leading in a negative way. Practices can be set up in a way that lets kids enjoy themselves while learning and developing, and clubs can make an effort to include positive, team-building activities into the season.
Make Safety a Priority
An athlete’s well-being should always be the top priority for a youth sports club. Teams need to ensure athletes are taking care of themselves and performing skills in a safe manner. Kids should always be wearing the right equipment and be reminded to be safe on a regular basis. Having kids prioritize safety will create a culture where the athletes know themselves and their health are more important than victories. It will also teach kids at a young age how to play the sport safely- knowledge they can take with them as they get older.
Provide Equal Opportunity for Personal development
Youth athletes are young and still developing their overall athleticism and skills. To keep a positive youth sports culture, the focus at this level should be learning the game and enhancing abilities. Clubs should make practice and clinics more of a priority than game results. Kids need to participate in games to develop in-game tactics, but the focus should be using the real-game situations as teaching opportunities rather than the outcome.
Experiencing a loss can actually benefit kids. Losing is an important opportunity for personal development. So instead of making kids afraid of suffering a defeat, coaches can teach kids to embrace it and learn how to cope with a loss. Handling themselves in both victory and defeat is an important life lesson for kids to learn.
It’s also important for kids to learn all positions on the roster at the youth level, so athletes should be given the opportunity to try different positions and see what they enjoy as well as what is the best fit for them. Teams should refrain from having kids specialize in one position. Their body types, skills, and abilities will change as they get older, so all players should have the chance to learn multiple positions.
Set Aside Time for Social Development
While teams like to think kids join a club only for the athletic opportunities, young players also want to make friends and socialize. Spending time with friends is important. Socializing and building bonds with teammates is a key part of development, so teams should include opportunities for young athletes to have fun with their friends. While practice and games should be focused on skills development, teams can make team bonding and learning to work together a priority for the season.
Make rules for parents
Unfortunately, even if coaches and players work to create a positive youth sports culture, players’ parents can get in the way. It’s important for clubs to establish rules and a code of conduct for parents. It should include how they should conduct themselves during games and practices, how they treat players (their child and other team members), how they address coaches, and how they interact with opposing teams. Setting these up in advance of a season can help eliminate in-season issues.