Positive Youth Coaches Getting Harder to Find

By Nancy Justis, Iowa Youth Sports Initiative

My 9-year-old grandson was lucky to be having a fall sports season.

The week before practice was to begin, no one had stepped up to coach his flag football team. Thankfully, one of the dads decided to take on the volunteer position so his own son could play.

It's a familiar story line. It's not just youth sport referees who are decreasing in numbers, but coaches as well.

What's the problem, you ask? Here's an example. Our 11-year-old grandson is in his second year of tackle football. Following one game this year, a couple parents approached the head coach in the parking lot and complained about their children's lack of playing time, and that they should be playing a different position.

Despite the fact, in a preseason note to parents, the staff explained this program was not a rec league, and though they would give every child a chance to play, they would not necessarily get to start every game. Winning was important at this level, but not the most important.

Both of our grandsons' coaches are good youth coaches. They seem knowledgeable, they seem to really care about the boys and their individual development. They obviously spend hours off the field preparing for practices and games and in developing the kids into people who will grow into responsible adults.

John O'Sullivan of Changing the Game called these coaches in a blog "coaches of positive significance."

"... they (don't) measure success in wins and losses, and in trophies and medals," he said. "They measure success not in championships, but by the number of significant life events they are invited to by their players," such as a future wedding or graduation.

These coaches "realize that when you invest in people off the field, success on the field usually follows."

O'Sullivan believes these coaches are becoming an endangered species.

"Sadly, in our current era of entitlement, and parents who think they are helping their kids by mowing down all obstacles (we call them lawnmower parents) in their child's march toward Ivy League schooling and college athletics, our coaches of positive significance are becoming an endangered species," he wrote. "These amazing people who are willing to push your child, to take him or her out of their comfort zone, to say 'good, now do more,' are being threatened by a minority of parents who are willing to yell loudly and make a big stink every time their precious little child faces adversity."

O'Sullivan lists some characteristics of good coaches:

— Positively pushing your child out of his comfort zone to improve his play

— Demanding focus and effort each and every day

— Playing your child in an unfamiliar position

— Not starting your child in every game

— Having higher expectations for your child than you do

— Having a different opinion of your child's ability than you do

— Expecting commitment, and reasonable repercussions for players who do not fulfill it, applied equally for every player

— Expecting your child to adhere to team rules and standards

— Holding your child to a standard that you might not hold him or her to. It might cost the team a game, but will teach a lesson for life.

O'Sullivan goes on to note "improvement in any achievement activity does not come without struggle, without times of discomfort and difficulty. Good coaches know how to put athletes in these situations, yet create a climate where these things are well communicated and understood to be part of the learning process.

"No child has the right to start every game, or play every minute, or play the position she wants to play."

As to the coaches themselves, O'Sullivan wrote kids whose parents are the most troublesome are the ones who need you the most.

In his coaching seminars, O'Sullivan asks coaches to list five words or phrases that describe their best coach or teacher. Their answers are posted on a wall under the categories of "Technical/Tactical knowledge of the game" and "Connection/Emotional intelligence." He has found 80 to 90 percent of responses have nothing to do with Xs and Os. Knowledge of the game is not the primary requiremen

"We don't teach any of (the characteristics making a great coach)," O'Sullivan said.

If your child is lucky enough to have a "coach of positive significance," thank he or she for their time commitment and philosophy of challenging your child. Step back and let them coach. Your child will learn valuable lessons.