This commentary is for every mom or dad who has ever personally lived through or contemplated helping their youth athlete transition into a new select sports “career path” from a former one. I chose those terms over “team” or “program” in jest, but let’s be honest, the youth athlete of today receives more pressure at a younger age to choose the right fit…and to choose it wisely…than in generations past.
This new reality mainly has to do with the fact that select teams are no longer what the designation implies. I firmly believe that anyone who is willing and able to write a check can find a team/program that claims to be select. Therefore, parents need to be more diligent and choosy when deciding what is the best choice based on their child’s ability and desire.
I don’t believe that all youth athletes (I’m referring to those in grade school) innately feel pressure to perform to a certain standard. I’d argue they just want to play the game and feel as if they contribute to something larger than themselves as well as perform well for their coaches. Oh, and crazy as this may sound, have FUN with their friends. But as I’ve personally witnessed – the reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – adults tend to muddy the waters even with the best of intentions sometimes.
My husband and I have done extensive research in an effort to find a new fit for one of our boys who has played with the same program and general group of teammates for the past four years. We’ve asked him at the end of every season whether or not he’s enjoyed his experience and this year it was clear he paused a little too long before answering that question. And I couldn’t help but support his decision to look into new opportunities because I, too, felt it was time for something different.
I’ve been there as an adult and have felt the way that he feels at this point in his young life. Staying in a comfort zone is safe, but it’s not always productive, positive, or challenging.
I’ve heard other parents talk about the struggle of finding the right fit when it comes to youth sports programs. When you experience it, you instantly recognize it, similar to the way you feel about a chosen career path or personal cause.
For all the parents out there looking for advice on how to find the right fit for your budding athlete, I humbly offer these 10 tips:
10. Focus on your child. Ask pressing questions like, “Do you enjoy (insert applicable sport)?” If no, then don’t continue down a potentially destructive path. Just because you enjoy the game doesn’t automatically mean your kid has to. If yes, then ask the follow-up “What are your favorite and least favorite parts about playing on (insert applicable team)?” If the cons outweigh the pros, it is time to start looking for new opportunities to give your child the chance to continue to play the game they love.
9. Decide how much you’re willing to spend before weighing your options. If you take your child to multiple tryouts (I’d suggest limiting it to three or less) and subsequently receive offers from multiple programs, it’s easy to want to accept the “most impressive” offer in terms of prestige, travel tournaments, flashy uniforms, and coaching resumes. It’s a coach’s job to try and sell you on what they can provide to your child. Remember to focus on your child. Can you realistically picture them learning and thriving under one coach over another?
8. Take your entire family into consideration. Make sure you’ll still have time outside of select sports to focus on your spouse. If your child has siblings who are active too, make sure the teams you choose will mesh well together and that one won’t take away from the other. I’ve seen both ends of a disturbing spectrum: Parents who center their world around one child who has natural ability and allow their other children to stay in the shadows OR parents who stretch themselves too thin because they try to be everywhere at once and drive themselves nuts in the process.
7. Ask the coach what their philosophy is on multi-sport athletes. Many will claim they support having kids in multiple sports, but ask around to see if what they preach is actually what they practice. Both my husband and I are big believers of the benefits of playing different sports, but not everyone feels the same way. You don’t want to place your child behind the eightball before their season even starts. The majority of select sports programs has both “in-season” and “off-season” commitments. The latter should be optional as long as your child is competing in another “in-season” sport if your coach tells you they value kids who can play several sports.
6. We have three main expectations of our kids, that are each completely in their control: hustle, attitude, and focus. When they slip up on any of those, they know to expect consequences in return. Make sure your personal philosophy matches that of your coach. When negative behavior like throwing bats, talking back to coaches, and belittling teammates is allowed to occur, consider that a red flag. The sporting experience should be more than wins and losses. It should be a building block for developing young people both on and off the field.
5. Know what to expect in terms of scheduling. How many total games is the coach hoping to play? How many total tournaments? Of those tournaments, how many will be local versus out-of-town? How far in advance will you be provided with a practice schedule and will those practices happen on regular days or will they be scheduled unpredictably? Being on the same page when it comes to scheduling will save you stress especially when you have multiple kids with various activities.
4. Look for a leader who provides a personal approach. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s no doubt one of the most important qualities for a coach to possess in my opinion. You know your kid better than anyone else. I’d venture to bet a lot of kids appreciate a coach who praises them for maximum effort and gets on them when they fall short on things they can control, giving them tangible feedback on how to improve. What you need to watch out for are situations when the players are so fearful about making mistakes that they don’t stretch their own potential. Excellent coaches value improved process over defined results.
3. When possible, try to ensure your child knows at least one other kid on their team. This predefined relationship helps the parents too. In the same manner job seekers try to find common connections with a new place of employment, it is best to know what you’re getting into by talking to someone who’s been there, done that. After all, you will be spending a lot of time with your child’s team and chemistry cannot be overstated.
2. Understand expectations and, once you accept them, give the coach you trust the room to do their job. If you didn’t sign up to invest the hours and serve as a coach, then your job is done once you hand over your child to the person in charge.
1. Listen, listen, and listen some more to your kid. Refer back to step #10.
Written by Heidi Woodard