Coaches of youth sports in this country are under attack. Sure, some of it is warranted. There are certainly situations in which adults get into coaching for all the wrong reasons. But nowadays even the great coaches with the best of intentions have to prove themselves like never before.
In a day and age where everyone gets a trophy, dodge ball is obsolete, and in far too many cases the scoreboard is never turned on, coaches are under fire. What we used to call motivation is now labeled bullying. Running laps? That may be a bit much. A coach losing his cool and letting his team know about it? That’s portrayed as flat out abuse.
Personally, I think we need to bring some of that old-school coaching back into our youth leagues while taking into consideration the age of the athletes. I was happy to see former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin agrees.
While appearing on the Hannity program on FOX on Friday, Palin discussed the state of our kids and sports today. As a former athlete herself and a parent of children who played competitive sports, she spoke from experience when commenting on a clip from the new Esquire Network show Friday Night Tykes. The program chronicles the hard nosed techniques of coaches of young football players.
“Well, I agree that too many American kids are pampered,” Palin said. “They’re coddled, and they need discipline. And the way to motivate kids, though, is not necessarily through fear, not at that age especially. You know, I think it was Lou Holtz who had said it best years ago about self- discipline leading to success and self-motivation. So these coaches, if they want to get their kids to understand that self-motivation that is so needed, at that age, it doesn’t necessarily need to be through intimidation and fear. These coaches seem to be wanting to not look bad, and I can guarantee a coach can be defeated if that’s his goal is to just not look bad.”
So, as she so often does when discussing politics, Palin played the commonsense card. Obviously, you treat a kindergartner different than a high school player. When it comes down to it though, Palin likes her coaches to be tough.
“I want coaches who will instill in that student athlete the desire to win because competition makes everyone better and the goal should be victory,” Palin said. “And you know, I’ve taken heat because I said really good things about former Indiana coach Bobby Knight.”
Ultimately, it comes down to the coaches knowing exactly whom they are instructing.
“The good coaches know when it cannot be crossed, and they know kind of the demographic that they’re working with in terms of the age group, and they should be discerning enough to know what will motivate the kids,” said Palin. “Too many kids are spoiled and coddled by us, by society in general. And sports, I think, are absolutely instrumental in teaching a child what it’s going to take to succeed in this world. Sports are imperative.”
Palin spoke about how it was a “razor’s edge” and said she did not know whether Friday Night Tykes crosses that line because she has not seen the first episode that aired last week. Some of the coaches on that show seem like they blatantly cross the line with little kids, and Palin took that into account in her comments, saying good coaches know when not to cross the line and what age group they are coaching.
Personally I have coached for years. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping kids succeed at baseball, softball, football, and basketball. Until last year, the youngest aged children I had ever coached was 7 (in baseball clinics) and the oldest was 19 (in Babe Ruth Baseball). You learn to use good judgement and you quickly realize kids are different. What motivates one may not motivate another. The younger ones are wired differently than the older ones, the boys are different from the girls. And you never put them in danger and always look out for them.
My real education came last year though when I took over my daughter’s Little League tee ball team. A group of 4 and 5 year olds who had never played an organized sport. You quickly understand that there is a huge responsibility with the very young. You are not only coaching, but teaching, and in many ways caring for them.
During her segment on Hannity, Palin proudly promoted a winning attitude. She called for all hands on deck to make our youth leagues what they are supposed to be. But she continually emphasized that coaches have to make sue that “that line isn’t crossed,” realizing there are many horror stories of youth coaches crossing that line.
“And it is all about competition, so I want to see more and more kids involved, and I want to see the parents, I want to see the coaches in there,” Palin said. “But we have to make sure, yes, that that line isn’t crossed. And I’ve never seen this reality show that you’re talking about. I don’t know if it’s going to promote that line to be crossed. I certainly hope not because there’s a lot of good, positive stories out there about successful coaches and selfless giving parents and organizations that are helping kids.”
Right now I am in the midst of coaching my daughter’s basketball team, the 4-6 year old Bulls. Everyone is having fun and learning a lot about basketball. From what I’ve seen so far, all of the coaches in the league are doing a terrific job. They know exactly how old their players are, and while they take that into consideration, they are also correcting a player when he/she is doing something incorrectly. It’s called common sense. Just like, Palin spoke about.
As far as those of you not keeping score out there, here’s a news flash. These kids are smarter than you think. Many of them are keeping score in their heads. You may as well put it up on the board. We’re shortchanging them when we don’t.