With the outdoor sports season well under way once again in Western New York, organized youth activities including baseball, soccer, softball and soon football can be witnessed throughout every community. It is a new year with new teams, uniforms and, in some cases, new coaches.
Although coaches at the youth level serve on a volunteer basis and dedicate their time to developing aspiring young athletes, many lack the proper qualifications to be guiding children. All too often children are "turned off" by sports before they reach the high school level. Why is that?
One reason can be related to youth coaches who played the game but were "clueless" when it came to teaching values and instructing the basic fundamentals of the sport. They actually did more harm than good by trying to relive the past through the children they led into competition.
While professional, college and high school coaches are paid a salary and make the newspaper headlines, the importance of having qualified coaches at the youth level cannot be stressed enough. What guidelines does the league that your son or daughter participates in use to ensure that the coach has the necessary qualities to teach children in a responsible manner?
In many communities, the appointing of youth coaches has become political, like society. And the results can be devastating to the youth players and their families because the most qualified person is often left sitting on the sidelines.
Sometimes the youth coach selected may be the only person available. The title of "head coach" is his or hers regardless of numerous shortcomings. Parents in these situations have little or no recourse for removing a coach who is obviously unqualified. They are left with two options -- remove their child from the team and not play or just sit back and watch the charade continue.
While it is true that some parents need to relax and not micromanage their child's coach, many youth organizations also need to do a better job of screening potential coaches and educating them on child behavior issues once they take over the reins of the team.
Annual seminars should be mandated for each prospective new coach and all incumbents. The responsibility of coaching a youth team goes far beyond the general knowledge of the sport.
How reassuring would it be knowing that your child's coach can teach and demonstrate fundamental skills, apply emergency first aid during the pivotal time until professional rescuers arrive and constantly stress the values of honestly, loyalty and sportsmanship?
With the present-day family structure of both parents working long hours outside of the home or having just one parent in the household, a youth coach's proper guidance and valuable time spent with players can be immeasurable.
Youth leagues that choose adults as role models for our children must strive to provide each coach with the necessary educational tools that will give every child a chance to experience the joy of playing organized sports.
In turn, a youth coach must use every possible resource available in order to provide a safe and valuable learning experience. It is a small price to pay for a big dividend. Play ball!