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Texas City Little League suffers epidemic of unhinged coaches

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Junior, Senior & Big League Baseball

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In the northern climes in which I live, youth baseball games have not yet started. Meanwhile, in warmer climes, adults are already infecting their local fields with craziness, and none more than in Texas City, Texas.

The Little League in Texas City has suspended two coaches in three weeks, and might suspend a third as early as tonight. All three of them have been arrested, as well, for losing their shit in the presence of the way-before-preteen set.

The latest incident was April 8, and involved one Jeremy Brian Delgado, whom the Galveston Daily News identified with three names as if he was the guy who shot John Lennon. Instead, Delgado shot, as the newspaper said, “F-bombs,” being arrested on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for getting a little too passionate in his defense of a player. From the Galveston County Daily News:

A parent who said he was upset about how a coach handled his son made the allegation, [Texas City police Capt.] Brian Goetschius said.

The father of the child who was yelled at asked The Daily News not to reveal his name for fear of reprisal against his son. The game involved 9- and 10-year-old boys.

The father said his son was on the field but not doing anything out of the ordinary during a bases-loaded ground out to shortstop that ended an inning.

He said he approached Delgado, asking why another coach yelled at his son.

Delgado, one of two assistants, then had words with the head coach on his team, in support of the boy who was yelled at, Goetschius said.

Delgado is accused of yelling bad language at the coach and assistant coach as the argument escalated, Goetschius said. He also is accused of using the same sort of language toward an umpire when he was ejected.

A Texas City police officer saw the commotion and heard some language before arresting Delgado, Goetschius said.

Actually, if police arrested every parent who went on a swearing binge at a youth baseball game, there would be 25 adults to a lockup cell every game night. I’m not defending Delgado’s choice of “some language,” but I’ll say that parents should consider themselves lucky they don’t have the Texas City police monitoring their public profanity. Then again, as the Houston Press points out, cops in Galveston County are fairly quick to arrest and prosecute the foul-mouthed.

If the Texas City Little League decides to bounce Delgado [APRIL 16 UPDATE: the league suspended Delgado for the remainder of the season], he’ll have company in its virtual penalty box. Coaches Jose Luis Duran and Johnathan T. Kimsey got sent there after a March 27 brawl that started after one coach got upset by a trick play used in a game involving 7- and 8-year-olds. Wait, a trick play in a 7- and 8-year-old game? I hope the coach who pulled that one is proud that he could outsmart a first-grader.

The Galveston County Daily News didn’t identify who called the trick play, but it did note the argument ended with a brawl, and disorderly conduct charges for Duran and Kimsey. A third coach in the brawl got his suspension lifted when he successfully argued his role was limited to being choked into unconsciousness.

The first game of the 6- and 7-year-old baseball team I’m managing doesn’t have its first game until April 27. Certainly, I have my work cut out to catch up to the pace set by the coaches in Texas City.

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Written by rkcookjr

April 15, 2010 at 6:21 pm

Do coaches yell more than they used to? DO THEY??????

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Recently University of Kansas officials began looking into allegations from players and their parents that football coach Mark Mangino… well, the Kansas City Star didn’t say exactly what, but it’s widely believed that it has something to do with his temper, which is on display in this oft-seen YouTube clip of Mangino going ballistic (in a possibly NSFW way) on one of his players who drew a taunting penalty after running an interception back for a touchdown.

[youtubevid id=”zmAYpAzNB34″]

Rated “R” for language and threat of violence. No nudity.

So Star reporters Dave Helling and Diane Stafford, riffing off of Mangino, proceed to write a story called, “Aggressive coaching is a growing problem, but how much is too much?” I know reporters don’t write the headlines. But the story promises exactly what the head says — a look at the growing problem of semi-abusive coaches.

Except that there is zero evidence in their story that there is a “growing” number of semi-abusive coaches.

One problem I have with stories like the one in the Star, and with the coverage of youth sports in general, is that it’s always either-or. Either coaches are violent hooligans destroying the fragile psyches of young children, or they’re don’t-keep-score weenies pussifying America.

Of course, both kinds of coaches are out there. I’ve seen no scientific evidence determining what percentage of coaches are hard-asses vs. bleeding hearts, but I do know that since I was a kid, leagues are far more upfront, at least on paper, about making teaching children and getting them to enjoy a sport a greater goal than winning. That’s why I have a hard time buying sentences like these from Helling and Stafford, who, to be fair, are only regurgitating what they’ve been told:

Yet the problem of overly aggressive youth coaching is growing in America. Indeed, three out of four young players quit organized sports before the age of 13, according to one survey, blaming overly aggressive coaching more than any other reason.

“The win-at-all-costs mentality that’s filtered down from professional sports has colored youth sports,” said Jim Thompson, founder of a California-based organization called the Positive Coaching Alliance, which counsels coaches at the high school level and below. “Youth coaches are imagining in their heads that they’re an NBA coach or an NFL coach.”

A survey by the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance gave youth coaching a C- grade in 2005, calling the lack of focus on effort, skill development, positive reinforcement and fun “unacceptable.”

“Youth sports has lost its child-centered focus, meaning less emphasis on the child’s experience and more emphasis on adult-centered motives, such as winning,” the group concluded.

The Positive Coaching Alliance and Citizenship Through Sports Alliance do some wonderful work, but if they believe youth sports has “lost” its child-centered focus, they’re not looking at the same world I see. If anything has changed, it’s not that coaches yell more. It’s that youth sports has grown more professionalized as a result of parents willing to pay big bucks to get their kids, the centers of their lives, everything they could possibly want and need for that elusive college scholarship or pro career.

The story of the reaction to Mangino and others allegedly like him is not that coaches yell more. It’s that a coach who motivates through fear and yelling stands out much more than he or she used to — a point Helling and Stafford make later on, thus contradicting the thesis of their story:

Complaints about overly aggressive coaches aren’t limited to big-time college programs. Raytown South basketball coach Bud Lathrop lost his job after more than 40 seasons [in 2003] after stories surfaced that players were paddled for missing free throws.

At the time, some of Lathrop’s fans defended his approach, which they said was considered perfectly acceptable 30 or 40 years ago. …

Every management guru in America preaches that collaboration is the best way to get good work out of the “team.” Even the military, the bastion of top-down, do-as-I-say leadership, has tried to tone down the archetypal drill-sergeant abuse.

Yet society generally casts a more permissive eye on successful coaches who behave badly. Bob Knight and Woody Hayes were legendary for outbursts, physical and verbal, although it eventually got both in hot water.

Yeah, about that hot water. Hayes, Ohio State’s legendary football coach, was fired in 1978 after punching an opponent who was forced onto his sideline after returning an interception.

[youtubevid id=”HmoIjMr1BZs”]

Woody Hayes, losing his shit.

Knight, the legendary Indiana basketball coach, was fired in 2000 after he violated a zero-tolerance policy put on him after numerous controversial incidents regarding his behavior.

So let me ask this. If aggressive coaching is so much more of a problem, why are aggressive coaches being tossed out? Why are youth sports leagues emphasizing to their coaches the importance of teaching over winning? Which is it, Kansas City Star — are coaches being allowed to run wild, or are they being told to hold their temper? You’ve got a serious mixed message when you’re trying to send a firm one about the prevalence of abusive coaches.

Of course, as I mentioned before, it’s not an either-or situation. A lot of youth coaches, whether they yell or not, are focused on winning. Often, the parents whose kids are on that coach’s team emphasize it as well. Indeed, a recent study by a University of Washington professor found that children whose coaches emphasized mastery of skill rather than winning had less “sports anxiety” and were more likely to stay with a sport.

I think where reporters like those at the Star get the mistaken impression that coaches are yelling more is because there is so much emphasis from organizations like the Positive Coaching Alliance to make sure ALL coaches are creating a positive environment. By the way, that’s not as simple as praising everyone. In the coed fifth- and sixth-grade team I coach, sometimes you have to give ’em a carrot, and sometimes you have to be more forceful about what you want. Some kids respond to the carrot, and some kids need the stick. What I try to do is make sure they know I’m doing what I’m doing because I care for them and want them to get better. I don’t use a paddle.

Does winning matter? To me, no. But I know from my experience that if kids never win, or don’t win much, that’s as discouraging as an environment that is only about winning.

The big problem with youth coaching, and where organization like Positive Coaching Alliance prove valuable, is that because coaches are drawn from the ranks of parent volunteers, you have people who don’t know how to coach. So, they draw on who their old coaches were — yellers, like back in the day.

The next time someone writes a story about yelling coaches, I’d like to see either a study showing that indeed more coaches are abusive, or something that reflects the reality of youth sports today — where some coaches yell, and some don’t, where some kids are in professionalized programs, and some aren’t. Just because Mark Mangino yells doesn’t mean most coaches do, or that just because he yells he represents a growing trend.

The story really is that if a coach does cross the line toward abuse, parents, players and others in the outside world are much more likely to call the coach on it.

Written by rkcookjr

November 19, 2009 at 11:33 pm

Where the women coaches at?

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One out of my 6-year-old son’s five T-ball coaches is a woman. Various studies say that sounds about right for that level — depressingly so. However, I’m not so sure the researchers are 100 percent right as to why 20 percent would, in most cases, be considered a fairly high ratio of female-to-male coaches.

3154176261_7784ce4c5fA rare sighting.

On Wednesday night (or tonight, if you’re reading this on Wednesday), the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport is hosting a discussion on why the number of female coaches is so low, especially given we’re almost 40 years into Title IX throwing open the doors of gyms and gates of fields to girls.

Given the guest list, the answer is going to be: because the Man is keeping them down. The guest speaker is University of Southern California sociology and gender studies professor Michael Messner, whose research has purported to show that the lack of female coaches in youth sports has to do with men’s effort to keep old-time gender roles ingrained. This is the abstract from “Separating the men from the moms: The making of adult sex segregation in youth sports,” published in the February edition of Gender & Society:

Based on a multiyear study, this article analyzes the reproduction of adult gender segregation in two youth-sports organizations in which most men volunteers become coaches and most women volunteers become “team moms.” We use interviews and participant observation to explore how these gender divisions are created. While most participants say the divisions result from individual choices, our interviews show how gendered language, essentialist beliefs, and analogies with gendered divisions of labor in families and work-places naturalize this division of labor. Observation reveals how patterned, informal interactions reproduce (and occasionally challenge) it as well. We show how (mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions at the nexus of three gender regimes—youth sports, families, and workplaces—produce a gender formation with two interrelated characteristics: an ascendant professional class gender ideology that we call “soft essentialism” and a “gender category sorting system” that channels most men into coaching and most women into being “team moms.”

If you have absolutely no clue what that means — try dropping a few “(mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions” and “soft essentialisms” at the next soccer board meeting — maybe this excerpt from the first chapter of Messner’s latest book, with the dripping-with-irony title “It’s All for the Kids,” will make things clearer. Like most youth sports books, it wouldn’t exist without the Shocking Moment involving My Own Kid:

Back in 1995, when we arrived at our six-year-old son Miles’s first soccer practice, I was delighted to learn that his coach was a woman. Coach Karen, a mother in her mid-thirties, had grown up playing lots of sports. She was tall, confident, and athletic, and the kids responded well to her leadership. “Great, a woman coach!” I observed cheerily. “It’s a new and different world than the one that I grew up in.” But over the next twelve years, as I traversed with Miles, and eventually with his younger brother Sasha, a few more seasons of AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), a couple of years of YMCA youth basketball, and over decade of Little League baseball, we never had another woman head coach. It’s not that women weren’t contributing to the kids’ teams. All of the “team parents” (often called “team moms”)—parent volunteers who did the behind-the-scenes work of phone-calling, organizing weekly snack schedules and team parties, collecting money for a gift for the coaches—were women. And occasionally I would notice a team that had a woman assistant coach. But women head coaches were very few and far between.

The research findings stretched me beyond a simple study of sex segregation in youth sports coaching. My observations and interviews led me to explore how youth sports fit into families and communities. I gained insights into how peoples’ beliefs about natural differences between boys and girls (what sociologists call “gender essentialism”) help to shape men’s and women’s apparently “free” choices to volunteer (or not) for their children’s activities. I discovered ways in which gender divisions of labor in families relate to more public displays of masculinity and femininity in activities like youth sports. And the study gave me provocative hints about how gender beliefs, family structure, and youth sports are key elements in constructing symbolic boundaries in a community that is defined (often covertly) as “white” and “upper middle class.”

Not to minimize the problem of a lack of female coaches, but it sounds to me like under academic trappings, Messner has done what just about all of us involved as parents and coaches in youth sports do — take our own experience, combine it with our ingrained biases and determine This Is How the World Works.

Not to say that Messner, or the Tucker Center, is completely off-base in saying there is an old-boys’ network that exists in youth sports. Their first mistake is assuming any boy can get in it — or that a woman cannot. Being involved in youth sports coaching and management is much like getting involved in politics. Those who are involved are really, really involved, and oftentimes make decisions based on their own interests. If they happen to benefit everyone, well, all the better, but that’s not always necessary. I’ll admit, I have no academic basis — that’s just my own observations ladled with my biases, probably.

Nicole LaVoi, the associate director of the Tucker Center, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that leagues tend to ask the dads, while women are saying, “Ask us. Invite us.” From the article:

In her study of mothers, LaVoi discovered that many would like to coach — and they had concrete, workable suggestions that could bring more women into the ranks.

Some said they wanted to feel more competent before taking the responsibility of leading a team. Training clinics expressly for women would help, they said, by providing an unintimidating and welcoming environment in which to develop their skills. They also advocated female mentors and co-coaches as ways to build confidence and make it easier for women to get into coaching.

Others said having fewer games overall and more in their own neighborhoods would ease the time crunch that keeps some off the sidelines.

All of these are wonderful ideas. However, in a youth sports environment that is mostly volunteer-run, the chances of any and all these ideas being put into place is quite slim.

Again, reflecting my own experience, I don’t believe that leagues are intentionally trying to keep women out. Believe me, most leagues are desperate to get anyone who passes the I-didn’t-molest-children background check. Most leagues either don’t have the time, resources, or organizational ability to set up training or mentoring programs for anybody, women or men. I’m fortunate my baseball and softball league hosts one session with the local high school coaches to share their wisdom with us parent coaches.

Plus, forget fewer games or games closer to home. The schedule isn’t going to be rearranged for anyone’s convenience.

And that takes me, finally, to a major reason, one offered by my wife and other women I know, as to why they aren’t coaching: they don’t have time. After all, they’re busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. Not that dads aren’t doing the same, but it ain’t the same. Last year for my daughter’s softball team, I wanted to get for an assistant a mom who had played softball in high school. She sent her husband instead — she said she was busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. If there’s some soft essentialism going on, it’s that these particularly busy women didn’t want one more goddamn thing on their plate, while men were more apt to see coaching as something they could make time for (probably because their wives were doing everything else, but that’s for another gender study.)

Here’s another theory I was given by a female sportswriter friend of mine: As women’s sports have become more popular, more men have found it acceptable to coach them.

I agree with Messner that it’s great to have a female coach. I would agree that perhaps leagues can take steps to attract more female coaches — something, anything to send the signal that they’re not just looking for guys.

Where I split from Messner is that I (and maybe it’s because I’m a man in a War Against Soft Essentialism) don’t see this as an issue of the Man keeping women barefoot and pregnant at home. I also believe that women (in most cases) are indeed making a free choice, not some unconcious decision made because men have somehow brainwashed them, or some such thing. If we are to have more female youth sports coaches, league officials, coaches and parents need to realize that individuals have their reason for not coaching.

I encouraged the mom to coach on my team, mainly by making it clear you didn’t have to be a baseball genius to coach T-ball. (I did the same thing with the dad coaches, too. After all, I am no baseball genius.) All I know is, each woman has her individual reason for not coaching. Assuming there’s only one reason isn’t going to grow the ranks of female coaches.

I encourage women (and men) to comment. Like most, I’m basing my conclusions on what I’ve seen in my own immediate circle. I’m curious to hear what others’ thoughts and experiences might be.

Unnecessary roughness

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Zenfooty.com (hat tip: On The Pitch) has a good piece about how to deal with rough play in youth soccer.

268309060_7f3364e85a_m1Let me first say that the issue of dirty and abusive play does not start with the referee or the players, it begins with coaching. The tolerance level of the coach has a direct bearing on the ethics of players. The best coaches will reprimand their own players for foul play. I have seen good coaches pull their own players even before the referee takes action. …

Do not “dive” when you have not been fouled in an attempt to attract sympathy from the official [Editor’s note: apparently this message isn’t taking on the international level]. Nothing irritates fans, players and referees as much as this. If you are caught diving, not only may you receive a yellow card, but you may never be taken seriously by the referee. You must also avoid retaliation and returning any verbal comments. This will give the defender the idea that they are getting to your psyche which will reinforce and escalate their behavior.

On dead ball situations, have your captain ask the ref to check into the pattern of recurring fouls. If the issue continues, have the coach visit with the official at halftime. If this is unsuccessful, have the fouled player go down with injury to create an opportunity to speak with the referee and once again reinforce the violent play [Editor’s note: didn’t you just say no diving? Maybe you can say something at the next dead ball?]. Your captain and coach must do their jobs here. It is their duty to the team.

If a referee ever loses control of the match and play gets out of hand, remember that your goal is to live to play another day. Nothing is worth a broken leg or a broken nose in a bench clearing brawl. As a coach (or parent), simply indicate to the referee that in the interest of safety, it is best that you calmly remove your players from the field of play and accept whatever consequences come with this. Stay in a group after the game. Do NOT have players and parents walk alone to their cars.

Great advice — for any sport.

Why does rough play start with coaches? Because they set the ground rules. They are the ones who draw the line between good, aggressive play and outright thuggery, mainly because they are the ones who (should) know the difference.

For example, I teach my basketball players that on a fast break, there’s nothing wrong with committing a foul if you’re behind the player but you’re going for the ball first. However, it IS wrong to push a player from behind, or wrap your arms around him or her, or try to pull him or her down without making a play on the ball.

460718873_3fa4403b28_mIn most cases, players don’t realize that what they’re doing might hurt someone. In my 7th- and 8th-grade basketball league, the only time I talked to the refs about foul calls was one very tall, strong girl who had a tendency to swing her elbows after she got a rebound. In one case, she elbowed one of my players in the throat. (Ouch.) I don’t think she meant to hurt anyone — she was just trying to clear space. I asked if the ref could call that more tightly because it was clear her coach was not advising her to stop swinging her elbows, and I was afraid more kids might get hurt. Unfortunately, the ref relayed to me that they called fouls looser because this was a rec league, and they didn’t want to slow the game down. Fortunately, no one else got hurt.

Here’s a case of a coach stepping in. One coach asked me to help him to take one of his sixth-graders (a kid I coached the previous year, which is why he talked to me) out of the 5th- and 6th-grade league we coached in and limit the kid to the 7th- and 8th-grade league. He was too strong and aggressive (in a good way) for the kids his age, and we wanted him to be able to play hard without worrying about hurting somebody. (Though later one of the refs, to me before a 7th- and 8th-grade game, related he thought that kid was a “thug.” That was the same ref who wouldn’t call the elbows on the other girl. Anyway, his assessment was seriously harsh, given this kid was aggressive in a good way, and as nice a kid as I’ve ever coached. Hence, unfortunate examples A and B of not counting on refs to sort things out.)

By the way, my interest in this post was not necessitated by my own son’s injury. He sprained his right foot on a clean, common basketball play — rolling off someone’s show when he landed after jumping. Sometimes play gets rough when kids are putting out a full effort, and that just goes with the territory. The important thing for coaches and parents is not to blow up in the heat of the moment.

Rather than argue with a coach or official, give yourself 24 hours, then talk to whomever runs the league about what happened, if there’s anything that person can do to control rough play. More often that not, someone will then contact the officials or coach to recommend putting a lid on certain activities, or at least send the message that they won’t be tolerated in case, say, the coach is an asshole and is going to argue instead of listen. Also, the coach needs to be ready to explain to his or her players and their parents the difference between aggressive play and rough play.

After all, as Zenfooty says, the goal is to live and play another day.

Keeping score

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I’ve been thinking a lot about losing lately. Partly, it’s because my Indianapolis Colts again horked a playoff game. But mostly, it’s because the fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball team I’m coaching seems doomed to a winless season.

There’s a lot of debate about no-score leagues. Does keeping score hurts children, and America, in the long run because kids don’t receive an early lesson in getting their confidence crushed? Or does keeping score hurts children, and America, in the long run because kids receive an early lesson in getting their confidence crushed? These questions engender the sort of reasoned debate you see in such topics as evolution, race, abortion and gun control.

taiwan-parliament1
Typical scene at youth basketball board meeting during discussion of whether to institute a no-score league

In my experience, however, the reason to have, or not have, a no-score league, has nothing to do with how the kids handle losing. It has everything to do with how adults handle it.

The kids on my oldest son’s fifth- and sixth-grade team are nice and are trying as hard as they can. They aren’t worrying about the score, even though in most games they’re getting beaten pretty badly. It’s not like they all don’t know what the score is. Even in my son’s first league, which kept no score, the first- and second-graders would fill each other in on who was up by how much. But when the game is over, they go home and get back to their lives.

I, on the other hand, have not had my most shining performance as a coach. Last year, when I was coaching a team that eventually won this same league’s title, I would yell instructions onto the court but overall was fairly calm. This year I look more easily frustrated, and I’m yelling more instructions that are not necessarily positive reinforcement. Not anything abusive, but stuff like “block out!” and “get your hands on the ball!” I’ve had at least one parent express his frustration we haven’t won a game. While the other parents have said nothing, I feel an implicit pressure (one generated by myself) to will us to at least one win so parents are happy.

Sadly, the lesson to be learned about handling losing is my own. I’m used to success in coaching — for example, my 9-year-old daughter’s softball team that I managed won third place in its league last spring. The kids on this team might never win a game, but they have not lost their will or ability to have fun playing ball. Unfortunately, with three games left, their coach needs to learn how to lighten up and realize that the point is to help these kids, fifth- and sixth-grade boys and girls who for the most part are new to basketball, enjoy the game and get a little better at it, and not let the scoreboard get him down.

Written by rkcookjr

January 4, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Dear hockey coach: I hate you. Love, the Zamboni Driver

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grumpy Zamboni driver ahead

Warning: grumpy Zamboni driver ahead

From a guy calling himself the Boston Sports History Examiner, looking at his career as a Zamboni driver in the rear-view mirror, if Zambonis have those:

I found out quickly that youth hockey coaches can be the most arrogant in all of youth sports. It seemed that they were always in the stands by the boards screaming at me. I ignored them. …

One thing that Peter told me and that I took full advantage of was that when he wasn’t there I was the boss. He told me not to take any guff from anybody. He also told me how to exert my power as the Zamboni man. I took advantage of my power only once. A particularly nasty and arrogant peewee hockey coach really ticked me off. The next time his team played while I was working, the Zamboni mysteriously broke down just before his team was to play. No new ice and a well deserved break for me. The moral of the story is that the Zamboni driver rules the rink!

If I see this guy working the grounds crew when I’m managing my son’s T-ball team this spring, I’ll be nice to him, lest he decides on a soggy day that we’ve mysteriously run out of Rapid Dry.

Written by rkcookjr

January 1, 2009 at 9:12 pm