Evaluating Youth Athletic Programs
by Dr. Ewen L. Bryden
Most recreation administrators will probably agree that the athletic activities sponsored by their departments are the backbone of their services. Athletics encourage large numbers of participants, enthusiastic spectators and provide a great opportunity for promoting the name of the recreation agency. The free "ink" provided by the sports pages of local newspapers in covering various athletic events could not be funded by most recreation budgets.
Beyond the advantages indicated, there is the great potential for good that properly conducted athletic programs provide, especially for the young people of the community. The old cliche about the contributions of athletics to the welfare of the individual has a great deal of truth in well planned and administered programs. The idealistic objectives which we attribute to these activities (which frequently are never met) can be realized with a determined effort on the part of those running these programs.
But many of our trained professionals seem content to ignore this opportunity and leave the administration of our athletic activities for youth in the hands of "amateurs" such as the various civic and social organizations which abound in the sponsorship of athletics for youth. In some instances these programs are well organized and competently administered. But many are poorly managed and the philosophy of their operation is narrow and distorted. Here the recreation professional has an obligation to improve the situation. Instead of ignoring the programs which do not provide for the needs of the entire community, the executive should evaluate the activities carefully, seek ways to improve their operation, or offer alternate opportunities for participation in their own programs.
The professional might well use a set of criteria similar to those listed below as a guide in evaluating the various privately sponsored programs in his community.
1. Simple objectives for each program which are well-publicized and clearly understood by those involved in the program such as:
a. To provide opportunities for all participants to engage equally in the activity and learn the basic skills of
2. Proper orientation of parents, officials and players concerning the objectives of the program. A difficult obstacle to the success of sports programs for children is in the attitude of the adults. Many examples of improper adult behavior can be cited which have marred the conduct of these activities. But most adults, whether they realize it or not, want programs where friendliness not animosity prevails, where all the participants get a chance to play beyond a token appearance, and where the less gifted have a chance to "shine." In most cases adults will respond positively to a firm program stressing sportsmanship, participation, sociability and safety.
Working with coaches and officials at a time and place far removed from the playing field yields the greatest dividends. Developing cooperative efforts among these people is best accomplished before they begin to "taste the blood" of competition. A series of meetings and clinics stressing the league philosophy and acquainting them with rules, regulations and procedures should be conducted well before the playing season begins.
During the initial organization of the program each year, an orientation session should be given to the parents to impress upon them—in no uncertain terms—the implications of improper behavior on their part and to solicit their help in making positive contributions to a very vital part of the program. One
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agency required players to bring their parents to the orientation meeting before being allowed to participate. Actions of this sort may not entirely control the overt behavior of irresponsible adults but it will go a long way toward improving this situation.
3. The provision of competent instruction and coaching in the basic techniques of the game. It is better to select coaches because of their attitude and personality rather than their skill background; for they can be taught the skills of coaching. Emphasis upon maturity, friendliness and emotional stability are the prime requisites for those working with children, and these characteristics do not necessarily come with age.
Regardless of their ability and background all coaches should be trained to teach the sport properly. Coaching clinics and the use of specialists can teach the coaches how to impart the basic skills of the game to their players.
4. The provision of adequate officiating and supervision. Good officiating is a basic pre-requisite to any sports program. Here again, attitude and common sense are just as important as ability. Personal experience indicates that departmental-trained officials relate more closely with the philosophy of your program than those contracted from outside sources. In many cases competent officials can be found among interested citizens in the community and they can be utilized with satisfactory results. They should, however, be carefully selected, adequately trained, and fairly compensated for their efforts. If at all possible avoid the situation of picking the officials out of the stands just prior to the game.
If officials are contracted from an outside association the philosophy of the program and the conduct of the games should be explained and they should be informed that they are hired to officiate the games, not to run the program. They should also be told that their actions as officials will be backed by the department to the fullest extent and that they are not to tolerate peronal abuse from players, coaches or spectators. In this respect I have found the employment of a game supervisor, present at all games, to be an effective aid in controlling the game conditions, the actions of officials, players and spectators.
5. The provision for equality of competition among players and teams. A truly recreational sports league will try to provide for equal competition among the players and team. The development of "farm systems" and instructional leagues for younger or poorer players has considerable merit. Here the division should be as much upon ability and maturity as upon age. An older but immature player might be better off playing in a league with younger players. This type of approach must be carefully regulated so that the players are truly placed according to their ability and none of them feel embarrassed or resentful of their placement. Years of observation have convince me it is better to re-organize the teams completely each year rather than retain the basic teams and draft additional players to complete the rosters. Re-organization each year breaks up the powerhouse teams which often develop and spreads the talent around the league each season. It gives all the players a new opportunity to join a team with a chance of winning at least a few of its games. In addition it provides opportunities to meet new teammates and make new friends, certainly one of the basic goals of any sports program. This idea is one that many coaches take exception to, especially those who have developed a winning team the previous season and expect a number of returnees. But the program does not exist to provide an ego trip for the coaches; the importance of equal competition should take precedence over the feelings of a few coahces.
6. The provision for all participants to play and to become involved in a number of positions regardless of their ability. One of the saddest and most frustrating situations involves the players who are given only a token opportunity to participate. If the program is good for the gifted it is equally beneficial for the less
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EVALUATING YOUTH ...
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talented player; rules must be written to insure that all players will participate fully. The allowance for free substitution and penalties for not playing all team members will help this situation. In addition, regulations should be enforced to insure that players have an oppurtunity to play more than one position.
With the current developments concerning discrimination against females in sports and the increased interest by girls in participating in the traditional male activities, serious consideration needs to be given to programs for girls. This has been too long in coming in many communities. If separate activities cannot be offered successfully then it might be necessary to open the boys' programs for the girls. All agencies, voluntary and public, will be increasingly faced with this decision and the recreation department needs a sound policy to govern the situation.
7. Clearly defined playing rules which are understood, enforced and relevant to the local situation. Any organized sports activity involving competition must have rules. The rules should be as short and uncomplicated as possible; they should be inclusive enough to cover all situations. Above all, the rules should be based completely upon the local community. Use of national association rules should serve only as a basis for the development of local regulations. Copies of the rules should be made available to all officials, coaches, players and parents so that those closely associated with the program will have the opportunity to become familiar with them.
8. A concern for the safety of the participants, reflected in safe equipment and facilities and a well-advertised plan of action in the event of accident or emergency. A tendency exists today among youth sports organizations to buy the most fancy and expensive uniforms available. This is wasteful of money and may contribute to improper attitudes among the players. Far better to spend the money on equipment and facilities which insure the safety of the participants. Excellent well-fitting helmets, pads, catching equipment, and enough balls, bats and supplies to conduct practices properly are more important than adding stripes and names to the uniforms. A concentrated effort should be made to eliminate the potential hazards from the playing sites. Uneven playing surfaces, poor lighting, and unpadded obstructions deserve more attention and funds than uniforms.
The control of practice sessions is of vital concern in the health of young players. The number and length of practices should be regulated closely by league officials to prevent overly-enthusiastic coaches from practicing too frequently and for too long a period.
Every program should be provided with a clear plan for emergency action in the event of injury. Procedures for contacting the parents, hospital, ambulance service, and the police should be spelled out clearly. A policy for suspending play during inclement weather should be clearly understood and enforced rigidly. The provision for first aid supplies and proper instructions for first aid procedures should also be spelled out.
9. An organized intensive program to develop good relationships among the parents, players, coaches and officials. A program of this type is difficult to develop and the positive benefits are often impossible to assess.
Anything that can bring the people together on a friendly basis can be helpful. Developing a format for the players to introduce their families to the group and tell a few things about them is a good way to help develop social poise among the players. A more subtle technique of arranging the bleachers so that all the spectators must sit fairly close together can work wonders. It is difficult to feel antagonistic toward another team when you are sitting next to the parents.
The development of a "friendship committee" among the parents to promote improved relations and organize activites such as picnics, banquets, pot-lucks and team meetings can be of great assistance. As a coach, I felt that hosting meetings at my home for the players and their entire families was a positive factor in building closeness among the team members. Training films on techniques, team philosophy and a few social games contributed to the atmosphere of the occasion.
Perhaps the key to developing good relationships during the games is the attitudes of the coaches. They frequently set the tone of the contests. If they are friendly, cheerful and calm during the games, players and fans tend to follow suit. The coach can also control the behavior of the players by a firm attitude toward unsportsmanlike behavior and a careful adherence to the spirit of fair play.
Many professionals may feel that these standards represent an idealistic philosophy which is impractical in the actual situation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Current youth programs already incorporate many of the above principles and concepts. To say these standards will be completely successful would be inaccurate, but a great deal of improvement can be made.
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