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Training Your Youth Sports Coaches

by Rick Missing, CLP

It seems the more popular sports programs become, the more problems that arise. More participants, more coaches, more parents, longer hours of registration, more requests for carpools or friendship needs. The list goes on and on. While many of these are inherent with growth and prosperity, one area that is often overlooked, but can be one of your most valuable assets, is coaches training.

The value of meeting with a volunteer coach cannot be discounted no matter how small or large your program is. It is a face-to-face chance to meet and inform those coaches about policies, procedures and rules. It also gives coaches an opportunity to ask questions and receive answers straight from the source (you).

Many coaches "cross over" from park district to private clubs or community volunteer groups every season. A pre-season meeting will help to clarify and distinguish your rules and procedures from the others. Many times there are distinct differences in program philosophies, and these must be addressed each season to avoid conflicts later.

First time coaches are especially eager to attend these meetings. It's sort of an "ice-breaker" meeting — a chance to get their feet wet. They are anxious to see what they have gotten themselves into, ask questions and get started. Many new coaches are young parents, and this will be their first experience in an organized sport for both themselves and their child. For the returning experienced veteran coach, it is an excellent chance to review, refresh and re-acquaint him/her with the program.

Each pre-season meeting must include some type of coaches training — not just handing them a schedule, a roster and rules. Yet, too many times supervisors and coordinators get so wrapped up in the numbers, scheduling and field prep, that they lose the energy and enthusiasm for coaches training. This is especially true when program growth is explosive and unanticipated. All of the sudden your workload has increased and time is short. You have 95 teams instead of 70. You don't have officials, you don't have the fields, or you need to find more courts. You spend most of your time calling parents, asking-begging-pleading, them to coach — and you still have to do schedules. It can be a nightmare.

To ignore proper training of coaches is a mistake that, if corrected, will pay huge dividends this, next and each season in the future. To the supervisor that conducts these training sessions, or adopts the program, it is also a great time to explain the direction that you feel your program is going in the community, as well as the philosophy of the agency. Sharing information with coaches and parents can bridge many gaps. Remember, many non-coaching parents rely on their coaches for answers. It also offers an opportunity to put in writing, and into the hands of the parent/coach, those philosophies that will be passed on to the kids and help direct them to a more rounded and enjoyable sports experience. You'll never get an argument about your program when you've presented it as a fair, impartial program that is concerned for the betterment of all youths.

To be certain, it is extra time spent in these sessions — late evenings, two or three times in a week, over and above regular office hours, a couple of times each year. It may be a pain, but the time spent will strengthen your coaches and the program.

Parents will coach for a variety of reasons. They like to coach. They played or are still playing the sport and like to stay involved. They love working with kids. They feel that they can teach the players something. They don't feel anyone else is qualified. They were signed up by their spouse and haven't a clue as to what that are supposed to do. Whatever the reasons, once registered, they are committed to the program, the kids and your agency.

Now it is the responsibility of the league coordinator to educate the coach as to his/her total responsibility. It goes beyond having a basic knowledge of the sport, holding a clipboard and having a whistle around their neck shouting instructions to the team. It includes fair play, communication, sportsmanship, motivation, relationships, discipline, scheduling, dedication and more. It may come to a surprise to many of us, but a great deal of coaches have no idea that while coaching, at some point in the season,

46 • Illinois Parks & Recreation • January/February 1995

they will be challenged in one or all of these areas. This is exactly the reason that a Coaches Training Program can help build and develop a stronger and better overall sports environment.

Of the many programs available, the most popular in Illinois are ASEP (American Sports Education Program) and NYSCA (National Youth Sports Coaches Association). Adoption of either of these training programs will provide the league administrator with new and thought-provoking ideas, as well as lively discussions among coaches.

AMERICAN SPORTS EDUCATION PROGRAM- (ASEP) ASEP (formally ACEP) has been providing quality coaching education programs, books and videos since 1981. In 1994, ACEP changed their name to ASEP, reflecting their commitment beyond coaches to also include parents and league administrators. New programs were developed with information about each of the roles that play in the development of youth sports.

The newly expanded SportsDirector program is designed especially for the league administrator. The training covers a variety of areas including: 1) Developing a philosophy that puts the children's well being ahead of winning; 2) How to educate volunteers to coach youth sports effectively; 3) How to prepare parents of young athletes to be responsible adults — to their children and to the program; 4) How to manage youth sports events efficiently; 5) Promote safety and risk management skills; and 6) How to raise funds for program expenses.

To help supplement the SportsDirector course, ASEP has also included the new Sports Parent course. This is an interesting addition to the program since it deals directly to the non-coaching parent. It is easily conducted in one, two-hour session and includes a video, discussion of youth sports issues and specific league and team rules to help acquaint the parent.

The video introduces the parents to the issues of youth sports, focusing on how to build a child's self-esteem, maintain a healthy perspective and even help children set goals. It is an excellent tool to help educate the parents and create a sound and positive sports atmosphere for all youths to enjoy during the athletic experience.

ASEP Rookie Coaches training program is the course designed to introduce the coach to philosophies, responsibilities and method of teaching skills and safety. It is especially for coaches with limited experience and no formal coaching education. The course takes about three hours and include a "Rookie Coaches Guide." A sports specific course text is also include in this clinic. Here the coaches are taught about positive reinforcement to the players, planning practices, preventing and caring for injuries and addressing liability concerns.

The Coaching Young Athletes Course is for those coaches that have graduated from the Rookie course and also for those with some formal coaching education. This clinic take about five hours, and the "Coaching Young Athletes" text is included. This course further examines coaching philosophies, sports physiology, teaching of sport skills, sports medicine and parent management.

The Rookie and Coaching Young Athletes courses are both not sports specific. They cover areas and topics that may surprise some new coaches. An additional session specifically related to the current sport (of the season) is recommend as a follow-up.

NATIONAL YOUTH SPORTS COACHES ASSOCIATION- (NYSCA) Since 1981, the NYSCA's mission has. been "Better Sports for Children." Coaches must attend first, second and third year certification to qualify and maintain membership. The certification program covers areas of the psychology of coaching youth sports, maximizing athletic performance, first aid and safety, organizing fun and interesting practices, and tips of teaching sports techniques.

The National Standard for Youth Sports was developed to help youth leagues operate their program with the best interest of the children. The 11 standards include: 1) Proper sports environment; 2) Programs that are based on the well being of the children; 3) Drug and alcohol free environment; 4) Part of the child life; 5) Training of coaches; 6) Parents' active role; 7) Positive role models; 8) Parental commitment; 9) Safe playing situations; 10) Equal play opportunities; and 11) Drug and alcohol free adults.

These standards were developed in 1987 by a group of leading experts representing various youth organizations from across the nation. The bottom line is that with these standards as part of your league's philosophy, each and every child will have a positive sports experience. While the NYSCA targets youths under the age of 16, these principles are easily carried over to all age groups.

Sessions are broken down into a classroom (lecture), followed either by a video tape of the sport specific, or a hands-on demonstration by a live "Professional" instructor (usually a high school, college or professional coach). The classroom sessions address areas of responsibility that many coaches take for granted. In addition to the review of the National Standards, coaches are asked to sign a "Code of Ethics" which re-emphasizes their role.

But coaches are not the only target of the NYSCA. Coaches are also instructed to meet with parents and distribute a "Parents Code of Ethics." Similar to the coaches,

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it focuses on the parents' role in areas such as sportsmanship, emotional and physical well being and a reminder that the game is for kids, played by kids, and not for adults. Again, its primary purpose is to keep the parents' focus on fun and not on competition.

The NYSCA also has a very active program that encourages coaches, parents and players from using drugs and alcohol. The "All-American Drug Team" is a program where youths can learn more about the dangers of drugs in all areas of their life. While drug abuse is not a threat for the average first grader, it is important that we, as parents and coaches, continuously educate our kids on the dangers of drugs. It is equally important that we bring this education to the athletic field and gyms, even at this early age.

THE VALUE OF TRAINING SESSIONS For both ASEP and NYSCA training sessions, you can see that the specific sport is not included in the primary and basic levels of the clinic. We all assume that coaches know a little about their sport — that is why (sometimes) that they want to coach. But we also assume, often incorrectly, that coaches know how to handle difficult situations, or how to communicate with players, or basic first aid, or even know how to develop a practice plan. The sessions cover these topics to help the coach better understand their role.

League administrators need to examine any coaches training program in detail before deciding on which one is best suited for your agency. Not only will it be a reflection of your agency, but it will be a reflection of yourself. For many administrators, total participation in the sport for youth is the key to programming. To be sure, competition has its place, but as coordinators, our concern is not with winning, but with getting kids on teams so they will have an opportunity to play and not sit on the bench.

Winning and competition are all part of any program, but winning can also be destructive and can tear apart even the best of youth leagues. An overzealous coach, with unbending rules and harsh discipline, can promote such a negative impression that youths can be lost for years before they return (if ever) to the sport. News of a bad coach travels the "parents hotline" and stays on the wire for several seasons. It is more difficult to undo this kind of damage than any scheduling nightmare you can image. That's why programs such as ASEP and NYSCA are so valuable.

Don't be fooled — they do not flush out the bad and leave you only the cream of the crop. They give each league administrator the best chance they will ever have to train and assist all coaches so the children of their community will enjoy their sports experience.

Call or write any of the following for more information:

American Sports Education Program (ASEP) Box 5076 Champaign, IL 61825 1-800-747-5698

National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) 2611 Old Okeechobee Road West Palm Beach, FL 33409 1-800-729-2057

NYSCA — Illinois Director LeeVoIpe Vernon Hills Park District 635 N. Aspen Dr Vernon Hills, IL 60061 1-708-367-7270

Rick Missing, CUP, is the Recreation Supervisor for the Buffalo Grove Park District and Co-chair of the IPRA Athletic Committee

48 • Illinois Parks & Recreation• January/February 1995

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