Do You Have What it Takes to Be a Youth Sports Coach?

By Alex Perdikis

So you’re thinking about becoming a youth sports coach. There is almost nothing as rewarding as working with young athletes, changing lives, building character, promoting teamwork and watching kids grow into strong, independent and caring people.

The values and skills kids learn when they participate in youth sports bring untold benefits throughout their lives. Working with young athletes is one of the most fulfilling jobs you can do. But, not everyone is cut out to coach.

How about you? Do you have what it takes?

Coaching Youth Sports is a Huge Responsibility

Coaching is vastly rewarding and also one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Working with kids is only half of it. You’ll have to deal with parents, administrators and a host of other adults, all with their own opinions that will sometimes be at odds with yours.

Coaching is also fraught with responsibility when it comes to the young players whose lives you’ll touch. Your behavior, style, lessons and actions will leave a lasting impact on every single player you coach.

What will your legacy be? Will the kids remember you as the “mean guy who called me names” or will you be remembered as someone who was supportive and made them feel strong and confident?

Coaching requires patience. That doesn’t mean you don’t have passion. It does, however, mean you realize you’ll be working with children, not miniature adults. Kids make mistakes. You’ll lose games because of them. It’s all part of a child’s learning process. If you rant and rave after a loss and ridicule team members, you’re not youth sports coaching material.

What Makes a Great Coach?

Coaches have different personalities and styles, of course. But great coaches share common characteristics that make them assets to the lives of young athletes. Here are the 10 top traits a great youth sports coach has:

  1. Has a deep knowledge of the sport. This should go without saying, but unfortunately it’s not always the case. That doesn’t mean a coach needs to know every obscure rule in the book. It means you have the wherewithal to research and investigate the rules if need be.
  2. Loves the game and the team. The key to passion is demonstrating a love of the game and the team as well. If you’re passionate, your team will be, too.
  3. Is committed to safety. Safety comes first is the motto of a great coach. Great coaches complete safety and first aid training, such as CPR, first aid, injury prevention techniques and various sports-related injury treatments. That includes not only what goes on in game play, but watching out for events that might put the team in danger. For example, outdoor games or practices may have to be called due to the dangerous weather conditions. Lightning, even if it looks far away, is no joke. As a coach, it’s your job to keep everyone safe, even if it means stopping in the middle of a game.
  4. Demands civility and respect. The coach is first an example of respectful behavior and then an enforcer. Great coaches don’t allow disrespectful behavior from players or their parents.
  5. Is flexible. Coaching is not a one-size-fits-all vocation. Rigid teaching methods won’t work in youth sports. You’ll have players with differing abilities, perhaps players of different genders and your team’s talents and capabilities will vary from year-to-year. The best coaches adapt training programs and teaching styles to meet the needs of the team.
  6. Knows his or her players. Each child is different. Each child needs personal attention. A great coach learns what each player needs to stay motivated and grow.
  7. Promotes teamwork. A great coach uses techniques to bring members together. Team-building activities such as parties, cookouts and fundraisers builds a bond between members and encourages teamwork rather than individual achievement.
  8. Has a way with words. The best coaches know how to communicate. They speak equally well to children and adults.
  9. Lives the life. Coaches lead by example both on and off the field. A coaching career goes with you to your home, job and social activities. It doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll have to uphold a high standard and a caring, empathetic demeanor.
  10. Is humble. Even great coaches make mistakes. Tempers are lost sometimes. When mistakes are made, however, they own up to them. They apologize. They make sure what happened was an exception, not a pattern. You’ll make mistakes. It’s how you deal with them that matters.

There you have it. If you think you can handle the job, by all means take the plunge. Being a youth sports coach is one of the most rewarding jobs you’ll ever have.

Creative Fundraising Ideas for Your Youth Sports Program

By Alex Perdikis

One of the biggest challenges for any youth sports program is funding. Budget cuts are a fact of life for youth sports, whether it’s a school, community, city, club or country organization.

The cost to administer programs, of course, has not decreased. In fact, costs increase every year. Most teams are on their own when it comes to raising money.

If your team lacks funds, and whose doesn’t, try some of these creative ways to make money for your youth sports squad.

Try Something Different

If selling candy bars is getting old and your “market” saturated, you need to try something new. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Rent-A-Kid: Get the players involved by offering their services to members of the community for a fee. Possible services include mowing lawns, yard clean up, reading to the elderly, baby-sitting, personal car washes or any number of other needs people in the community can use.

Community Talent Show: Who wouldn’t want to buy a ticket to see their neighbors up onstage singing and dancing their way into local stardom? Talent competitions are easy to setup and, if you can get someone to donate a venue, are relatively inexpensive to organize. Winners get inexpensive prizes and the adulation of their neighbors. Talent shows are great for another reason – they bring people in the community together and encourage support for the team and league.

Create and Sell Community Cookbooks: Almost everyone has a favorite recipe. Collect recipes from members of the community, compile them into a cookbook and you have the perfect fundraiser. Everyone who contributes will want to buy the cookbook just to see their recipe and name in print! Other community members will want one, too. Cookbooks are always in demand and the local touch will make this one even more appealing.

Professional Photo Sessions: If your community has a talented professional photographer, ask him or her if they’d be willing to do photo sessions for the benefit of the team. The photographer agrees to set aside a specific time for family and individual photo sessions with a portion of the proceeds going to the team.

Sell Website Ad Space: This relatively new idea works if your team has a website with a blog. The team can raise money by selling advertising space to local shops and vendors.

Sell Stuff: Selling products is the old standby, but you don’t have to restrict yourself to candy bars and cookie dough. Here is a list of items available for fundraising you may not have thought about before:

  • Pizza Kits: Kits typically contain everything the purchaser needs to make three complete pizzas.
  • Custom Sports Socks: Selling socks with team colors and logos is another solid idea. Custom socks are initially a bit more costly than other fundraising products, but typically sell well enough to turn a profit.
  • Trash Bags: Everyone needs them. Selling them is a breeze. Trash bags are inexpensive and come in bright, appealing colors.
  • Batteries: Batteries are another product that works well as a fundraising project. Everybody buys batteries, they may as well benefit the team when they do it.
  • Personalized Smartphone Cases: Customized phone cases offer a wide range of options including use of team colors, team logos, initials or pretty much whatever else you want. Everyone on the team and a lot of people in the community will want one. They make great gifts, too.

Unusual Fundraisers That Worked

Now that your creative juices are flowing, let’s look at some unusual but successful fundraisers different organizations used in the past to give you a few more out-of-the-box ideas.

Lucky Drop in Iowa: The Athletic Boosters of Keokuk came up with a novel idea that did so well they plan on making it an annual event.

The idea was to have a helicopter drop 500 numbered balls and one red ball from the air over a field. Contest winners would be six people who had tickets with numbers corresponding to the balls closest to the red ball and prizes to nine people whose ticket numbers corresponded with the farthest.

An aerial photographer agreed to donate his helicopter services, charging only for his travel expenses. The event was planned to coincide with game day to ensure a good-sized crowd. Event organizers, coaches and players sold tickets and teachers shared contest information with people on their email lists. The first Lucky Drop raised $1,700 and promoters plan to promote it more heavily next time.

Cleaning Up the Mess: Someone has to do it so it may as well go to a worthy cause. What is it? Cleaning the stands after the Indianapolis 500. Covenant Christian High School in Indianapolis works hard to clean stand sections and raises about $7,000 for the team after the big race each year. The speedway needs the service and the team needs the money. It’s a win/win.

Fundraising is not an option, it’s a necessity. Fortunately, there are countless ways to raise money for youth sports teams. Look outside the box for fundraising ideas. It’s possible to raise money and have some fun at the same time.

The Inspiring Truth About the State of Youth Sports

By Alex Perdikis

With all the news about youth sports gone bad, the most uplifting stories seem to get lost in the shuffle. That’s too bad because it’s a fact that youth sports is an overwhelmingly positive experience for most players and their families.

Good news rarely gets media coverage. With that in mind, here are some inspiring youth sports stories that’ll tug at your heartstrings and restore your faith in the human spirit.

Powering Past Adversity

Rashawn King was an ace football player for Middle Creek High School in Apex, North Carolina. A diagnosis of leukemia before his junior year changed all that. As Rashawn took the year off to battle the disease, support poured in. His team, school and community held multiple fundraisers, supporters camped out in the hospital lobby and friends flooded Rashawn with cards and messages of hope.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation caught wind of Rashawn’s struggle with leukemia and asked him to make a wish. Rashawn didn’t want a trip to Disneyland. Instead, to thank them for caring, he asked for a free school lunch for all 1,900 of his classmates, teachers and the school staff.

Rashawn roared back senior year and won all-conference honors.

Youth Sports and True Sportsmanship

Meghan Vogel was a state title winner in the 1,600-meter race for West Liberty-Salem High School, but was running in last place in the 3,200-meter final at the Ohio State track and field championships.

She had a chance to finish ahead of a collapsed competitor, but instead, Meghan helped the runner off the ground and ran with her across the finish line. Meghan made sure she kept her last place status. She explained her competitor had been ahead of her the whole race and deserved to finish in front.

A similar incident occurred halfway through a high school cross-country race in East Memphis, Tennessee. Seth Goldstein was in position to win or at least place high when he saw a collapsed runner in an obvious state of distress. Seth ran to his fallen competitor, turned him on his side so he wouldn’t choke and stayed with him until an emergency crew arrived.

Inspiration Comes in Different Packages

True strength and inspiration come in a lot of different packages.

You’ve probably heard about Bethany Hamilton. Perhaps you’ve seen the film “Soul Surfer,” which tells her story. The daughter of surfers, Bethany was raised in Hawaii and began competing as a child. When she was 13 years old, she nearly lost her life in a shark attack. She lived, but lost an arm.

Getting back in the water after the attack took every bit of courage she could muster. But come back she did. Two years later she won first place in the NSSA National Championships Explorer Women’s Division. She’s a professional now and shares her inspirational message of hope around the world.

What happens after a 12-year-old is hit by a car and suffers a permanently paralyzed arm? If you’re Jason Lester, you learn to swim, run and ride fast. You compete in Ironman and Ultraman competitions. Jason was the ESPY “Best Male Athlete with a Disability” winner in 2009. He’s won numerous championships, is an author and holds firm in his belief that stopping is not an option.

Chelsea McClammer was in a car accident when she was 6 years old. The accident resulted in paralysis from the waist down.

Chelsea loved playing sports before her accident and didn’t let a “little” paralysis stand in her way after. She became the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic team in 2008. She raced in multiple competitions, setting a female course record at the Bloomsday Road Race in Spokane, Washington. She continues to compete and spreads a message of hope wherever she goes.

Kyle Maynard is a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was once awarded GNC’s World’s Strongest Teen title. He’s climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, owns a crossfit gym and is a motivational speaker for the Washington Speaker’s Bureau.

All are worthy accomplishments in themselves. What makes them even more exceptional, however, is Kyle was born without arms or legs. He still managed all of these amazing accomplishments.

Jessica Long was born with fibular hemimelia which forced doctors to amputate her lower legs when she was 18 months old. She learned to walk with prostheses and began her Paralympic career as a swimmer at 12 years of age. She came away from the 2004 Athens Paralympics with three gold medals. At the 2008 games in Beijing, she took gold four times, earned two silvers and a bronze.

Sure, we hear a lot about terrible coaches and parents behaving badly when it comes to youth sports. But there are so many inspirational stories we rarely hear. Youth sports is and always has been filled with amazing players who are an inspiration to people everywhere.

Let Them Play: Why Kids with Disabilities Should Play Youth Sports

By Alex Perdikis

There’s nothing quite like play when you’re a kid. Maybe it’s a neighborhood game of baseball, basketball or flag football, perhaps it’s playing on a youth sports team or maybe it’s a simple game of catch in the backyard. It doesn’t matter. The joy of play is part of growing up.

Team sports in particular offers benefits that last well beyond the playing field. But, for kids with disabilities, participating in youth sports is a challenge. As adults, we have to take steps to make it easier for children with disabilities to join in.

Why Youth Sports?

The benefits of playing youth sports are widely known. Belonging to and learning to work with a team of diverse personalities teaches children to get along, rely on one another, build camaraderie, promote  self-esteem, practice resiliency and develop problem-solving skills. All of these benefits lead to life skills that follow children as they grow up and become adults.

There are multiple physical advantages as well, including building muscular and cardiovascular endurance, coordination and flexibility. Physical activity promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Children with disabilities may struggle with self-esteem and have difficulty making friends. Disabled children are often less physically active and some have a tendency toward obesity. For kids with disabilities, engaging in youth sports offers a host of advantages that include improvements in both mental and physical health.

The Challenge for Kids With Disabilities

Children with disabilities face a boatload of challenges when it comes to playing youth sports. Some children feel frightened or insecure about joining. For others, finding a community program willing to welcome them may be the issue.

Parents, coaches, team administrators and program leaders may wittingly or unwittingly put up barriers. For every problem, there’s a solution. Here are a few:

Parent and child fears: Children with disabilities are often the target of derision. Parents want to protect their children and kids may be reluctant to participate in a new environment. It’s a parent’s job to keep their child safe. But, it’s also a parent’s job to let their child grow and learn to be a confident well-rounded adult. Youth sports is a great way to help children do just that.

There are several ways parents can deal with their own fears and that of their child. Meet with the coaches and explain your child’s disability. Provide ample opportunities for the child and coaches to meet and get to know one another. After a while, what was once a frightening situation is now less so.

Of course, if parents don’t like a program or feel a coach isn’t willing or able to deal with the child in a positive manner, they should look for another program.

Administrators fear liability: If a program has not had a disabled player on the team before, they may balk because they don’t know what to expect. Perhaps they fear the disabled child will be injured and the team or league held responsible. Perhaps they fear prosthetic or adapted equipment will lead to injuries to other team members. In some cases, team leaders may decide they just won’t accept disabled players.

Parents need to take the lead with administrators. Sometimes all that’s needed is a little education.

Any player can be hurt on the field. If needed, parents can assist coaches in making modifications to increase safety levels. Parents can also make safely modifications themselves. For example, if a child uses a wheelchair, perhaps adding extra padding to the chair to make it safer if other players run into it would help.

Pull all the decision makers, including coaches and administrators, into the discussion to get feedback, come up with new ideas and encourage acceptance.

If administrators still say no, consider organizations such as Special Olympics.

Team member fears: It’s natural for existing team members to feel a little unsure when welcoming a disabled player onto the team. Coaches are instrumental here.

One strategy is to have a team meeting where the child with the disability is introduced and welcomed. The coach then explains that the new teammate has a disability and discusses a little about what that means. The coach then opens the meeting for discussion, letting the kids talk, asking each other questions and getting to know one another. Before long, team members won’t see a kid with a disability, they’ll see a kid like themselves who may need a little help sometimes.

Youth sports provides so many benefits and kids with disabilities should not have to miss out. All children deserve the opportunity to enjoy one of childhood’s greatest pleasures.