Stemming the Tide: Bringing Kids Back to Youth Sports

By Alex Perdikis

You can’t argue with the numbers. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), the number of youth sports participants dropped 4.5 percent between 2008 and 2013. That’s approximately 2.6 million fewer kids. It’s a disturbing statistic.

Youth sports gives kids so many advantages, including improved physical and mental health as well as more productive brain function. The decline means that fewer kids reap these benefits. Why the alarming trend? What can we do about it?

Alex Perdikis
The Why of It

There are several factors behind the decline. A major barrier is money, or rather, the lack thereof. In areas where household incomes are low and school districts poor, there is no extra money to pay for youth sports programs, fees and related costs.

Other causes include the following:
Parents behaving badly: Stand on the sidelines of any youth sports competition, whether it’s soccer, baseball or any other competition, and you’ll see at least one – a parent behaving badly. You’ll most likely see someone yelling at an official, confronting a coach or screaming at their own child, or even a teammate, for making a “stupid” mistake. Some parents who behave this way think they are doing the right thing. Many have an ego problem – trying to live their own dreams through the child or feeling ashamed if their child doesn’t live up to expectations. Parents who do this zap every ounce of fun out of the youth sports experience for their child. Their behavior also negatively impacts the entire team.

Child endangerment: Parents don’t like to think of their child as a victim if they participate in youth sports, but it can happen. Any number of issues that endanger a child’s health and well-being can occur. Competition is a great character builder in its proper context. If kids feel too much pressure, however, it can lead to eating disorders and steroid and alcohol abuse.
Overuse injuries: Anyone playing sports can become injured, but overuse injuries are much of the time caused by adults, whether it’s coaches or parents, who push kids too far. Overuse injuries are highly preventable.
The businesslike environment of many sports organizations: Instead of putting the needs of the child player first, many of these organizations serve themselves. Business organizations place barriers to participation, including making arbitrary rules and developing strict rules that leave many players without choices.
Kids no longer enjoy the experience: Often, kids say they want to quit youth sports because they aren’t interested anymore, don’t like the coach, think playing takes too much time, feel too much pressure or don’t get to play enough. Some kids feel trapped into playing, which causes resentment. If it’s not fun, they won’t play.

Parents Step Up!

The first step in changing the downward spiral is for parents to stand up. Parents have to stop being a problem and become the solution. Pushing kids, hovering over them, screaming at others in a misguided belief that they’re helping their child has to stop. This kind of behavior not only impacts the entire team, but damages a parent’s relationship with his or her child. To be fair, it’s easy for parents to fall into the win trap. Every parent wants their child to succeed. But, many parents think that winning equals success. It doesn’t. Children are successful when they work hard, keep trying and play to their potential.
Parents who do not engage in destructive behavior also bear a responsibility. They can’t just remain silently on the sidelines. By speaking out and organizing with other supportive parents, they can change the youth sports environment and turn it back into a positive experience for everyone.

Money, Money, Money

The lack of money is an ongoing challenge. In many areas, churches, organizations and individuals are stepping up to fill the void. For example, Major League Baseball owns and operates the international organization Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (R.B.I.). Boys and girls age six to 18 are eligible. The organization has welcomed over 100,000 children to the program to date.

Another example is the InnerCity Players Basketball (ICP) league. Founded in 1997, the league’s goal is to teach basketball fundamentals as well as life fundamentals. Children go on field trips designed to help them develop positive life goals. Children aged eight to 17 are eligible. The program has a high record of success, with 100 percent of participants graduating high school and 90 percent moving on to college.

Grants are available in some areas as well. Obviously, lower-income children should not be left out when it comes to the opportunities youth sports provides.

Bringing the Kids Back

Clearly, youth sports is in a precarious state. But, as parents and coaches, we can make a difference. We have to take the lead, develop positive changes, make it fun and bring the kids back.

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.

People With Down Syndrome Making a Difference

There was a time when people with Down syndrome lived out their lives in institutions away from their families and the general public. Fortunately, times are different now. Specialized care and advanced treatments mean that those born with Down syndrome lead full, active and happy lives. In fact, today people with Down syndrome  break down barriers and take on the world in surprising ways. Here are a few of their remarkable stories.

A Political First

Angela Bachiller lives in Valladolid, a city in central Spain. The now 32-year-old worked as an administrative assistant in the Social Welfare and Family offices for three years. She loves to travel and read. In 2013, Angela became the first person with Down syndrome to be elected to a city council. She hopes that her candidacy and election win will help change the perception people have about those with disabilities and open more doors of opportunity.

No Boundaries

In the spring of 2013, more than 2,100 students graduated from the Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) in Kentucky. Megan McCormick, one of the honor graduates, received an associate degree in education. Highly motivated and hard-working, Megan’s goal is to work with children as a teacher and mentor. Her accomplishments are impressive because Megan has Down syndrome. BCTC officials believe she is the first Down syndrome student to earn an associate degree with honors from a technical college.

Pablo Pineda, a successful actor in Spain, was the first Down syndrome student to earn a university degree in Europe. Pablo received the San Sebastian International Film Festival Silver Shell award for his film performance in “Yo Tambien,” where he played a university graduate with Down syndrome. He is the author of the book “The Challenge of Learning.” With a diploma in teaching and a bachelor’s in educational psychology, Pablo plans to retire from acting and teach.

In 2013, 15-year-old Elisha “Eli” Reimer became the first person  with Down syndrome to reach base camp on Mount Everest. Eli and his father trained together for a year to prepare for the two week 70-mile hike to the camp. The climb was not only a monumental accomplishment, but it also raised $85,000 in donations for the Elisha Foundation, a charitable organization created by Eli’s parents to help families with special needs children.

On the Screen

Actors with Down syndrome have starred in numerous television shows and films. One of the funniest is Lauren Potter who hilariously played Becky Jackson on “Glee.” Luke Zimmerman’s role as Tom Bowman in the series “The Secret Life of the American  Teenager’ led to other roles and a guest appearance on “Glee.”

Chris Burke’s endearing character on television’s “Life Goes On” led to parts in major motion pictures, including “Mona Lisa Smile.” Chris is a National Down Syndrome Society Goodwill Ambassador and travels the world to raise awareness.

Advances in medical treatment and a changing view of those with disabilities means that people with Down syndrome have the opportunity to take on any of the challenges the world has to offer.

It’s More Than a Game to Alex Perdikis and the Rest of the Gang

Alex Perdikis, who played linebacker for the University of Richmond football team from 1993 to 1996, knows that college sports is made up of human stories. Stories of players and fans behaving badly get a lot of press, but there are just as many stories that prove the human spirit is alive and well. These are just a few of the heartwarming stories to come out of sports in recent years.

Competition, Rivalry and Human Compassion

College sports is full of age-old rivalries. Arguments between fans, players and team supporters can get heated. The football rivalry between Alabama and Auburn goes way back. Why then, was Alabama quarterback Blake Sims wearing a bracelet supporting Kayla Perry, a young Auburn student and fan, during the 2014 Iron Bowl?  Sims had heard about Perry’s diagnosis of a rare and potentially deadly disease called neuroblastoma. He wore the bracelet to support Perry’s fight to beat the disease and raise awareness.

David Ash was a promising young quarterback for Texas. Unfortunately, he suffered numerous concussions and decided to retire from football before sustaining permanent injuries. It wasn’t an easy decision for a talented young athlete to make, but he handled it philosophically, with a positive attitude. Ash made it a point to thank the many Oklahoma Sooner fans, arch rivals of Texas, who wished him well on his journey. Rivalries don’t mean a lot when it comes to compassion.

The Maryville football team was up 46 to nothing against St. Joseph Benton high school. Near the end of the game, Benton’s coach called a timeout and ran across the field to talk to Maryville’s coach. When play resumed, Matt Ziesel, a Benton team member with Down syndrome, came out to play running back. The quarterback handed Ziesel the ball and he ran 70 yards for a touchdown. Maryville won more than a game that day with their compassionate gift to a deserving young man. They won hearts as well.

Anthony, a young man who battled Emery-Dreifuss muscular dystrophy, was a huge North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team fan. When players Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald heard about Anthony, they decided to treat the then 12-year-old to a day he’d never forget. Anthony was treated to a behind-the-scenes look at team facilities, met with the coach and players and had the time of his life.

Love Prevails

When Western Carolina sophomore Simms Hicks agreed to present the American flag honoring the troops during a presentation at halftime of the men’s basketball game, she had no idea what was in store. Her father, Major Jimmy Hicks was in the Marine Corps stationed in Afghanistan. She hadn’t seen him in months. After presenting the flag alongside officials and the team mascot, Simms started to walk back to her seat when the mascot removed the head of his costume, revealing his identity. There stood Simms’ father. Father and daughter embraced in an emotional  reunion.

Basketball: Great for Keeping in Shape

Perfectly arched shots from more than 23 feet away and spectacular, windmilling dunks may get all the press. But basketball’s got much more to offer. The truth is, it’s a great workout. If played properly, basketball provides intense cardiovascular exercise and remarkably efficient agility training. It develops exacting hand-eye coordination and a true feeling of accomplishment. Best of all, participants don’t have to spend a lot of money buying gym memberships or hiring personal trainers. The net down at the park is beckoning, so grab some shoes and a ball and attack the rim.

The Youth Soccer Boom

Requiring little more than a pair of orange cones and a ball, soccer is a game almost anyone can play. Shoes aren’t even a complete necessity, and many fields in the summer are dotted by 10-year-old, barefooted girls and boys enjoying a casual game of soccer. In the United States currently, more than three million children between the ages of 5 and 19 play organized soccer at some level.

Even though youth soccer was popular before Major League Soccer’s first game in 1996, it has grown dramatically in the intervening 18 years. US Youth Soccer works with the league in promoting the development of young players and building outreach programs to find tomorrow’s stars in out-of-the-way places. The economic crises of 2008 temporarily derailed US Youth Soccer’s development strategies as more and more families began struggling. Although soccer doesn’t require much just to play, participation in an organized league still requires a financial commitment.

Since 2010, however, the organization has come on strong, and there are now more than 6,000 separate clubs throughout the country that are part of US Youth Soccer. US Youth Soccer stresses participation above all else and cites the cardiovascular benefits to young people, fostering of teamwork and self-respect, and a sense of achievement as the driving factors behind its recruiting efforts. In some of its leagues, the organization stresses fun over winning at all costs; ensures that every child has playing time; and keeps the environment relaxed and stress-free. Of course, US Youth Soccer also runs ultra-competitive leagues and every other kind of league in between. Also, if a child shows exceptional promise and skills, US Youth Soccer works with the player in developing his or her potential. That child might one day wind up as a player with the U.S. National Team, an MLS franchise or another franchise overseas.

US Youth Soccer is a nonprofit organization, and almost all of its collected funds go toward the sport. In its 55 state-level associations, 600,000 volunteers and more than 300,000 coaches, many of whom are also volunteers, work ceaselessly to instill a lifelong appreciation and love of the sport in America’s youth. The organization is an equal opportunity entity, and children of all ethnic groups are encouraged to participate. After all, soccer is the world’s game.