The Role of Coaches and Parents in Youth Sports

imagePhoto Credit: SWHELPER

The Cumberland, R.I. Little League baseball team’s journey had just come to a close. The final out was recorded in a heartbreaking 8-7 defeat to Jackie Robinson West Little League (Chicago) on national television in Williamsport. Coach David Belisle gathered his team in right field and delivered one of the best speeches we may ever see in the game of baseball.

Every line of Belisle’s speech is awesome. I love how he consoles his players by showing them how they have nothing to be ashamed of and how they should be prideful of how they played. He showed how their play on the field caused everyone to take notice because these kids played the game the right way. Most importantly, Belisle established how the friendships and lessons the team takes away from this LLWS run are ultimately more valuable than the score itself. Every part of this speech is positive and full of emotion and heart.

I started this piece with Belisle’s speech not only because the Little League World Series is being played this week, but as a reminder to how youth sports coaches can set an example for their players both on and off the field. Unfortunately, I have seen many examples as to how parents and coaches of youth sports teams fail to set a good example for their children, ultimately driving kids away from the sports they love.

I just finished a summer internship with the Southern Ohio PGA where many of the tournaments I worked were junior tournaments. These tournaments featured players as old as 18 and as young as seven. In most cases a parent would accompany a player and parents would caddie for players under the age of 11.* While many of the parents were, in fact, friendly and supportive of their kids and tournament staff, some were not and ultimately ruined what can be a fulfilling experience within the game. Two separate dads of girls ages 10 or 11 would scoff at seemingly every bad shot or missed putt, and acted like the stereotypical “helicopter parent.” A different parent berated tournament staff after his daughter’s group was asked to speed up their pace of play. A parent at a Drive, Chip, and Putt (analogous to Punt, Pass, and Kick) was visibly frustrated at his son at the scorer’s table for not having a high enough score. This player qualified for the next round of the competition. These are just a few of what was far too many examples of parents worsening the youth sports experience for both their children and the staff involved.

*The SOPGA Junior Tour was divided into two divisions, with the Players Tour featuring kids ages 13-18 and the Futures Tour featuring kids ages 7-13.

Parents are sometimes too hard on their kids but are also much too difficult with officials as well. The Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) is facing a dire shortage of officials at this very moment, having dropped 2,600 officials since 2010. The top reason for officials quitting according to a 2017 survey was poor sportsmanship and mistreatment. This mistreatment has often been from the adults in the venue, not the competitors. Ohio is not alone in this shortage, as neighboring states Kentucky and Michigan also have seen a sharp drop in officiating in the last decade and many other states across the country are experiencing a similar problem. Both coaches and parents need to be educated on treating officials with respect, especially with the training that officials go through on a yearly basis. Otherwise, the shortage of youth officials will get worse.

Image result for decline in youth sports officialsPhoto Credit: The Washington Post

Many of us will be parents in the future and our kids will play sports as they grow up. While we cannot control how other parents treat their kids, we can set the best example for our children. Using positive encouragement, working to improve skills off the field, and rewarding hard work are a few basic steps parents take for granted. Most importantly, parents need to understand that their league’s officials are human and sometimes make bad calls. While fans criticize bad calls made against their favorite team (as I often do myself), doing so as a parent or a coach does not make your child want to play the game more.

With all we know about youth sports participation today, I ask all youth parents and coaches this fall sports season to be an inspiration to their young players. A coach like David Belisle can not only teach a player how to play the game but can teach lessons that kids can take with them into their future. Each parent should be supportive of their child’s play on the field and the officials and staff that make their child’s involvement possible. With a little more mindfulness to how kids can benefit from playing sports, parents and coaches will be more positive, and officials will be more comfortable doing their jobs.


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