Team leaders are not just those designated as team captain. All players can provide leadership by what they say and what they do. These players not only want to see their own play improve but that of their teammates as well. Leadership is shown in different ways including:

  • Reaching out and making friends on the team
  • Complimenting other players when they play well
  • Encouraging other players when they make mistakes
  • Encouraging teammates even when the team is behind on the scoreboard
  • Demonstrating hard work
  • Never throwing a fit when things don’t go right
  • Listening to coaches
  • Helping other players on the team to play better

Coaches need players to help provide leadership to the team and set a positive example for other players.


Assigning Positions

Just like kids need to improve physical skills, they also need a better understanding of how a team works together. In their initial efforts, kids often attempt to imitate what they see in a professional game, such as a dodging move to the basket, a breakaway or an open field run. What kids often fail to understand is how the pros work together as a team to create those memorable moments.

When kids imitate the pros, their play often looks like “hot-dogging” or selfish play to coaches and moments of brilliance to parents. Coaches have to help young kids (and parents) see the bigger picture of how teams work together to score or defend and this comes from helping them understand positioning.

Each position has different requirements and just as it is okay to use practice time for drills, it is also okay to use practice time to explain. For younger kids, these explanation sessions are best kept short and intermixed with physical activity. But as kids get older and can sit still longer, a practice conducted in front of a white board can also make sense.

With a little pre-game planning, coaches should look at assigning positions in advance of a game and give the players a chance to anticipate the responsibilities. Advance assignment also gives the players time to talk these responsibilities over with their parents for a better understanding. If some parents don”t have a good understanding of the sport, coaches can recommend books and websites to help them better help their child.

A team that is positionally solid is hard to beat and coaches should not worry about wasting field, court or ice time with conversations.

Five Things Not to Ask Your Child

It is well understood that youth sports is a team effort, but that team isn’t just limited just to the players and the coach. Parents have much to offer their young athlete no matter the amount of their prior experience. The team works best when it works together to solve problems and has reasonable expectations. One way to help the team work together is to avoid five questions that parents sometimes ask of their child:

  • Don’t ask your child to play on a team without their friends. – For kids, being around their friends is an important part of youth sports. Kids routinely make their sports decisions based on where their friends are playing. The more friends a child has on a team, the more likely they are to try hard. Alternatively, if a child has few friends on the team, a parent can often help by hosting or sponsoring a team party to enable their child to get to know the other players better.
  • Don’t ask your child to play the same sport year round. – Just like kids need to play different positions to develop their mental understanding of the game, they also need to play multiple sports to develop their overall physical capabilities. Encouraging a variety of sports over different seasons keeps things interesting for the child and helps them develop physically to their fullest potential.
  • Don’t ask your child to feel grateful for your taking them to practice. – Youth sports works best when it is a family effort rather than just a child effort. Practice and game times are opportunities to share as well as opportunities for play. Watching and supporting practice time is just as valuable to a child as watching and supporting a game and should be mutually rewarding for both parent and child.
  • Don’t ask your child to exercise if you won’t. – At any age, a healthy lifestyle involves regular physical exercise. While playing sports, kids (especially older kids) often need to exercise away from practice to develop stamina, quickness or strength. If parents want to encourage this exercise, the best way is by sharing the experience rather than just measuring the experience.
  • Don’t ask your child to understand the game if you don’t. – Young players getting started in a sport often get discouraged early because they don’t have a clear understanding of their role. Parents can help their child tremendously by helping them understand the basics of the game and working with them on drills. There are numerous books in every sport designed to educate new players and spectators. Parents should utilize these resources to improve the chances of a youth sports success.

Just like adults, kids desire time with their friends, seek a variety of experiences, appreciate the interest of others, like sharing difficult tasks and want someone to share conversation. Parents and kids have more in common than they think but have different ways of expressing it. By coming together as a team, parents and children can improve the experience for everyone.

Basic Rules for Parents

Every year, 20 million children register for hockey, football, baseball, soccer, and other competitive sports. If you’re the parent of one of those young sports enthusiasts, like most people, you want to be a good parent. The “don’ts” are clear—no fighting with the other parents, no attacking the coaches, no screaming at the kids. The “do’s” are a little less clear and sometimes parents, attempting to do good, are the biggest impediment to a successful season.

According to the National Alliance for Sports, of the 20 million kids who sign up, 70 percent quit playing league sports by the age of 13 and never play again. The media points to enraged parents and bad sportsmanship as the biggest problem in youth sports. But, obviously, 70 percent of these kids’ parents aren’t assaulting each other or attacking the referees. So, there must be other reasons why kids drop out of sports. In many cases, it’s the well-intentioned moms and dads that take the fun out of sports for their young athletes.

A Michigan State University survey looked closely at why kids play sports. The survey of 10,000 children, grades 7 – 12, found that the most important reason kids cited as to why they to play was to have fun. This was followed by to improve my skills, and to stay in shape. Winning (much to the surprise of many adults) was 10th on the list. The same survey also looked at why children stopped playing sports. I was not having fun, I lost interest and it took too much time were top of the list.

For most children, a successful game is one in which they had fun, didn’t embarrass themselves and got a great snack afterward. Of course, nobody really likes to lose. But parents need to understand that winning doesn’t automatically mean their child is happy, either. Parents, don’t realize how important their attitude is in keeping kids on the right athletic track.

The secret, most experts agree, is to be an involved and conscientious sports parent, walking that fine line between being overly demanding or too nurturing. As any parent knows, you can encourage your young star to work harder, play smarter and be better. But push too hard and you’ll create a resentful and reluctant player who loses all interest in sports. On the other hand, parents must realize that indiscriminate praise does not build self-esteem; it simply creates children who cannot distinguish between poor and real effort.

So how can you be a good sports parent? Start by following these basic rules:

  • Know and respect your coach. Most youth coaches are under- or unpaid. Many are volunteers who invest an enormous effort in your child’s athletic activities. Take the time to talk to your coach, understand their coaching style and find out how you can help. Understand that winning is a nice by-product of good coaching but by no means is it the only goal. Working with your coach will help make the season much more enjoyable. Treating coaches with respect will make them more receptive to your questions and concerns.
  • Listen to your child. Talk to you child about what happens at practice and at games, not just about the wins and loses. Carefully listen to what they say about their own performance or that of their teammates and coaches. If your young player is upset about a bad game, help them figure out what went wrong—don’t just give them a list of all the problems you saw or gloss it over with empty praise. Help them find a better strategy for the next time or set aside practice time away from the team.
  • Remember context. Everyone has off days, including your child and your child’s coach. One bad incident should not cloud your opinions for the rest of the season. Rather, look at the event in the context of the whole season. Ask yourself if the event is an isolated occurrence. If so, move on and focus on the positive.
  • Encourage effort and reward hard work. One of the most valuable lessons that sports can teach our children is that hard work and team effort can bring great rewards. Good sports parents help their children see that a valiant effort can be just as important as winning.
  • Practice good sportsmanship in the stands. A girl’s soccer league in Ohio instituted “Silent Sunday” to eliminate spectator cheers and jeers and sideline distractions. The experiment was wildly successful and a sad commentary on parents. Instead of being forced into silence in the stands, use your own conduct to teach your child that gracious winning and losing; not annihilating the other team, builds character.
  • Don’t create divided loyalties. Disagreeing with coaching decisions in front of your child may make you think that you are sticking up for your player. In reality, it simply sends your child confusing messages as to who is in charge. By dividing his or her loyalty, you make it that much harder for your child to listen to the coach and be part of a team. Instead, voice your concerns to the coach in private. If you have grave concerns about the coaching, talk to the head of your sports organization. But keep your child out of it.
  • Check your own ego at the door. For many parents, the end result (winning) seems to matter more than the process (becoming better athletes, enjoying physical activity and learning how to play as part of a team). You may thrive on competition but always remember that it’s your child who’s playing, not you. And their accomplishments (and failures) are just that—their own. Support your child, cheer your child and encourage your child but don’t confuse what you want with what’s best for your child.

Following these steps won’t guarantee a parent the next sports legend. However, these steps can take something that kids want to do (play sports) and turn it into something that parents want for their kids (healthy living and life lessons). Remember, the goal of youth sports isn’t about building a career, it’s about building a life.

Written by: Laura Langendorf

24 Hour Rule

Youth sports can be an emotional experience. The physical activity of the kids can often spill onto the sidelines and into the stands and create strong reactions in coaches and parents.

For parents, it is important to separate their child’s sports development from game emotions. For this reason, many leagues and coaches have adopted the “24 Hour Rule” which simply states that coaches will not discuss a game or situation until at least 24 hours after the fact. This important rule does two things. First, it moves the discussion away from the presence of the players. Second, it allows all parties to have time to put things in perspective and “cool off”, if necessary.

If parents will respect the 24 hour rule, their concerns are more likely to be fully addressed in reasoned discussion. More importantly, the kids’ enjoyment of a game won’t be marred by an ill-timed confrontation.

Playing All Your Players

No coach would attempt to play an entire game with only one group of players, leaving most of the players on the sidelines. Player fatigue would quickly become a problem. Yet, many youth coaches fail to take advantage of their “extended team” (the parents) and feel fatigued themselves by the end of their season.

Successful youth coaches look at their team not just as a group of players, but as a group of players and their parents. Just as coaches don’t hesitate to ask for participation from players at practice, coaches shouldn’t hesitate asking for participation from parents.

Coaches have a large burden preparing for practices and leading a team during a game. They only make it harder on themselves when they try to do everything. Asking parents to help with items such as snacks, water bottles, and parties is the best way for coaches to fully use their extended bench.

Different Positions Teach Different Skills

Each sport has a position that generates more attention and is often more fun for kids to play. However, the desire to play one particular position often interferes with a player’s overall development. Only by playing a variety of positions can a player learn all the basic skills required for advanced levels of play.

For example, playing an offensive position improves speed and control. However, playing defense is a good way to improve backwards movement and understand the importance of positioning. Different positions emphasize different skills. Playing in the same position all the time doesn’t give players a good chance of learning all the different skills that are required by all players.

More importantly, playing different positions teaches players the importance of teamwork and the need for all positions to contribute to a winning game. Only when a player respects the difficulty of a teammate’s assignment can players come together in team-oriented play.