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Keep the Youth Sports Experience Positive

So often we drop our kids off at their team practices and games no questions asked. A neighbor picks then up a couple of hours later and when they get back home we assume they had fun. Most of the time they have, but as a parent don’t ignore the infrequent possibilities of injury, emotional burnout, or even sexual abuse that can occur in the youth sports environment. Again, the vast majority of youth sports experiences are positive. Here are a few tips to help your child’s be positive too:

1. Ask questions of recreational league administrators at the beginning of season meetings including: • What are the organization’s emergency medical plans for a major injury, including availability and utilization of automated external defibrillators (AEDs), hospital transport, and parental notification?

• Are league coaches required to have sport and age specific coaching certification? Many organizations like Lacrosse, Soccer,

Football and Positive Coaching Alliance sponsor such courses. If not required, direct the league to appropriate resources.

• Are coaches screened with appropriate criminal background checks? Which organizations are being utilized for these services?

2. Ask questions of your child’s coach Questions shouldn’t be asked in the heat of game day but at a scheduled time early in the season that is convenient for you and the coach. Questions might include:

• How can you be involved as a positive partner without interfering?

• What is the coach’s general philosophy concerning teaching and molding young athletes?

• What does the coach view as success for the team and individual players?

• How will your child’s playing time be determined and improvement be assessed?

• What are the time expectations for practice and play?

3. Go and see both practices and games Seeing what happens during both games and practices is a critical piece to understanding how your child is enjoying or not enjoying the activity. Things to look for:

• During practices most of the kids should be active, most of the time. There may be periods of standing around and watching when learning new skills or drills but that should be limited.

• Practice should include significant time for skills development and teaching, not just scrimmaging at all times.

• Ample water and rest breaks should be provided.

• At games, a calm demeanor and the ability to make positive statements should be shown by coaches, officials, team members, and opponents.

• Are coaches’ interactions with the kids reflecting your values?

4. Talk with your children regularly about the activities Talking with your children regularly about what is taking place both on and off the field will allow for open lines of communication and the ability to hopefully spot a problem ahead of time. Remember to:

• Stress to them that you value success both on and off the playing field and that sports should be a fun way to learn many of life’s great lessons.

• Stress sportsmanship and respect of the game and that improvement can be measured in many ways not just on the scoreboard.

• Ask them if they are having fun and to tell you about their day at practice or the game.

• Ask them directly if there are any unusual or uncomfortable interactions with any of the supervising adults on the team.

• Look for any warning signs such as them dreading going to practice, frequently talking about dropping out for no reason, or coming home unhappy. Keep the Youth Sports Experience Positive Richard Hinton, MD, MPH Spring 2012

Don’t take your kids sporting environment for granted. Get involved. The more you put in, the more you and your kids will get out.

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