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A cautionary tale of what can happen when a sports parent pushes too hard

The son suffered his first injury when he lost a tooth on a Brentwood basketball court. He picked it up, threw it to the sidelines, and kept playing as the father cheered the greatest athlete he had ever seen.

Aidan Cullen was 8.

"I should have said, 'Stop, are you OK?'" said Mark Cullen. "But I heard other parents saying, 'Whoa, that's such a tough kid.' So I did nothing."

The son once passed out at the end of a soccer game after suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. He was packed in ice and, a few hours later, played in another game while the father basked in the glory of his star.

Aidan Cullen was in middle school.

"I thought he had died, but then I was glad he kept playing," said Mark Cullen. "Everybody cheered him so much, I felt like they were cheering for me. I loved it. I loved the power of it."

Ten years later, that perception of stardom has fallen, the feeling of power is gone, and the only thing that Mark Cullen carries in his giant sports duffel bags is regret.

His son Aidan has been in almost constant pain for several years after being diagnosed with a disease partially caused by being pushed to play sports through injury and affliction. At one point he thought about suicide. Today he feels lucky if he can physically show up for high school baseball practice.

"I went from the best to the worst," Aidan said. "The pain was so bad, I didn't want to be alive."

Mark Cullen has been feeling a different sort of pain, from guilt over his son's condition. He's also separated from wife Rebecca after spending years being an absentee husband while shoving Aidan toward their combined dreams.

"I pushed too far, did too much, helped break up my family and actually put my son's life in jeopardy, all because I was seduced by his talent," said Mark. "As a parent, that is devastating, and I am so ashamed."

This is about how that shame, far from being singular to this well-meaning Santa Monica dad, is probably shared by many who don't possess the self awareness to admit it.

This is about the dangerous triumvirate that dominates neighborhood playing fields across this country, a three-headed demon that turns children's games into adult crusades and happy childhoods into ones filled with injury and insecurity.

This is about parents, youth sports, and ego.

This is about one Westside family, but also many families, strong and solid households that suddenly find themselves torn apart over their child's ability to kick a soccer ball or sink a basket. This is the story of one struggle, but also every struggle to balance the child's happiness in sports with the parents' desire to not only promote that glory, but share in it.

Mark Cullen, an established screenwriter, wanted to begin the new year by acknowledging the biggest villain in his most important story is himself.

"I ruined my son's HS sports career and almost his life -- a cautionary tale," read the subject line in an email he sent to this newspaper in January.

He detailed the familiar story of a parent pushing a child into athletic oblivion, causing long-term damage to the entire family. He agreed to expand on his remorse despite the embarrassment it might cause him across a landscape where obnoxious sports parents are rarely held accountable with more than a frown and a sigh.

"If I can help one parent not make the same mistakes I made, then it's been worth it," Cullen said.

If you know one of those parents, give this story to them.

If you're becoming one of those parents, read it now.

The dad was an athlete. Of course he was.

At age 52, Mark Cullen is a 6-foot-3 former basketball star who was invited to walk on at UCLA before breaking his ankle. He eventually gave up the idea of playing sports and wound up writing for television and movies. He and brother Robb have created several TV series including "Lucky" for FX but his shortened athletic career was always in the back of his mind.

When his son Aidan was born 17 years ago, he had that second chance.

"He was living out some of his excitement about sports through Aidan," said estranged wife Rebecca. "I wanted to support our son, so I kept my mouth shut, but I should have said something."

Aidan began playing basketball at age 6. He was as big as a 9-year-old, and tougher. He would chase down other kids and fight them for the ball while his father shouted with joy.

He was thrown out of two Westside youth leagues because of rough play. He was never disciplined by his coach because it was his father.

"I thought, I'm going to coach him because I'm not going to let anybody ruin him," said Mark. "Turns out, I ruined him myself."

Aidan eventually played three sports, all with his father on the sidelines or in the stands, which meant they could spend eight hours a day together on various fields throughout the Southland while Rebecca and Cullen's other son Beckett, now 14, stayed home. Aidan was becoming a neighborhood star, but the cost was slowly growing.

"There just wasn't effort or time put into connecting as a couple or a family," said Rebecca. "Sports became all encompassing and, really, sort of ridiculous."

As the stakes grew, so did Mark's involvement. He would scream at Aidan from the bench. He would pull him out of games for mistakes. He would scold that a double would have been a triple if only his son had worked harder in practice.

"It got so, I just wanted to play well to make him happy,'' said Aidan. "I would find myself looking at him on the sidelines after every play to see if he was smiling."

Once the game ended, the stress would worsen. Aidan's biggest dread was the car ride home.

"I'd been in the middle of the game thinking of the car ride home, how can I make it better, how can I keep him from yelling at me," said Aidan.

Several men who coached with Cullen agree that he was tough, but none described him as crazy.

"Mark is a super tough intense dad, but the scariest part for me is that there's so many worse parents than him," said Matt Steinhaus, former fellow youth league coach and current athletic director and baseball coach at New Roads School.

By the time Aidan had enrolled at Windward School in seventh grade, the injuries and over-exertion finally caught up with him. His body began to hurt and never stopped hurting. The pain struck his knees, then smothered his back, then finished his dreams.

"As a little guy, Aidan was a stud," said Tyrone Powell, Windward athletic director. "But by the eighth grade, it was all gone."

He was often too injured to practice. Some days he was in so much pain, he couldn't get out of bed.

"I thought, 'I'm going to feel like this for the rest of my life?'" Aidan said. "For a year straight, every day I wanted to kill myself."

By the spring of his junior year, he was finally diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Central Pain Syndrome, a condition in which damage to the central nervous system can cause constant pain. Doctors told Cullen that one of the causes was that Aidan constantly played hurt.

He quit sports for several months and began dealing with the disease with a combination of medicine and physical therapy. He eventually felt better, and his love of baseball led him to rejoin the Windward team this winter for his senior season. But the nagging injuries have returned, and his contributions will probably be limited.

"He's trying to play, but it's physically difficult for him," said Powell. "And we would never put a kid on the field if he wasn't physically ready."

Mark Cullen understands that now. He came forward with his story in hopes of sharing that understanding.

"The reason I'm doing this is because of how much I love my son, I adore him, I'm so very proud of him for enduring this brutal disease that I may have helped cause," he said. "I want parents to realize we're pushing our kids way too hard. Don't do travel leagues. Don't play year round. Kids will find their way."

This winter, Aidan received an important letter, but not the kind you put on a sweater. It was a notice from New York University that he had been accepted into the Tisch School of the Arts to study his new passion of photography.

Upon hearing the news, Mark briefly reverted to old habits by saying, "That's great. . . how's their baseball team?"

Aidan, newly empowered, responded, "I don't know if I'm going to play."

Mark took a deep breath and, having reached a new acceptance, finally smiled.

"That's fine," he said.

Source: LA Times


'Wild girls should be allowed to be wild'

Kate T. Parker's daughters like to bike, swim and get muddy. Parker wanted them to know that their love of what they do and their strength makes them beautiful.

Traveling the country, she discovered even more versions of strength: girls fighting cancer and standing up to bullies in the lunchroom; female football players and ballet dancers whose powers could rival a superhero's.

"Strong, to me, is facing something that scares you and doing it anyway. Courage isn't the absence of fear. It is being afraid and doing it anyway," Parker said.

All those strong girls fiercely going for whatever they want, gender stereotypes be damned, are part of "Strong is the New Pretty," Parker's first book, releasing March 7.

CNN asked Parker about her new project. Her answers have been edited for space.

CNN: Why did you start posting images to social media?

Kate T. Parker: I was photographing my daughters, Ella (now 11) and Alice (now 8), every day. I noticed that the images that were strongest and most meaningful to me were the ones where the girls were being themselves, whatever that was at the moment: dirty, feisty, silly, sassy, angry, funny, loud and louder. They didn't need to pose a certain way or smile for the camera or brush their hair to be beautiful.

I wanted my girls to know that those images that captured their true personalities showed their beauty. The images turned into a tool I could use to combat the messages the media often sends to girls and women: that beauty is a particular hairstyle, size or outfit.

Wild girls should be allowed to be wild. Introspective girls should be allowed to be quiet. Funny girls should be allowed to be funny. Girls who are all these things should be all these things and should be allowed to find out who and what they are without boundaries.

Giving girls the space and time and support to find out just who they are, what they like and, ultimately, what they love is a key job as a parent or mentor.

CNN: What did you learn from photographing girls all over the country?

Parker: As the project grew, I learned that strength doesn't always come in one package, and it doesn't always manifest itself the way it does in my girls.

Strength isn't always loud and feisty. Strength can be in the face of a musician creating music because it is inside of her. Strength can be changing tables in the lunchroom because your "friends" weren't actually your friends. Strength can be meeting a cancer diagnosis with unrelenting positivity.

I continue to be so inspired by the girls and young women who are featured between this book's covers. These girls are the faces of a new generation of women who don't need someone to tell them that "it is what is inside that counts." They already know it.

CNN: What is beautiful about the girls in your book?

Parker: The girls in this book are all amazing and strong and beautiful, and they're not alone. There's something unique, powerful and worthy in everyone. My job as a photographer is to find this "thing" and capture it, but I'd encourage everyone to try to do this for themselves and for others. You don't need to be a photographer to recognize beauty in yourself and others.

CNN: What stereotypes are you fighting?

Parker: Even today, girls are told that they should be quiet and sit down to allow space for the boys to take charge. That makes me so angry. I want our girls to know that who they are, just as they are, is enough.

Too often, our strength is taught or discouraged out of us as we grow up, but it's like a muscle that needs exercise. The more you use it, the easier and more natural it becomes -- even if you have to start by pretending. While on the journey -- you can do this even as an adult -- start small by trying things you normally wouldn't and go from there.

I hope that this message grows. I hope girls and women believe -- and retain that belief -- that they are amazing and strong and powerful. I hope our government hears this, and I hope my daughters and their daughters don't have to keep fighting this same fight.

CNN: How do you parent knowing that bias exists?

Parker: We stress the importance of being a good person: Being kind, being honest, keeping your word. We remind them that your value is determined by how you treat others rather than how you look or what you're wearing.

Our girls are under so much pressure -- pressure to look, feel and be happy and perfect all the time. Social media encourages an unrealistic level of perfection that is unhealthy.

Women and girls are strong. That's not new. But convincing them that their strength has value and is worth expressing is something that can take some work.

Beauty and power and strength come from being confident in your own worth, but it's a message that bears repeating. While every generation of girls is dealing with similar stereotypes, this generation of young girls are facing new pressures from the internet and social media to look, act and be perfect. No one is happy all the time, that no one's life is perfect, and we are all just in this together trying to figure it all out.

I wanted this book and its message to be a little oasis for girls. They can look at it and read it and see that they don't need to change, add a filter or be someone or something else to be beautiful. They already are.

Source: RGV Proud


For the Love of Kids -- by Christopher M. Meuse

The purpose of the following article is to express my beliefs related to the importance and value of promoting the development of positive self-esteem in children at home, in schools, through sports and in every walk of life. I will attempt to show the significance of positive coaching and parenting in developing happy, confident, successful and fulfilled individuals who are capable of reaching higher levels of human potential.

I recently published the book, "Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching", an inspiring story about a young boy whose love for the game of hockey is affected by the pressures placed on him by the adults in his life. It demonstrates the value of love and how a child's growth and development are enhanced when guided by people who are more concerned about feelings of self-worth than numbers on a scoreboard. The story illustrates that the journey to true peak performance in life is eased through guidance and education that go beyond skills. A quality education which is focused on issues of self-worth will help to create the healthy conditions necessary for children to reach their greatest potential.

There are many theories and techniques that can be used to teach, coach and educate children. Some include strict discipline, tough love, the promotion of aggressive behaviour, acceptance and love, or a combination of all of these methods. The value of developing a strong sense of self-worth, or self-esteem, in a child cannot be over- emphasized. The application of principled behaviours supported by empathic listening, understanding and compassion can help parents achieve greater positive results when guiding their children on their journey through life is emphasised in this article through excerpts from the book.

I was motivated to write "Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching" by negative behavior that I witnessed being displayed in arenas where children play hockey - behavior which adults probably used with a positive intent, but which often negatively resulted in diminished peak performance. The joy of playing the game was also greatly decreased for all involved. Negative comments and criticisms children experience - not only in sports, but in their lifetime - can be extremely disempowering and often lead to the formation of blocks or barriers to learning and performance.

It has been scientifically proven that negative thoughts and comments result in decreased strength and performance. I have witnessed very talented players become totally confused and disorientated on the ice after being yelled at by adults. The players were then further criticized after the game for their poor performance, the adults not realizing how their conduct actually contributed to the players' poor performance. We cannot empower children to do their best through negativity, whether in sports, at home, in school, or society in general. This belief is demonstrated through the story and experiences of the book's central character, Michael.

Several years ago I was listening to an interview with the renowned basketball coach, John Wooden. He exhibited many great character qualities as a coach, but also as a father, husband, and educator. The host introduced him as "a coach of love" who cared more about his players as individuals than he did about them as basketball players.

Apparently, at the time of the interview, Wooden's teams won more consecutive games and conferences than any other team in U.S. basketball history -- an amazing result from a coach of love, who apparently never used the word "win" in the dressing room. Why? His explanation seemed to suggest that on a mind/brain (or neurological & psychological) level, a player can only perform at the highest level when focusing all of his/her energy on his/her own performance. He believed that any percentage of energy that is used to focus on the thought of winning, or on scoreboards, or referees, etc. is energy removed from one's ability to play at one's best. Therefore, Wooden emphasized intrinsic motivation focused on one's desire to play his\her best.

Yes, his players practiced hard and played hard, but the enjoyment aspect of the game was always emphasized. He never wanted playing basketball to be a chore. The players' challenge was with themselves. If they played their best than they were winners, despite what the scoreboard indicated. Obviously, Wooden's record is a valid indication that his players usually played their best.

When young children are expected to play like pros, and are criticized for making mistakes, the results are seldom positive. The game becomes work and the "play" and fun aspects are lost far too early. As Joseph Chilton Pearce writes in his excellent book, "Magical Child":    "through the function of play, the work takes place, and creativity unfolds ... play is the only way the highest intelligence of mankind can unfold."

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of being sincere in conversation with our children; positive reinforcement must be more than idle words. There is great value in not merely using positive words in an attempt to manipulate children so that they will perform in a way that adults believe they should. It is important to be positive and compassionate simply because this is what children need and deserve. In the end, children and adults will have greater respect for each other while achieving greater levels of excellence.

The excerpts contained in this article are explained in much greater detail in my book: "Hockey, Kids & Positive Coaching".

Detailed information and reviews related to the book can be found on the following Blog & Website:


Students can't bully; coaches shouldn't either

What would you do if a teacher called your child names so offensive and degrading that the Reno Gazette-Journal won't publish them? What if your boss called you those names? Now what if a coach calls an athlete those names? Why is it coaches have a different set of standards and rules they get to go by? Why do coaches get a free pass to humiliate and bully our children?

In January, a lawsuit was filed by three high school boys claiming that they were bullied by their football coach, whose behavior in turn was supported by the school principal.

This coach's behavior is nothing new. We see it in sports everywhere.

We justify it by saying things like "It's just football talk." "It builds character." "It toughens them up for the real world." "All coaches talk like that." Sports psychologists have long known and studies have proven that yelling at athletes doesn't improve their performance, yet the bullying and abuse continues. We've become immune to it. We shrug it off.

Why do we accept this?

Fans at sporting events are expected to demonstrate good sportsmanship. The athletes themselves get disciplined or thrown out of the game if they exhibit poor sportsmanship. Yet the coaches continue to get free reign to treat the players however they want.

These boys have stood up for themselves and complained about a coach's abusive tactics. As a result, they suffered repercussions by being removed from the team. After filing the lawsuit, they have been called "p-----s," "snowflakes," and "pampered babies." People have sarcastically stated that they need "mommy and daddy to protect them" and are "lawsuit happy." People have insinuated they didn't ever learn that there are consequences for their actions; when do bullying coaches learn that there are consequences for their actions?

Unless people start standing up and saying we've had enough, it's not going to change. From the sounds of it, these boys did try to handle the situation themselves by addressing it with their coach. Then their parents attempted to address it. Only then did they resort to an attorney.

As a society, we change and evolve. Coaching needs to catch up with the times. No more of this "that's the way we've always done it." Teachers used to paddle or cane students for misbehavior. Fraternities used to initiate new members with hazing rituals such as physical abuse or severe alcohol intoxication. Oh sure, the old adage, "I lived through that and I turned out just fine." But that doesn't make these practices OK or right.

The bullying has to stop. Stop. Bullying tactics in coaching should be a thing of the past. These are our children. They deserve better.

Source: Reno Gazette-Journal


FastSports Scheduled to Discontinue Service in 2018

FastSports has been operational since 1994 -- twenty-three years of providing information about clinics, tournaments, news, and commentary about fastpitch softball and youth sports in Minnesota and the surrounding States.

In early January 2017, FastSports suffered its worst outage and loss of data. A few years ago, it would have caused me to panic. I'm a "technology guy" and outages are not acceptable. This year... I cared that I had lost a small amount of data, but the downtime was just an annoyance. My wife noticed the difference in my attitude and asked, "What do you get out of running FastSports?"

That was a good question.

It's what I do. It's a job I do for the fastpitch community. It's appreciated. It's an expense. It's work. It's sometimes frustrating.

There has been growth in web sites and many sites offer tournament listings. Some offer a clearinghouse function for players looking for teams or teams looking for players. There are a lot of places to find the news about youth sports and fastpitch. FastSports has been unique, because it doesn't belong to a softball organization. It's been independent. I'm not aware of another site like it, but that doesn't mean that it's the best way to run a site either.

I've talked about shutting down FastSports in the past. I've been given suggestions to make it easier to run, which were appreciated. In turn, I've kept the site up.

My interest in keeping the site running continues to diminish. If you're a long time reader, you've seen it happening, with less innovation, fewer updates to the news, less discussion in the forum, etc. I still adore the kids that play the game, but my interest in keeping the site running as it is today, is about gone. So instead of being something I love doing, it's become a chore.

If you try to enter a tournament listing, you'll see that it's only accepting tournament dates through December 31, 2017. That's the end date. In a little less than a year, the site will change. The domain is not for sale, lease or rent. I'm keeping the domain. I don't know what it will become, but it's likely that it will not be dedicated to fastpitch information, like it is today. No looking back. I'm not turning FastSports down without a lot of contemplation and thought. It's the right time. 

Say "Hi" if you see me out wandering around at a tournament!


Changes at USA Softball - Opportunities and Region Realignment

Welcome to the 2017 season of USA Softball! We are proud to enter into the 2017 season as USA Softball, and we want to thank you for participating in our great sport and for choosing to play, umpire or coach #USASoftball!

The 2017 season will bring some changes to USA Softball that will help further grow our sport and allow for more opportunities for athletes to play the game we all love! Beginning in 2017, a new code item will allow teams to play in a higher classification for both their level and age classification. For example, if you are a 12-Under Class B team, you will now have the opportunity to compete in 12-Under Class A, or 14-Under Class B, etc.  Also, athletes who have competed in any Junior Olympic (JO) Girls' Fast Pitch National Championship Finals will also be eligible as a pickup player in a higher National Championship Final.

For the first time in this history of our organization, coming soon, teams will have the opportunity to qualify for our Girls' Class C Fast Pitch Regional Championship Final for our 10-Under, 12-Under and 14-Under divisions and a Girls' 8-Under Fast Pitch Regional Championship Final. All teams within a Regional Championship Finals Region that are age eligible can qualify for these Regional Championship Finals through their Local Associations, and teams may play in the Championship of their choice.

Another change which will begin in the 2017 season is the realignment of the USA Softball regions from 15 to 10. This regional realignment better serves our teams and umpires, providing them with better opportunities to play, qualify and umpire within their respective regions.


Who's to Blame for the Decline in Multi-Sport Athletes in Youth Sports?

"I want the multi-sport guy," Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney recently told the New York Times about the kind of kid he likes to recruit. "I just love that," said Swinney to writer Karen Crause. Afterall he was himself a three-sport athlete at Pelham High in Alabama and his Clemson roster is filled with multi-sport athletes.

I know my kids are supposed to play more than one sport. But would Dabo Swinney or anyone else mind telling me how?

There's nothing my husband, who played 18 years in the NHL, and I would love more than to see our children letter in three different high school sports that they love playing. Just like athletes used to be able to do back in our day. The problem is, in today's youth sports culture that reality doesn't exist anymore and we shouldn't blame the parents. Or all of us, anyway.

The problem is youth club coaches and high school coaches don't support multi-sport athletes. And the parents get stuck in the middle drinking their Kool-Aid. Doctors are against specializing in one sport, professional athletes advise against it and college coaches say they want to recruit multi-sport athletes, but if our child isn't allowed that opportunity, then what are we to do?

Our daughter has played club soccer since the league was open to her at 6 years old. This year she got moved down because "she does other things," an exact quote from her club team coach. AKA she plays 8 weeks of middle school basketball while on a club soccer team.

And the year before that she tried a season of lacrosse in conjunction with her soccer for a short time. Her coach at that time told us that she was going to need to be "more committed" if she was going to be a soccer player. The amazing thing is our 12-year-old maybe missed an hour or two of soccer practice a week to do these other sports. Just the fact that they viewed her as uncommitted because she wasn't solely playing soccer for 8 months straight is outrageous.

The family willing to juggle multi-sports for their child is actually more committed than the one sticking themselves and their child on the same field, with the same team all year round.

We've juggled hockey, baseball and basketball teams for two of our sons every year. Our sons wouldn't have been able to do this without the right coaches. Our freshmen sons have now had to make a choice in their athletics. The high school baseball coach told me at freshman orientation that he doesn't like his guys playing basketball. His reasoning is that the seasons collide a bit and he doesn't like what basketball does to their arm.

This is what our high school athletes are up against. Club organizations that don't allow their players to play on their high school sports teams. High school coaches who deter kids from playing another sport besides their own.

We encouraged our son to still try out for basketball if he really wanted to play. He's in the middle of that season now. My husband believes that a coach will take the best athletes for his team, end of story. We'll see. Other parents decided to heed the baseball coaches' advice and quit basketball altogether, even though their sons love playing both.

A high school coach should encourage and support each student athlete to be their best in whatever they choose to do. If they have a player who is capable of making two or three different school sports teams, why would they ever discourage that?

Please stop blaming the parents for this specialized sports craze and perhaps turn the conversation toward these coaches, teams and organizations that are hindering our children by not allowing them to be these multi-sport athletes everyone keeps telling us they should be.

Source: I Love to Watch You Play

Editors Notes:  I teach pitching.  I offer multiple opportunities each week, during the seasons I coach (which are the "off season" for softball) for athletes to come to lessons.  I do NOT want to distract from their other sports, but also feel that they need to put some time into this specialized skill if they are going to get better at it.  At the same time, I find myself going to "my pitchers" basketball and basketball games, ski races, etc.  I do want them to know that I am happy that they are participating in sports other than softball too!


A Study on Praise and Mindsets

This can also be used in athletics as it has been in academics, to motivate the athlete to put more effort into thier sport / position and not be afraid to make mistakes.


The Ostrich Effect: Why We Ignore Our Coaching Problem, and How to Fix It

"Come on, you pachyderms," boomed my first soccer coach, Tom Breit, with a big grin on his face. "Squash those bugs! Move your feet. Quicker, quicker! Come on O'Sullivan, is that as fast as you can go?"

Calling us baby elephants? Telling us to squish bugs? What was going on here?

We were 7-year-olds, learning to play soccer, working on our step overs and scissor moves. Coach Breit was getting us to really sell the move by stepping over the ball, and shifting our weight to that foot so we could plant and move in the opposite direction. But in our minds, we were baby elephants, trying to crush some bugs.

Coach Breit was my good friend Steve's dad, and I loved that man. His deep, booming voice. His genuine smile. And especially, how he greeted me everyday when I walked on the court: "Uncle John, how great to see you today. Ready to have some fun?"

Tom Breit taught me to play soccer, and taught me to play golf. He modeled for me how to love both the sports. It is no coincidence that nearly 40 years later, I am as passionate about both those games as I was as a kid. It's no coincidence that I am a coach. Why? Because I won the volunteer coach lottery.

In high school, college and professional sports, I was blessed to have some great coaches. Most importantly, though, between Coach Breit, my long time wrestling coach Bob Armstrong, my basketball coach Tom Hall, and others, I was fortunate that the first coach I had in every sport actually knew what he was doing. They had all played the game. They were all high school and middle school teachers. They understood kids, and they understood sports. Like I said, I won the lottery. Many others are not so lucky.

I believe that one of the main reasons we lose 70% of children to organized sports by the age of 13 is because many of those kids have a poor experience and drop out before they ever get to play under a properly trained coach. The number of kids who are coached by well-intentioned yet poorly prepared volunteer coaches -- coaches whom are basically set up to fail by the organizations they coach for -- has got to number in the millions. As my friend Dr. Jerry Lynch spoke about at our recent Way of Champions Coaching Conference, "The influence of a coach is NEVER NEUTRAL!"

Yet our leaders, coaching directors and administrators in the sporting world remain trapped by the ostrich effect. We talk about dropout rates, and poor sporting experiences, yet we bury our heads in the sand when it comes to seeing and acting upon the solution.

Here are two shocking statistics for you:

Research has shown that only 5% of children who play for a properly trained coach quit the next season, while 26% drop out after playing for inadequately trained coaches

(1). According to 2012 research, of the 6.5 million youth coaches in the US, only 19% had been trained in proper communication and motivation for the children they were coaching, and only 1 out of 3 was trained in the skills and techniques they were supposed to teach.

(2) The solution to curbing the youth sports dropout rate is an obvious one, yet it is willfully ignored by countless sports clubs, recreation departments, and schools throughout the land. It's even one of the 8 Plays the Aspen Institute has called for in its Project Play Initiative.

We must properly and continuously train each and every coach, regardless of level and status (volunteer or employee).

So many kids get a coach who treats 6 year olds like 16 year olds, because that is what he remembers from his high school days. They may get a coach who is told "just make it fun" since they are not taught how to run a practice or teach a skill. Fun is all fine and dandy, except when no learning takes place. Eventually, sport stops being fun when you do not develop the competence and confidence to compete.

This is especially true when it comes to volunteer coaches, perhaps our most important coaches of all, for they are usually the first point of contact for kids and sport. But we can fix this.

I do a lot of consulting and coaching education work with organizations that rely on volunteer coaches, and inevitably the following question comes up: "We need more people to volunteer to coach. Every season we worry that we will have enough coaches for all the teams. Any suggestions?"

My answer always shocks them. "Ask more from your coaches," I say.

Most people laugh and think I am joking. I am not. If you want to attract AND retain great volunteers, you must:

  • Pour knowledge into them.

  • Mandate coaching education.

  • Help them understand the ages and stages they are working with.

  • Train them again and again.

  • Provide learning opportunities for all levels of coaches.

Why? First of all, it is my opinion it is a moral imperative to do so. Coaching is a hard job, whether we work with 6-year-olds or 16-year-olds. Coaches work with kids, who can hang on every word. We work in public. We keep score. Games are emotional, kids and parents are emotional, and here is the kicker: They words we say, and the things we do, can stick with a kid for the rest of his or her life.

The influence of a coach is NEVER NEUTRAL! Shouldn't they be well trained?

Would you drop your kids off at a pool whose lifeguards did not know CPR or have any protocols or training in place for how to supervise the pool and keep it safe?

Would you leave them at a daycare facility that didn't train their teachers or do background checks to make sure your child is safe? Of course not, so why is the standard of care set so low for our kid's sports experiences?

This is in no way an attack on the wonderful men and women who do volunteer and dedicate their time to coach. This is a plea to help all of them out, to give them the training and tools to succeed. We owe it to them, and we owe it to the kids to do so.

Retention is not as hard as many organizations believe. They think that if they require more training, they will lose coaches. I ask "How do you know, have you ever mandated more training before?" In actuality, the opposite happens. When organizations require and provide low to no cost, easily accessible training for every coach, more coaches come back year after year, even after their kids stop playing!

Organizations such as Hockey Canada, USA Hockey and USA Rugby have mandated coaching certification, and provided low to no cost, easily accessible options. Yes, there was grumbling at first, (there is always grumbling with change) but today they have more coaching participation and retention than ever before. The quality of coaching has been raised, and education has become part of the culture. I get emails everyday from coaches who are reinvigorated after attending one of our coaching workshops, or reading a recommended book. More training lights the fire, and grows participation in the ranks!

The biggest problem I see is that far too many organizations suffer from the ostrich effect. They have their heads in the sand. Its easier to provide education based upon what they believe their least motivated coach will tolerate. They run the same tired pre-season meeting, or single, voluntary coaching clinic, hand out the same old PDF, and wash their hands of it. They say if we ask too much, no one will volunteer.

In Oregon, where I live, every coach in the state is mandated by state law to do 2 hours of education. . . on concussions. As a result, many organizations do not want to ask any more of their coaches (I have actually volunteered to do coaching education the last 2 years for my local parks department, and not once have they taken me up on it). I am not saying in any way, shape or form that concussion training is not important. What I am saying is this is woefully inadequate way to educate coaches. The percentage of children, especially young children, who suffer head trauma in youth sport is miniscule. The percentage of kids on a team who suffer from a woefully prepared and/or poorly behaved coach is 100%. Those kids will drop out at a rate that is five times higher than a trained coach. Where is the law preventing this?

Amongst every group of coaches there are passionate, eager learners. They will devour coaching 1.0, and are ready for 2.0 and 3.0. But it is nowhere to be found, and thus coaching becomes a volunteer job they struggle through, instead of a vocation they look forward to. Is it any wonder they don't come back the next year?

It's time, according to organizational consultant and youth sports expert Ruth Nicholson, to stop treating volunteers coaches as people who do a job, and treat them like volunteer employees. "In my experience," says Nicholson, "treating volunteers like valued employees results in greater effort and better job performance. By offering clear support, providing clear expectations, and asking for meaningful contributions, organizations discover that their volunteers are willing to give increased value to programs and invest more in organizational success."

Here are some additional low to no cost ideas for sports providers to provide their coaches:

  • Build an app with a season worth of age appropriate practice sessions for your coaches, teach them how to use it, and down the road add video showing them what the sessions look like

  • Sign up your coaches and pay a nominal fee for an app or digital database of practices provided by organizations such as the NSCAA,, US Lacrosse and others

  • Have your high school coaches run a free clinic or two and make it mandatory to attend

  • Require your best, most experienced staff coaches spend time at the grassroots level working with the young kids in your program, and not just with the older kids. Countries that produce the best athletes per capita (Iceland, Finland, Sweden) have been doing this for a while and it pays dividends.

  • Set up a free email autoresponder such as Mail Chimp and each Monday it will automatically email your coaches 2 sessions for the week plus other tips and info

  • Partner with an organization such as the Changing the Game Project, Positive Coaching Alliance or Proactive Coaching that provides workshops, online materials and booklets for your coaches

  • Put together a library of books on coaching, not just technical but on leadership as well

  • In fact, lets jumpstart this. Why don't our national governing bodies such as US Soccer, USA Hockey and others provide no cost, entry level coaching education to all current high school and college age athletes? This is the next generation of coaches, so why not instill a foundation of what it means to coach, and an understanding of the need for being a lifelong learner in them? To me this is a no brainer.

It is time that our leadership on the local and national level stops ignoring our coaching problem. It is time we certify all coaches, in every sport, through low cost, easily accessible courses (check out this great article about the correlation between low cost coaching education and success in the soccer world). If we continue to rely on volunteer coaches at the grassroots level, we must raise the bar in terms of mandatory training. Yes, we will lose a few, but you would have lost them anyways. What you will get in return, according to those who have already raised the bar, are better coaches, and more of them.

And here is the best part: Coaches who have been well trained and provided with the tools to enjoy coaching more come back year after year, even after their kids move on. Over time you will build a stable of well-trained enthusiastic coaches. You will elevate your program, and improve the experience for kids.

Let's work together to end the youth sports coaching lottery, and provide every kid with a well trained coach from day one. Why?

Because the influence of a coach is NEVER neutral! It's up to us to ensure it is a positive one.

It's up to us to train every single coach, starting today!

Source: Changing the Game Project


Parent Coaches: The Most Significant Influencers Of Our Children's Athletic Experiencesp>

As a culture, we place an incredible amount of importance on youth sports and the development of our children through sports. We want them to learn the many valuable life lessons that sports can teach us. We want them to be successful, and on the best teams. We hope for them to play in high school, college, or perhaps the pros.

As I examine our hopes and dreams as parents, and I consider the extent (or lack thereof) to which we prepare our parent coaches, it becomes amazingly clear that there is a tremendous gap between our expectations and the reality of what we are experiencing.

In every youth sport that I know, we ask parents to volunteer coach. Yet there seems to be this notion that parents are too busy to attend any kind of training program, so we send them out to work with our children totally unprepared. We have bolstered the mindset that if you have ever played sports, then you are qualified to coach kids. Sporting organizations have great websites that list seemingly appropriate ideals and values, but somewhere along the way, adherence to these philosophies gets lost in the process.

There are many skill sets that are necessary to being a good coach. Two of the most important are: the ability to advance athletes with their skills and understanding of the game; and the understanding of how to communicate and relate with your children athletes. Let's examine this for a moment.

At the youth level, probably the single most important concept is that we make it fun and create the environment that keeps kids excited and wanting more. Too often, we place a disproportionate amount of importance on results, and our (adult) efforts start to drive kids away from the game.

Most parents are comfortable in dealing with one or two of their own children. Some maybe not. Without a lot of experience, how comfortable do you think a parent is when given 10 kids to coach? Some questions worth considering are:

  • Are they well versed in age appropriate activities for the particular sport that they are coaching?

  • Do they know how to make it fun for a bunch of 4 or 5 year olds, or 8 and 10 year olds?

  • Do they have an appropriate understanding of "why" kids are playing?

  • Are they harboring their own personal agenda?

  • Do they understand the value of parity, or are they trying to form a team that will ensure success in the won-loss column?

My goal is to illustrate that we live in a time where we rely very heavily on our parent coaches to deliver, yet we do very little to prepare them for success. Don't get me wrong, there are some parent coaches out there that are absolute naturals....they're wonderful! But on the other hand, one of the complaints that I hear most is, "my son quit because his coach was a nightmare." What parent volunteer wants to hear himself/ herself described like that?

Every parent wants their child to play for a good coach. What I'm seeing, however, is that there are simply not enough good coaches to go around. So how do we solve this dilemma? We can start by driving parent coaches towards educational solutions that are easily accessible and effective. We also need parents to gain a more patient understanding of how the process works, and to encourage them to start working in a more supportive manner with their children's coaches.

One organization that I am aware of is doing a tremendous job in supporting families in youth sports. The Positive Coaching Alliance ( has created the infrastructure to provide this needed support. This is an organization that is worth examining.

I firmly believe that parent coaches want to do a great job. We simply need to modify our mindset and begin to implement more rigid training programs for our youth coaches. Imagine, if a coach realized that an education program was available and would allow them to be a more successful parent coach....I think the lines would start to form.

- Steve Locker

Source: Locker Soccer


The Day You Want To Quit Coaching, And Why You Shouldn't (Or Why You Should)

"I quit!"

"I'm done. Lemme out of here. Ain't going to do this no more." Ever felt that way?

Sure you have. If you've been coaching for longer than a swing of a bat, you've had those thoughts.

I've quit hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. I've lost track.


Well, I didn't really quit. I thought about quitting. Processed it. Let it hang out in my psyche for a few hours. But then I filed the thought. Keep on coaching.

Except . . .  there was this one time. That time, I actually quit coaching, for good.

Never, ever, was I going to coach again.

What is this crazy thing about coaching?

Why Coaches Quit

I know there is a lot of research on this. Matter of fact, there was a pretty good book written on this exact topic, Why Good Coaches Quit: And How You Can Stay In The Game. (It is on sale at Amazon for only $.01). But it was published in 1999, and things have changed since then.

The basic premise behind why coaches want to quit -- simply enough -- is that they don't want to coach anymore.

What drives a coach to think that? Well, I've seen many, many coaches quit. I think it has something to do with one of three things.

  1. Relationships (significant others, parents, immediate boss)

  2. Resources (pay, budget, equipment, players)

  3. Fear (safety & sanity)

There maybe other things bugging you, I'm just seeing these three as the big issues.

Why Coaches Shouldn't Quit

If you're thinking about quitting -- don't. That is, if you answer yes to both of these questions:

(A) Are you a good, caring coach? and
(B) Is the reason you want to quit fixable?

Let's start with B first. What's broken? Crazy parents? A significant other about to become a coaching widow? Funds drying up? Athletes giving up? If you can fix those issues, then don't quit -- as long as you answered yes to A.

Now for A. How do you know if you are a good, caring coach? Alumni tell you. Parents tell you. Athletes tell you. You tell yourself. Sports need good caring coaches. We need you.

Your Homework

So then, two yeses? Then don't quit.

I don't know.

I'm not trying to get you to quit. And I'm not trying to get you to stay. Maybe I'm writing this for myself. Why would you listen to me anyway? Listen to someone else . . . 

If you've read to this point, then quitting might be an issue you could use more info about. I'm going to recommend The Dip by Seth Godin, a super duper smart guy. It's about quitting, and why you shouldn't, or why & when you should.

And if you're a podcast sort of person, Dan Benjamin has a great series called, unoddly enough, Quit.

Your choice, both very good.

Source:  Coaching Sports Today