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State of the Game

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The New Dimension in Youth Soccer: Navigating U.S. Soccer’s New Age Groupings

Age change.jpg

No one likes change, and this is a sizable change for the millions of soccer families in our country. The soon to be “old” system of determining age groups, where the calendar year began on August 1st, will now become “Birth Year” groupings with a January 1st start. All of this becomes a harsh reality in the next few weeks, and parents are scrambling with the question: where should my child play?

Terminology Lesson: It will no longer be called U8, or Under 8. The new term for this
age group is now 8 & Under. Get used to it.

There is one gender issue at play, and let me address it up front. Generally speaking, girls have a greater pull towards playing with friends than do boys. This factor will be one that many parents will grapple with when trying to decide where to place their child. I will talk about the “friend” card in more detail as I delve into this topic.

So your 9 year old has been playing with his team for three years, and now we are dealing with the fact that half the team was born in 2006 and the other half was born in 2007. (Those with 2006 birth dates will jump all the way to 11 & Under. Those with 2007 birth dates will play at 10 & Under.) Your child was born in June of 2007, but two of his best friends have 2006 birth dates. What to do?

Let me make one critically important fact very clear: The coach of your child is the single most important factor in all of this. Which club you play for, and which league you are in matter less. Your child MUST enjoy their coach, or they will be out of the game in no time. It doesn’t matter how many friends they have on their new team, they will make new friends quickly.

A good coach will make the experience fun and they will continue the developmental process for your child and progress them with their skills, their understanding of the game, and most importantly, the continued implementation of life’s most important lessons.

When considering an age group, especially playing “up” an age group, here are some considerations that you, as a parent, must be ready to deal with: (Please know that the more honestly that you make this assessment, the better the experience that your child will have.)

Speed: At what level will your child’s foot speed and speed of play (decision making) allow for the most success. If you over estimate your child’s ability, you are setting them up for failure.

Physicality: Like speed, this has to be the appropriate fit.

Emotional (& Psychological) Maturity: Given this stage of your child’s development, where will they find the most success and the best chance of developing into a team leader?

Ball Skills: Is your child’s mastery of controlling the ball in line with the older players that you may be considering having your child join?

The Friend Card: The longer that a team has been together, the more challenging it is to break up those friendships. Because high school players compete against many different age groups in high school, they are more likely to be successful at playing “up” in order to stay with friends. As we examine the younger age groups (8-14 years), I believe that it is more important to keep these children within their ages. There are always going to be exceptions, and as long as a child can meet with success when playing against older kids, then that child can be a reasonable candidate for playing “up”. Please keep this fact in mind: kids make friends in the time that it takes you to check out at the grocery store! They are more resilient than we think.

When we look at all of these factors in regards to our children, our ability to determine the best fit is critical. It will make the difference between your child meeting success or struggling with fitting in. In these formative years, the more success that they have, the longer that they will play.

Let’s keep our kids playing, keep the process positive, and support them in their journey to make new friends. Isn’t that what sports is all about anyway?

- Steve Locker

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Take A Whiff Of Perspective

Perspective

Whether it’s a parent trying to figure out which travel team to place their 8 year old child, or a country attempting to navigate a complex health care system, the mass exodus of children from organized sports is causing a crisis that is so devastating that most of us can’t fully grasp its impact.

Bill Dietz, director of the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness at George Washington University laments, “They should be as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof about the tsunami of diabetes that’s coming their way. The cost of this rise in the prevalence of obesity is going to be staggering.”

So what do those costs look like? The Aspen Institute has a program called Project Play, Reimagining Youth Sports in America. Below is a paragraph that highlights some of their findings related to this growing crisis:

Levels of physical activity inadequate to meet current guidelines are associated with a significant financial burden for the U.S. health care system, as much as $131 billion a year (CDC, 2015). Direct and indirect medical costs related to obesity are estimated at $147 billion a year, twice the size of the budget for the U.S. Department of Education. Direct costs are expected to more than double by 2030. Adults who are obese will face decreased earning potential, and employers will pay in the form increased health care costs. (Designed to Move, 2012). In total, lifetime societal costs are $92,235 greater for a person with obesity, and if all 12.7 million U.S. youth with obesity became obese adults, the societal costs over their lifetimes may exceed $1.1 trillion. (Brookings Institute, 2015)

Much like our youth sports crisis where so many children are quitting, and none of us parents are willing to admit that it could happen to our kid, this problem keeps snowballing. At what point is that slap upside the head going to kick in and get us thinking about this in a more serious manner? Unlike a pick-up game of whiffle ball, when it comes to our children’s development, we don’t get a “do over”.

Having spent the past twelve years intimately engaged in youth sports and child development, I have seen and heard almost everything. Parents justify their decisions to push their children into highly competitive programs at unbelievably young ages and say things like, “Joey just loves soccer.” Guess what, Joey’s 7 years old and the only thing he truly loves is his parents, his siblings, his dog and an ice cream cone. The minute Joey encounters some coach screaming and yelling at him during a soccer game, he’s done!

Then there’s the conversation that I have heard far too often between two moms. It goes like this:

Mom 1: “How’s Jenny doing in soccer?”

Mom 2: “Oh, Jenny quit soccer last season.”

Mom 1: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”

Mom 2: “Actually, it’s pretty nice now. We have our weekends back and it’s fun to do stuff as a family again.”

Mom 2 is the one who used to argue that Jenny loved soccer. She made the “A” team as a 9 year old, but by age 13 she had enough. Burned out! I often hear parents of teenagers lamenting, “I wish we hadn’t pushed so hard.” Sorry folks, no “do overs”.

As parents, we all get so caught up in the micromanagement of our children’s sports participation. Why.....because that’s what everyone else is doing. We are so afraid that our kid will get left behind if we don’t do everything possible to help him or her keep up. This fear is so incredibly powerful.

Here are three wonderful solutions to the aforementioned problems facing the health of our society:

  1. Help inform, educate and support parents in efforts to return sports participation to the children. Get adults out of the way and focus on the happiness and well-being of our kids. Let them play under their terms....not ours.
     
  2. Our health care organizations are spending billions on new hospitals. They see the tsunami coming and they want to be prepared. Why not earmark some of this money towards initiatives that get kids moving and attack our burgeoning obesity problem at the front lines?
     
  3. Record numbers of children are being cut from middle and high school sports teams. The model of Intramural Sports offered at colleges and universities across the country serves as a perfect solution at these younger levels. Let’s get the 75% of the kids who are quitting by age 13 back into the game at the intramural level where they can truly have fun again.

Schools complain that they don’t have enough money to fund these programs. Maybe this would be a nice place for the health care organizations to begin sharing the wealth!

- Steve Locker

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How to be a Good Coach…and a Good Parent

The following is an analysis of what makes a good coach and a good parent through the comparison of the 2014-2015 National Champion Ohio State Buckeye football team to the 2015-2016 team by James Allen.

James Allen taught four decades at universities and private and public schools. He has authored many articles on teaching and learning and during his professional career accumulated numerous teaching excellence awards. He has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles both locally and nationally. He received his bachelor's degree from Otterbein University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. He is a lifelong resident of the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Upper Arlington where he currently resides.


How to be a Good Coach…and a Good Parent

Good parents are good coaches. Good coaches are good parents. And both groups must be good teachers. And always stay together in victory or defeat. For the teachers, coaches and parents, they become good by not imposing experience on their kids who deserve to shape their own-share and mitigate their lives together, but not alone. Urban Meyer and his football team illustrated how this process works--and doesn't. How raw talent can win football games, but not championships if the team organism is jolted when the key actors go their own way.

I realized early on that another championship season would not occur. The culture had shifted too much for a repeat. But why? During the 2014-2015 season, misfortune became a team unifier. The individual could not construct a personal goal without embedding it within the group. The death of a teammate or a stinging early defeat could only be overcome and used as performance motivation if each person thought not of himself but the other guy in the same "battle" to overcome nasty life experiences.

And overcome they did in a remarkable run to the 2014-2015 national championship. The culture had won. The chase was complete. The devastation of previous experience had been substituted by the exhilaration of individual performance that was always linked and made possible by collaboration. A championship team was born. The teacher-coach had molded talented individual effort by showing parents that the NFL was more possible, and individual talent highlighted, when all parts of the organism functioned for the success of the entire group.

But what were those parents feeling and thinking early in the process? Was their trust in the coach and his teaching vulnerable? Probably. What the coach was telling his players was most likely not unlike what they'd heard at home. And here is where the parents own experience comes in. How were they able to diffuse, even eliminate, paralyzing disappointment in their histories? Were they now able to learn new strategies for embracing adversity to provoke and motivate their child's pursuit of excellence? They did that year and the final results were historical.

But then the shift began. Individuals were heralded, microphones thrust to their mouths. Magazine covers proliferated with faces of single contributors who had expertly performed on a national stage and were now glorified not for playing hard to make someone else look better but for their isolated contribution to the success. And then those individuals became the focus of the real "grind" to recapture the lost war culture that had succeeded at a high level in the past. Could the same "soldiers" from previous battles once again think first of the others in or would individual participation isolate itself without integrating the talent for the benefit of the whole? The answers began to emerge.

The miracle of the previous year was made possible when coaches, players, and parents viewed the group as the collective impetus for personal development and individual success. Rebounding from loss had propelled a renaissance that had made the whole much greater than its parts. Yet the focus had realigned to the parts. Who would be the quarterback or win the Heisman or be picked high in the NFL draft? The scrutiny had shifted from a collaborative triumph orchestrated by the coach to the decisions that he made which would influence a player's ultimate worth.

This new trajectory became apparent prior to the first game of the succeeding season. A star player had been suspended and other transgressions would follow as players who once thought first about the group were now assaulted by their own personal fame. And that fame had been originally established by overcoming adversity, not causing it to the detriment of the team. What followed was uneven performance, less unity, and a broken collaboration which culminated in November when a repeat championship was lost in the rain.

After four decades as a teacher, the winning "seasons" were always the same. They provided the exhilaration. When parents and their kids trusted the teacher, the triad had been formed. When the class coalesced as a team, the learning magic was palpable. Everyone--parents, kids, and the teacher--left feeling good about themselves because they had won this championship trusting in the coach at the head of the class. They were all on the same page. When they were not, victories were sometimes summoned but transformation was elusive, usually impossible.
The triad model is shattered when individuals, players or parents narrowly redefine winning as an individual pursuit and losing as the final score on the board. In the 2014-2015 season, an ugly score appeared to preempt ultimate success until a collaboration was formed and a team emerged where the group could only succeed together, not as individuals seeking fame and fortune for their highlighted, sports center moment.

And then the new model of the post-championship season climaxed in a devastating loss in November. The star running back then famously complained that he could have run the ball more. He revealed explicitly that his stardom could have made a difference. The difference had already been made. The blaming was exposed. The only remedy this late in the season would be a return, with nothing to lose, to a collaboration where all stake holders learned that failure can and should be a powerful learning tool.

Players, coaches, parents returned to each other to commiserate on "what could have been." They had each other once again when the adversity reappeared when they were more separate and apart. They reconvened, reconnected and surely learned never to lose sight of each other in victory or defeat. The reconnection looked and felt like the joy of the previous season. The battles had returned as a collective effort, a collaboration where the parents were on the team. It was too late for a repeat but vivid and instructive with what went wrong.

- James Allen

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The World According To Trump: The NFL Has Turned Soft

NFL has turned soft

Sports and politics are two of the biggest topics in our media, not just at the moment, but on a daily basis. As a presidential hopeful, Donald Trump has made it a habit of saying things which seem to be aimed at getting people agitated. At the moment, his tactics seem to be working well for him.

While I believe that most Americans are looking for change and solid leadership, I’m not one who believes that Donald Trump possesses the compassion and ability to lead our nation. He seems good at stirring things up, but at the same time appears to lack the interpersonal skills and diplomacy to bring people together to work for the common good. Funny how once again sports mirror life.

In Trump’s latest rant, he compared the USA to the NFL, and said that both have turned soft. He referenced Dick Butkus and the old style of the NFL where players would use themselves as projectiles and throw themselves with reckless abandon into each other, sacrificing their bodies for the good of the game.

Oddly, it was just yesterday that the report from the Journal of the American Medical Association (Neurology) was released regarding the findings from the autopsy of Michael Keck. Keck was a 25 year old former football player who was forced to quit while in college because he suffered too many concussions. The researchers lamented that his was the worst case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE that they had ever seen in such a young person.

The effects of his severe head injuries caught up with him in college, and got so bad that he suffered symptoms that most of us have no idea how to relate to. According to the report, He developed painful headaches, neck pain, and blurry vision. He was driven to distraction by a constant ringing in his ears. His sleep suffered, his mood darkened. He became anxious and irritable, then violent. After he quit football, his headaches were so bad that he couldn’t read and was incapable of finishing college. Because of his condition he was unable to work and this challenged his marriage in the worst of ways.

We sports fans adore our professional athletes to the point that they are of rock star status in our culture. They demand huge pay checks and lead seemingly glorious life styles. But what about the ones who have retired and suffer so much on a daily basis? Frontline reported on numbers from the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University, where researchers studied the brains of 165 people who played football at the high school, college, or professional level. They found evidence of CTE in 131 of them—79 percent. Of the brains studied, 91 of them belonged to former NFL players, and 87 of those 91 (96 percent) had signs of CTE.

Michael Keck was of the caliber that many thought would catapult him into the NFL. Unfortunately, all of his suffering was for naught, as he never made it to his payday. Concussions are gaining more and more awareness in sports, with the recent release of a movie about this problem in the NFL. A billion dollar settlement was just achieved to help pay retired players for their injuries related to concussions. Many argue that that is not enough.

For me, this problem hits a lot closer to home. Interestingly, as a collegiate soccer coach for nearly twenty years, I recall only one instance when one of my players suffered a concussion. One. In the past year alone, I coached two teams of young teenagers; one boys team and one girls team. Together, we saw six players suffer concussions. Six. One of those children was rushed to the hospital because she suffered convulsions and her parents thought that they might lose her. How scary do you think that might be if it were your child. Think about that for a minute. These players are playing on a team where the focus is on development, where they are encouraged to make good decisions, and they know that they are not looked upon to play recklessly. Yet, we still saw six players suffer concussions. Try as hard as you like, and you can still become a victim.

Too many of our youth sports teams are being pushed into more physical play at younger age ranges, and yet we parents think that youth sports are the answer to everything. When are we going to wake up and start supporting good decision making as parents? Something has to change.

When will sportsmanship once again become the main ingredient that we teach our kids? I am not sure what Donald Trump’s athletic experience looks like, but I can tell you that he has no clue about sports and how that relates to the political problems of our country. Once again he comes off as the Bull In The China Shop, spinning around out of control and hoping to shakes things up. His comments lack responsibility. I certainly wouldn’t want him coaching my child, and you can pretty much guess how I feel about him as a prospective world leader.

- Steve Locker

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Parent Coaches: The Most Significant Influencers of Our Children’s Athletic Experiences

influencers

When I began my coaching career, I took a number of steps to help ensure my success in this chosen profession. For instance, my first coaching course was a three week residential course in Germany. It was a licensing course that qualified me to coach all the way into the professional ranks of German soccer. While living and playing in Germany, I made it my mission to attend as many games and training sessions as possible....it was here that I became an incredible student of the game.

This was all done to help set myself apart from others who were entering the coaching profession.

When I returned home, I enrolled in graduate school and pursued a degree heavy in psychology to better understand the psychological aspects of heightened performance. Additionally, I took First Aid classes, CPR, and several referee courses. Along the way, I worked in multiple summer camps, with the intent of learning from others who had been in the game much longer than me.

This list of preparatory steps paints only a small picture of the efforts that I took to help ensure that I was a well prepared coach. I share this information to illustrate a point about the value of education and preparation in working with athletes.

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 (www.positivecoach.org) 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

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TedxColumbus - Steve Locker - Youth Sports: The Fast Lane To Retirement

In today's youth sports culture, parents seem to be in a race to competition. Steve Locker helps reassure parents that a patient approach to sports can work by examining the stages of child development and how they relate to athletic development. Find out how I can help your organization today!

Now that my TEDX Talk is available for viewing, I hope that you find it helpful and insightful. I draw from many years of working with both young children and advanced players at every level, and share my experiences of a better way to progress children through their athletic endeavors.

Pointing out that a “real” game of soccer for 4 & 5 year olds, with one ball, quickly becomes boring because too many children are not touching the ball. A more sensible approach where every child has his or her own ball makes perfect sense.

Building on the notion that we must be patient and allow children to participate at age appropriate stages, a case is made that this type of approach actually works quite well. The concept of intrinsic motivation far surpasses our current method where parents are providing the motivation.

Enjoy the storytelling and “real life” examples that illustrate how we parents can find a more enjoyable way to enjoy sports with our children. Don’t forget to share this with your friends, neighbors, and relatives who may benefit from this message.

- Steve Locker

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Could Over-Praise be Polarizing our Children?

over-praise

There appears to be a shift in the media attention given to youth sports and it’s overall impact on our children. While previous attention has been focused on parental behavior and coaching behavior, we are now hearing more and more about the psychological and emotional state of children as they transition from youth sports, into their adolescent years and then through college.

It seems that finding the correct balance is our challenge. As parents, we harbor many goals for our kids, some reasonable, some not. Surely, it would be nice for our children to have an adequate level of self-esteem, and to be able to face life’s daily challenges in a resilient manner. However, for many, achieving these goals seems to be an exercise in futility.

While I have previously addressed the emotional challenges that many athletes are experiencing as they enter into young adulthood, I would also like to speak about a recent conversation I had with Dr. Brad Bushman, a noted professor at The Ohio State University, regarding the effects of praise on children’s self-esteem.

Dr. Bushman, and his research partner, Eddie Brummelman (Utrecht University, Netherlands), have done extensive research on the impact of different types of praise on children’s levels of self-esteem. Much of their work correlates perfectly with the conversation on youth sports.

Many of us as parents see sports as the perfect venue to help children realize success, raise confidence and boost self-esteem. One of the side effects of too much praise, especially for achievements that are rather ordinary, is that our young adults are not learning to deal with any kind of adversity, and they begin to suffer emotionally when they grow up and don’t receive praise for accomplishing their daily mundane tasks.

What Bushman & Brummelman did was to study the effects of praise on children to determine if it was having the desired effect that we parents were hoping for. Their study looked into several different types of praise, and it also took into consideration the existing levels of self-esteem that children had. For instance, they labeled praise as follows:

Person Praise: This is praise that is focused on the child, and not the behavior. An example is, “You’re so smart.”

Behavior Praise: This is praise that is focused on the task. For instance, “You figured that out well.”

Inflated Praise: This is praise that goes beyond the normal level of response. For instance, “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing.”

While person praise and inflated praise are administered with every good intention, it’s likely that they could send a harmful message to children, especially to those with low self-esteem. Parents are inclined to use person praise and inflated praise when they hope to help a child with low self-esteem.

The risk is that when a child receives this kind of praise, they begin to think that they must always perform at an exceptional level to justify their self worth. When presented with a task that is challenging, children who receive these inflated types of praise often do not have the confidence to try more challenging tasks. They are afraid that if they fail they will not be recognized as exceptional.

What this means in sports is that children become less inclined to take risks. They are more fearful of failure, and we all know that this level of confidence is not at all conducive to success in athletics. As a coach, I have always found it important to provide positive feedback in reasonable doses. If I were to praise a player too frequently, the power of the praise is easily diminished. When a player hears me praise them, they know that I don’t over praise, and the praise that they do receive has a higher value.

In my many parent lectures I offer advice to parents about sideline behavior. I often ask parents to try to watch a game without saying anything, particularly, not to say anything that is perceived as a decision-making comment. Usually at the end of the conversation, a parent will ask, can I tell them “Nice Play”? While that comment may seem fairly harmless, it is often a comment that is repeated over and over again by many parents. At the end of the day, how many nice plays is a typical 8 year old going to make in one game? Save the “nice play” comment for one or two exceptional performances and don’t overdo it.

Kids know the difference between normal and exceptional. If we keep trying to make them think that a regular achievement is exceptional, they are going to figure us out, and our input becomes less credible over time. Let kids fail and let kids figure out how to work harder to accomplish tasks at a greater level. It may be a bit difficult for us in the moment, but our children will be so much better off in the long run.

- Steve Locker

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Could The 75% Of Children Who Quit Sports By The Age Of 13 Quite Possibly Be The Lucky Ones?

for parents

As I am preparing for my TEDxColumbus talk and fine tuning my presentation I began thinking about what inspired me to focus on youth sports in the first place. Here are my thoughts:

Years ago, when I first learned of this alarming statistic, all of my energy and passion had been directed towards creating an environment and the programming that would help keep more kids in sports. I’m very happy to say that our work has been very successful, and that I am seeing those drop out rates change drastically, at least within our programs.

If 75% are quitting, that leaves only 25% of our children to make up our high school and intercollegiate programs. When you think about the caliber of talent necessary to succeed at these levels, that doesn’t sound so out of proportion. As I now learn what is happening with these student athletes as they enter into the collegiate ranks, I believe that we have cause to be seriously concerned on another level.

First, I refer to an article by Martha Anna Tudor, called Tough. In this report, the author examines an interesting dynamic within the collegiate setting where record numbers of students are in need of counseling, and struggling with a wide variety of psychological and emotional disorders, most notably, depression. Schools are taxed incredibly in an attempt to keep up with the growing need to increase their support services in their counseling centers. The cause for these problems, in part, stems from our children growing up in an environment where they were constantly praised for fairly ordinary achievement. Now that they are in college and the competition for grades is revved up, they cannot cope with the fact that they are getting a “B”, or that they are no longer the best in their class. The psychological toll on these young adults is pushing many of them towards drugs and medications. Some prescribed, some not.

At a time when I believed the huge drop out rates would ultimately have this incredible taxing effect on our health care system, it’s not heart disease and diabetes that is creeping in (just yet), but the initial impact is actually coming in the form of psychological disorders. Ultimately, I do think the lack of fitness and athletic participation will lead to these aforementioned maladies.

In a September (2015) article in Sports Illustrated, called Abuse of Power, the author addresses what seems like an epidemic of abusive coaches within the collegiate ranks. It is pointed out that most of this is in the form of psychological abuse. In the past, we would only hear about those cases of physical abuse, but perhaps due to social media, we are hearing more and more about the effects of emotional and psychological abuse. It may or may not be a new problem, but it is certainly gaining awareness. In the article, it is suggested that perhaps our travel-team world is responsible for producing athletes who need more emotional support, or perhaps the helicopter parents cannot loosen their bond so that the college coaches can inject the discipline necessary for success at this level. I am of the opinion that many of our youngathletes do not possess the necessary mental toughness needed to succeed at this level.

According to the American College Health Association, 41% of male athletes had “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function” and 52% “felt overwhelming anxiety.” The figures for women jump to 45% and 59%, respectively. Further, 14% of athletes said they had “seriously considered suicide,” with 6% having attempted it. A 2013 Georgetown University Medical Center study reported depression as being twice as prevalent among active athletes than those who graduated.

With a recent report that 25% of college athletes quit in their first year, one has to wonder who is driving this bus? Is it the parents or the kids? For me, it’s pretty clear that many of these athletes are simply trying to fulfill the dreams of their parents, and once they arrive on campus, they feel liberated enough, and perhaps courageous enough, to quit.

So, now we are faced with this incredible dilemma....are our children worse off if they quit or what is the likelihood that they will suffer the emotional damages described above if they stay in sports? While these seem like dismal options, I believe there is still plenty of hope for the positive aspects of sports participation to shine through.

At the root of the problem, we have parents who are fearful that if they don’t provide their children all of the necessary opportunities for success, that they may get left behind. We know that this extrinsic motivation does not work. This is where we must re-educate our parents and make them part of the solution. There are better ways.

- Steve Locker

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What's Happening to Our Coaches

coaches

Thinking back to my youth, when we used to show up to practice on our bikes and parents were no where to be seen, coaches were treated with great respect and rarely ever questioned about their methods and decisions. Nowadays, the complete opposite is true. Parents arrive at every practice with their folding chairs, park themselves on the sidelines, and critique the coaches every move. Frighteningly, much of the criticism happens on the drive home, completely undermining the coaches authority, and we wonder why children aren’t learning the wonderful lessons that sports have to teach.

As our adult-centric youth sports world continues to spiral out ofcontrol, the youth sports coaching model has changed immensely. Parent coaches with great attitudes and age appropriate philosophies no longer want to be involved. They don’t want to deal with parents calling them out after games about playing time, why my kid was forced to play a certain position, and a whole host of other issues that demand the coach’s immediate attention. Then there’s the phone calls at night, invading the privacy of the coach and his/her family.

This shift has caused many parents NOT to volunteer, and the side effects are quite drastic. It has led towards a “pay-to-play” model and with more “professional” coaches getting involved, and the fees keep getting higher and higher. Has anyone stepped back from this scenario and asked, what the heck is going on?

In looking at our professional coaches, it’s important to note that the term professional refers to the fact that they receive pay for their efforts. (Please note that this is not an indictment on all professional coaches...there are many good ones out there.) In most cases, these newbies have not yet gained the confidence and the security to teach much needed skills and focus on development, as they feel a huge amount of pressure to justify their income, and that generally shifts the focus towards winning. Without evolving this topic very far, it’s easy to see where it is going. Nowhere positive.

Coaching, if done well, can have an incredible, long-term impact on the lives of our young people. They can learn accountability, responsibility, how to fight through adversity, all kinds of wonderful things; qualities that will serve them well in their adult lives. We desperately need parent coaches with these characteristics in the lives of our children.

As Americans, we place a huge priority on our sports, yet we seem reluctant to place a premium on the training and education of our most important coaches....the parents. With a little effort and planning, we have the opportunity to impact significant change that will lead to more kids staying in sports longer.

-Steve Locker

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Back on the Field

Backonthefield

As the evolution of Locker Soccer Academy continues, I recently found myself taking a step back and examining just what it is that we are attempting to accomplish. Through the early years, I was constantly reminded of just how much fun I was having working with preschoolers all day long. Because I spent nearly twenty years working with collegiate players, this examination always seemed to be a comparison between college players and young children. (I was coaching at a time when sports were beginning to take on a different perspective, and it seemed that the insulated environment of collegiate sports was starting to crumble a bit. It was the advent of the helicopter parent.)

I was enjoying a totally different level of fulfillment in my day-to-day work with children, and the fact that we were impacting so many lives certainly added to that sense of value. Over the years, we have worked with over 25,000 children, compared to the 25 or so I got to work with each year as a collegiate coach.

About five or six years ago, a somewhat serious injury to my back forced us at Locker Soccer to begin to re-shape our business model.  No longer could I serve as the primary coach, new coaches needed to be developed and the introduction of these coaches has had a profound impact.  My time off the field allowed me to take a very close look at what was happening with youth sports, listened to our customers, and thus began a passionate effort towards making a difference in this much maligned area.

We launched Second Nature Sports about a year ago and that effort is beginning to have an impact on a different level. We are engaged in a national campaign to help parents and children enjoy youth sports in a way that youth sports are meant to be enjoyed. I saw how successful we were locally, and because of my experience at the higher levels of the game, felt a compelling responsibility to make a difference in this much needed arena.  Second Nature is focused on Parent-Coach Education, Parent Education, and growing the Locker Soccer brand nationally so that other children can enjoy what we have been enjoying in central Ohio for the past ten years.  That’s right, Locker Soccer will celebrate its’ 11th birthday this summer!

I have been truly enjoying the chance to get back on the field and do what I think I do best....play with kids using soccer as a means to make a difference in their lives. I enjoy sharing my experiences with parents and helping them understand how to support their children so that they can develop lifelong, positive habits towards fitness.  But most of all, being out there with the kids is the biggest joy of all.

-Steve Locker

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