Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Youth Sports Requires More Role Models

A little while back in a leadership in sports class, the class was asked to write about their role model, specifically one that demonstrated strong leadership qualities.  The answers to the question were open and did not have to be a person specifically in the sports realm.  Even with the endless possibilities that people had to choose from, something particularly eye-opening happened.

Over half of the class named a former coach either from high school or earlier as an influential role model and leader in their life.

I knew that I was in a class comprised of people that had played or were still playing sports at some level, but half of a 25 student class is a good amount considering that similar classes across the country would probably see similar results.  The exercise really highlighted a major question in youth sports: do we have enough role models coaching our youths? 

My family and I have been involved with youth sports in just about every capacity possible.  Dad coached and was President of the local little league for four or five years.  Mom helped out at the concession stand whenever possible.  I played, helped out around the complex when I wasn't playing, and when I was done playing, I coordinated the league's tee ball division for two years.  For better or worse, I have seen the ins and outs of how a youth sports league is run (Morrisville Little League has over 500 kids and tee ball had over 150 alone).

On the inside, politics is the name of the game.  When looking at each topic, a general divide naturally makes its way through the room.  It quickly becomes those that are out to give the kids the best experience possible and those that are out there simply to win.

While I was playing, my career - although it peaked when I was 12 years old, it was a career nonetheless - crossed paths with coaches that fell on both sides.  I was always lucky enough to make the all-star teams, and for the most part, my teams were pretty good at stringing together the victories.

The funny thing about it all is that the victories are not my fondest memories.

Nope, not of my playing days and not of the coaches of those teams.  Sure, the memory of the three section teams that I played on are up there (we were like Phil Mickelson in US Opens).  I think my 3-hit shutout win on the mound as a 12-year-old may be my greatest team sport accomplishment.  Don't get me wrong, I remember all of the winning.

But there are a lot of other moments that stick out in my mind as much more memorable.  When I look back now a few years removed from taking the field, I remember a rain delay when we were all trying to figure out if anything good had ever come out of Norristown and rolling on the ground laughing in the process.  I remember a teammate making a hilarious blunder in the field and our coach spitting a mouthful of Skittles probably 10 yards because he couldn't help but laugh.  I remember the coach that first taught me to throw a (successful) curveball.

We all know about the coaches that relive their childhood dreams vicariously through their teams.  Trust me, I played for a couple myself.  Sometimes the constant push results in a victory, but more often than not the pushing ends up in early burnout and loathing of a game once loved.  Why are we robbing children of the life lessons and values taught through sports in the name of winning?

Back to small class survey.  If more coaches understood the impact that they were having on the lives of the kids that they coach, would coaching philosophy change?  If they knew that in a college class of 25 over a dozen of them would mention a little league coach as a role model in their lives, would anything change?

There are plenty of questions, many more than there are answers.  Coaches relentlessly preach the fundamentals, but it seems that it is the parents themselves that must get back to the fundamentals by answering these fundamental questions regarding what youth sports are all about.


- ESPN Outside the Lines runs a piece called "Losing to Win," which delves into the fundamental lessons taught by sports even without the winning.
- Will Leitch of Sports on Earth offers a modified excerpt from his book Are We Winning? Fathers, Sons, and the New Golden Age of Baseball that looks at the dynamics of a team coached by his dad.


Kevin Rossi is a pre-junior Drexel Sport Management major with a minor in Communications. Kevin has worked at Double Eagle Golf where he is now Social Media Coordinator and Comcast-Spectacor as their market research intern. Since joining the SMTSU, Kevin has worked his way up the ladder to Vice President. Currently, Kevin is a staff writer for, and he has joined Temple University Athletics Communications for co-op this spring/summer.  Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_rossi.

Connect with Kevin Rossi on LinkedIn.

No comments:

Post a Comment