Frequently Asked Questions
The following are some of the most often asked questions. Brooke de Lench answers in blue.
Q. Why were you compelled to write a book urging moms to start signing up as coaches for their children's teams?
Because I am convinced that the solution to the youth sports crisis is not to ask parents to sign a code of conduct but to challenge the status quo in a new and different way: By creating a balance in youth sports between the values and attitudes of men and women and in the process restoring mothers to their natural role as guardians of children at play.
Q. What advice would you give to moms who feel as though they must be experts in a sport -- or have experience playing -- in order to volunteer for youth coaching? Some moms feel as though they have to prove themselves both with their knowledge and athletic prowess in order not to be seen as simply "team moms" who provide snacks.
- Identify the sport you are interested in coaching. Chances are that it will be the sport that you son or daughter is playing, or interested in playing. But remember that coaching your own child presents special challenges: your child may feel pressure to perform well and you may find separating your role as parent from your role as coach a fine line to tread. In the end it may be fine when your child is young, when the emphasis is on skill development and having fun, and where equal playing time is – or at least should be – the norm, but harder at more advanced, competitive levels, when it will be hard to be the perfect, impartial, neutral coach, as if it wasn't your daughter, no matter hard you try.
- Learn everything you can about the sport: Talk to other coaches, ask them how they run their practices and if they can suggest drills that you can use, attend high school and college games, watch instructional videos, read up on the history of the sport, its rules, and its culture. The Internet is a great place to find information. Every sport has a national governing body that maintains a website which is likely to provide links, resources, and other guidance on how to become a coach.
- Take coaching classes. Find out on the Internet when coaching classes are being held in your area for the sport in which you're interested. Ask the coordinator of your town club whether they will pay for you to attend. For instance, the four-hour course for the lowest level soccer certification offered by the Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association (Class G) costs $30.00. When you have a coaching license or certificate, it is much harder for the powers-that-be to turn you down for a coaching position.
- Become certified in first aid, CPR and the use of an automatic external defibrillator (AED). Sign up for sports safety training for coaches offered by the American Red Cross and the National Center for Sports Safety (www.sportsafety.org)
- Become an assistant coach, co-coach, or team administrator (a/k/a “Team Mom”) first. If you don't think you are ready to be a head coach of a team, ask a veteran or retired coach if he or she will mentor you, or, better yet, co-coach.
Q. How do you see mom coaches changing the culture of the youth sports system, given that dad coaches run many of these leagues and some folks are resistant to moms in coaching positions?
It won't be easy, but it can be done if enough moms have the courage to challenge the status quo. More and more mothers are former high school and college athletes, having grown up since the 1972 enactment of Title IX, the federal law mandating that girls be given the same athletic opportunity as boys, so the old argument that they don't know enough about sports to qualify moving from the stands to the coaching sidelines or on to a club's board of directors simply doesn't hold water anymore. If more and more mothers become coaches and administrators, I am convinced that they can dramatically improve the culture of youth sports, inspiring coaches, parents, athletic directors, school boards, and local and national youth sports organizations to do more to keep children safe, to balance competition with cooperation, and to think of sports not just as a place to showcase the gifted and talented but as a place where all children can begin a love affair with sports and physical exercise to last a lifetime, instead of ending, as is too often the case, in early adolescence.
Q. You advocate that parents try to curtail the influence the youth sports complex has on our children at very young ages. How can parents do that when, in some highly competitive communities, if they don't enroll their children in all sorts of camps and leagues all year long, their kids will be placed on less competitive teams or won't even make some teams?
There is no evidence that a child who specializes in one sport before the age of twelve or participates in a select sports program will end up being a better athlete as a teen or an adult. Up to sixth grade (around age 12), the emphasis should be on having fun and skill development. If the sports programs in their town don't follow a no-cut, equal playing time philosophy for kids before sixth grade, parents need to lobby to change the program. The reason so many kids burn out and quit sports at around age 12 and suffer so many overuse injuries is because they are pushed too hard, too fast. Parents have to have the courage to just say no to select teams and early specialization. They will be doing their child a huge favor if they do. The cream will rise to the top if parents just sit back a little and let the passion shine through the kids.
5. What are your thoughts on young children's travel leagues, where children have to be driven to other communities for games? What's the right age for travel teams?
I am adamantly opposed to travel leagues before sixth grade because they put way too much emphasis on competition and winning at too early an age which can not only interfere with healthy child development but with player development as well. Before grade six, then, a child is far better off playing in a low-pressure environment that emphasizes skill development and having fun than in an environment that stresses winning and intense competition such as characterize today's travel/select programs.
One of the worst byproducts of the travel/select team system is that it creates groups of haves and have-nots. Too much of a community- or club-based program's resources (best practice times, facilities, coaches) end up being devoted to the travel teams, leaving only the crumbs for the kids who supposedly aren't good enough to be selected and are relegated to the less-prestigious recreational or intramural programs. In addition, less affluent families who cannot afford the cost of expensive travel teams are shut out. Because athletic success involves multiple factors, including genetics, mental attitude, access to training, and money, any attempt to predict future achievement based on how skilled your child is at age nine, ten, or eleven is likely to be futile. The sad but unfortunate fact is a child who appears to exhibit athletic talent at an early age – a so-called early bloomer – enjoys advantages that can continue long after peers have caught up and, in many cases, passed him in terms of skill proficiency. This needs to change. In fact I am certain that many of the best athletes in the country never made it past the 10th grade cuts.