I have been coaching youth sports for over 25 years, primarily softball and wrestling. During that time, I have seen sports and coaching attitudes change considerably. When I was a kid myself, we had few options, with no cell phones, no internet, and no HULU. We would wake up on the weekends or any day during the Summer and everyone would play the sport of the season with no parent involvement and no coaches. My coaches at Bogan High School did a good job both in golf and wrestling but most the fun was off the golf course and wrestling mats in social settings. I can’t recall ever getting positive encouragement during competition nor did I ever expect it. I’ve always felt you needed to make things fun for the kids to want to play, even when I started the Beverly Bandits at the beginning of the newly founded Beverly recreation program back in 1995. I coached multiple teams and I would make sure regardless of how good or bad we played, I would always take the kids across the street to 7-11 for a slurpy and a candy bar. Kids loved it and even if I had barked out constructive criticism or screamed at them during the game out of my frustration, everyone always had fun with a simple treat at the end of each game.
As time went passing by, I noticed a few changes in the game – kids no longer played sports unless it was organized with coaches, and they watched far less baseball on T.V. because the internet offered so many other options, not to mention video games. Kids became better athletes through specialized training; they became faster and stronger. Parents became more involved, as youth sports, in general, became more of a business. I always felt I was more of an old-school type coach: fundamental defense with aggressive offense and solid pitching would win most battles. I would bark during the games and try to have fun with the team afterward. As the years passed, I realized that players were becoming more sensitive and less productive when I would bark or scream. I noticed that certain players needed a kick in the you-know-what to get the most out of them, but more and more players needed positive words of encouragement to get the best out of them. I’m a creature of habit – I was used to my old school ways but I also wanted to get the best out of my athletes, so something had to change. I now try my best to teach still using constructive criticism but without ever screaming in a player’s face. I also do my best to now provide positive words of encouragement when needed, which is more and more often.
I feel the days of negative reinforcement with disparaging words in any sport, in hopes of getting the best of an athlete in any sport, is a dying breed. Today’s athletes need positivity to be their best and it’s the old school coaches that actually need to embrace the change if they want to keep the players and families happy and productive.