The State of Youth Sports


Youth Sports


For years, I have had to put up with youth sport coaches and parents echoing the words and mimicking the behaviors of successful coaches such as Vince Lombardi and Mike Ditka.




You can’t argue with the success those guys had.


But do you really think that yelling at 10-year old football players for making a ‘bad play’ or chastising 12-year old soccer players for ‘missing a shot’ is the best and most sane way to coach kids?


Unfortunately, my arguments have fallen on deaf ears more than once over the past decade.


I just couldn’t make youth sport coaches realize that aggressive and negative behavior can be damaging to young athletes, and that a primary reason why so many kids drop out of sports at an early age is because of the often abusive treatments they get from their coaches.


“But”, the coaches would tell me, “Look at how Ditka treated his players… and you can’t argue with his success”.


“You’ve got a point”, I would grudgingly admit, “But Ditka was dealing with adults, we’re talking about kids here”.


Ha… I got ’em now. No come back on that point…


Or so I hoped…


“Whatever, Brian. You show me someone at the elite level who is as successful as Ditka, Lombardi or Bill Parcels, and I’ll change my ways. Until then, I coach the way I know will work”.






This past weekend saw two of the nicest and most positive coaches in the world compete for the supreme prize of North American sports – The Super Bowl.


Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith.


They respect their players.


They never raise their voices.


They look to try and make each and every one of their players better – in both football and life.


They are as successful as it gets.


Sounds to me like every abusive coach and parent just lost their final argument.


– Brian


20 Responses

  1. Dave Gleason says:

    I have read both of Tony Dungy’s books. Great reads. I coach on the sidelines of soccer games every weekend. At the end of the game when I am shaking hands with 9 and 10 year old boys I very often have to hold back from saying “great job despite your coaches”.

    Coaching youth sports is primarily voluntary. Being such does not provide the excuse to berate, discourage or disrespect any young athlete. Being a volunteer is noble. Berating children is not.

  2. Kamal Afzal says:

    Mr. Grasso

    Yes, i agree totally, i believe a standard is needed which must have all coaches comply with in regards to the type of attitude coaches use to treat youths. Especially if long-term training, and development of youth, both in sport and life is asked for.

    Every youth must be allowed to explore their inert potential in any given sport. If these players choose to imitate high-end professionals that is a choice of their own selves. Coaches must provide an environment in which learning can take place, and exploration be not hindered.

    Mr. Grasso, i believe everyone that is part of the IYCA, be through certification, friendship or any other type professional relationship, has some has some level of inquisitiveness for what the IYCA has to say on what aspect of training youths. I for one is of that group. And esteem that IYCA will continue to expand, and create fences where there is a need for them and remove where there isn’t.

    Youth sports are suppose to be fun, ridiculous, noisy, friendly, organised, disorganised, messy, tiring, emotional, social, healthy and of course very very safe.

    Wishing the IYCA all the Success, that “all” can contain!

    -Kamal Afzal

  3. Dave Conner says:

    I recently read both of Tony Dungys’ books and I have never been so impressed and inspired by an individual. If I can be half the man he is I will be happy!

  4. Ryan Christie says:

    I am in total agreement with you Brian. This is something that I have noticed a lot lately where I am at. There is an American Football team here in Switzerland that I have helped in the past and they have a couple of coaches on the team who live to yell at the players. They lost their last game and during the match the coach, who prides himself on berating kids, grabbed one of the players helmets and began yelling at him because of a mistake he made. I kept thinking to myself what does that teach a kid. How receptive are you going to be when someone yells at you when ever you do something wrong. I totally disagree with this coaching style and believe that the more the IYCA philosophy spreads the more we will get the encouraging, and inspiring coaches to phase out the coaches that love to shout at kids.

    Does an adult like it when their boss yells at them everytime they mess up or only give them a pat on the back whenever they do something right? I am sure the Ditka and Bobby Knight supporters wouldn’t think so. But a lot of this stuff is cyclical. The coach that yells had a coach or parent that yelled at them as a kid and it gets passed down the line the majority of times.

    The question that I want to know is that as a parent or coach do you want your legacy to be as someone that inspired and positively effected the lives of children or someone that berated and belittled kids making them feel self conscious and scared to make mistakes? I know what I will choose!


  5. I agree yelling at young athletes does not bear good fruit! We as coaches must understand our young athletes and come down to their level mentally and emotionally! They need to see us a safe haven not a threat! Building trust with your athlete is most important! Once they trust you they will respect you! It is imperative that this is established immediately! Every time I meet with my athletes whether it is coaching little league or training them I tell them my expectations! My expectations always remain the same…Be respectful to me and their teammates, expect to learn & improve with each practice & game, believe they will become a better player by the end of the season, and have fun!

    We as coaches know young athletes will improve every year, but what is most important is how the athlete remembers his/her experience! We are responsible for creating memories they will keep for a lifetime!

  6. Brian…I agree with your thoughts. I think you have to inspire trust in a nurturing enviornment where honest feedback is given always accentuating the athletes potential. I have seen both sides where coaches/parents are aweful and berating as well as those that are always positive and making flattery remarks to their athletes. I feel you can be critical without being negative always with the idea of upcoaching and keeping the athlete’s emotional/mental side in balance. For me many kids have been ‘desencitized’ to the spoken word and don’t really internalize the one-sided ‘positive/negative’ feedback. Feedback must be honest both good and bad and it must always sincerely and respectfully be presented. I would much rather see athletes who have done something ‘wrong’ be addressed with questions than berating negative confrontations/remarks! The real issue is coaches/parents frustrations and the inablility to effectively ‘handle’ performers and performances!

    From Paul a father/coach of 6 athletes

  7. Rob Kulessa says:

    I actually think a few problems come into play here. In sports like soccer and ice hockey, there is a certain unfamiliarity of the sport. That becomes a problem when you have volunteers stepping up to coach our most vulnerable athletes…the ones just entering their sport. Tragically, you have coach and player learning the game at the same time and what happens in a tough situation is the coach reverts to “what would a famous coach do” and hence, the yelling.
    I know most sports (soccer and hockey included) have coaching certifications required but I am not sure if those cards are needed at the clinic and learn to skate levels which may not be good considering it is at those levels that the kid will decide whether or not this game is for them.
    The barrier to entry for any youth sport should not be negative or burdensome. The barrier to entry should be a wide open door full of positive people teaching values those kids will carry for a lifetime.
    I got turned onto soccer 40 years ago by my first youth coach Bill Skidmore and to this day, I still play the game. Granted in our Over 40 league we aren’t going to play like we are in the English Premiere League but we still enjoy the game and you can trace that all back to the people who were our first contact in the game.
    Coaches need to remember that their players will remember them and the experience for the rest of their lives. How that experience is remembered is solely up to the Coach.

  8. Jim says:

    I’ve been coaching youth sports year round for five years. I also serve on several youth sports boards. So i get to experience youth sports not only from a coach’s perspective but also a board member.

    Dealing w/parents has always been the most challenging part in our community. Generally speaking, you can expect several parents who are going disagree with a coaches philosophy.

    On the otherhand. Youth athletes are enjoyable and easy to work with i believe. The most difficult part i find is that many kids struggle when corrected. I never yell or make negative comments. However, i do like to correct their technique when making a mistake….yes a mistake. Again, it’s a fine line. Most kids will handle it well but some of the kids will hang their heads, etc….

    What works best for me is to learn each individual young athlete and find what motivates or hinders their development. If you can do that you can reach them. The worse thing to do is treat each personality the same.

    Speaking for any youth coach…I think the most difficult kids to coach are your own.

  9. Mike says:

    I think part of the issue is that the ranting professional or college coach gets more media attention. ESPN is not showing highlights of coaches like Dungy and Smith because they are acting in a professioanl manner that does not make for good TV. We also do not get the complete picture of the Parcells and Ditkas. All we see is their outrageous outbursts replayed continuously. Some youth coaches only see this behavior and think that is how to coach.

    We just need to keep on educating parents that positive re-inforcement and rewards for correct behaviors work better than yelling and screaming.

  10. Phil DuBois says:

    Tony and Dungy are great role models for coaches in any sport at any level. I played professional football for a couple years, one of which was with Joe Gibbs with the Washington Redskins. Coach Gibbs has a very similar coaching philosophy and there are many other examples of college and pro coaches who have similar philosophyies.
    I am in the midst of developing a non-profit youth football program (which will eventually cover all youth sports. It’s called 1st and goals and here’s some of our philosophy:
    One of our visions is to provide coaches with the knowledge that, first and foremost, they are teachers, and they have been given the privilege of developing the physical, mental, emotional and social growth of our children.

    Our core philosophy is centered around the principles of Leadership, Teambuilding and Communication—teaching coaches and young athletes to take ownership of their programs through positive leadership both on and off the field, to understand the power and effectiveness of cooperative teamwork, and to show them the value of developing relationships of trust (including developing a healthy sense of self) through effective communication. Our belief is that through a combination of physical training (truly teaching the fundamentals), and mental game training (setting and achieving goals, positive self-talk, managing emotions, concentration/focus and communication) young athletes will experience success not only on the football field, but success in the classroom, success in their family relations, success in their future chosen professions and significance in their communities—because we aspire to instill a self-confidence that is not based solely on their football accomplishments.

    One of our missions is to change the culture of coaching in youth football—to change the philosophy of “winning being the focus of our efforts” to “winning being the fruit of our efforts”. As coaches (and parents) we need to teach our players HOW to win. They need to understand that prizes and victories are transitory, while the development of specific physical and mental skills, regardless of the outcome of games, are tremendously rewarding and will provide a solid foundation for their future endeavors. We should teach the players to work hard to win; and not to give up. We should teach them to want to win because that is how they may hold together a marriage, or work through a failing business, or a wayward child, or an ill and aging parent. Knowing how to work through obstacles and overcome challenges may be what teaches a young man how to persevere in their inevitable times of adversity.

    My Best,
    Phil DuBois

  11. AL WIMBERLY says:

    That is well put, During 27years of coaching any sports on my job as an recreation director I never used that method of coaching by yelling at any one of my players to get my point across to them. By doing something like that of yelling or screaming at player would only make that person feel much smaller by taking away his pride

  12. Tim Rudd says:

    I help coach the midgets in youth football, I first was helping the pee-wee 7-9 years old, the coaches did nothing but yell at these kids to “move faster” , “hit harder” etc… all with out ever teaching them the techniques for more than 5 seconds, and by teaching they did it them selves and expected all the kids to to it the same they did. I tried to educate the coaches about how they need to spend more time on the skill rather than the drills, but it went on deaf ears. So the coach of the midgets, asked me to come over and help him, he has bought into the no yelling, teaching model. Unfortunatley during practices you can hear the coaches of the pee-wees screaming and yelling at the kids the whole time, 2 hours. It’s scary to think that parents are okay with this. That screaming team is 31-1 in 3 seasons and half the kids quit every year, because its all about winning and screaming. Things do need to change and luckily at the most elite level we have two coaches such as lovi and tony who are setting a different example of a successful coaching model. It is also my hope that me and the midgets coach will set a an example by using the IYCA model, and all parents of the other teams will see how much enjoyable the practices are, and how each athlete is learning, by being taught skills that will develop them in to better athletes and better people.

  13. Steve Payne says:

    I learned this lesson long ago from former Cincinnati Reds Coach Sparky Anderson, who said during an interview once, “It doesn’t cost a dime to be nice.”

    That brief viewing I saw almost 35 years has stuck with me and guided me in both my coaching and intercessory philosophy.

    Great analysis and writing, sir…as always.

    Thank you

  14. Coach Joel says:

    Reading your article while trying to get the latest info on the condition of the great John Wooden, it brings to mind one of my favorite Wooden quotes, “Young people need role models, not critics”.

  15. Pjaelcloeb says:

    As a Head Coach, Head Pro and Coach Educator (on both sides of the Atlantic) I find that I repeatedly try to ingrain in my assistants and course candidates the habit of always asking if it is “Because of” or “Despite of” something is happening or taking place? To be able to answer this question you need knowledge, and I see the relative lack of knowledge as a fundamental cause of inappropriate coach behaviour. Who decided that it is supposedly easy to teach beginners? I know that we all have to start somewhere, but to let ill-educated rookie coaches loose on junior athletes doesn’t work for me. I know that ASEP, governing body programmes etc are far better than nothing, but I see a danger in spreading a message that after a weekend, or reading a short text you are ‘competent’ to take charge of a team is madness, when you consider what is expected of a teacher, or even a teachers assistant.

    At the same time, as long as we are talking about volunteer coaches who give their time and energy freely, I believe that we have to respect their motivation for doing so, even if strikes the rest of us as elitist, ill informed and too focused on winning. In my opinion what is lacking is enough parents exercising their right to disagree with such coaches and pick a different team or a different programme for their children. Maybe if we educate the parents in what is good practice, the coaches would either have to follow or get marginalised.

    Let’s establish “Bespite?” as a common concept in sports.

  16. SoCal Brian says:

    It seems that I do remember reading this before Brian. My personal opinion about these men are that they are Christians first and coaches second. When you prioritize your life like that, you have a much better perspective overall when dealing with people, athletics and winning games.

  17. Larry Wood says:

    I agree with IYCA just about on everything they are doing. Yes Brian you are right about how we approach our kids as young athletes. At the same time we need to make sure our kids understand what it means to be dedicated and disciplined in their respective sports and also teaching how this relates to the working world. Hollering or berating a kid in todays world just makes no sense but we must make our young athletes and kids understand the idea of working hard and never quitting just because something is hard to accomplish. We live in a society that gives our children everything with out making them earn what they receive outside of the necessities of life. We need to pay more attention to teaching our kids how to be the best they can be while instilling trust and honor which demands the need for appropriate but stearn discipline. Without a map can you truly get to where you want to go and if you can’t read a map shouldn’t you be taught to do so? I believe IYCA has the map and the techniques by which coaches can most effectively teach their young athletes to read and understand the map.

  18. Don ervin says:

    Very well put guy’s,
    Yelling and belittling players at any age or level, Pro. or amateur, just shows the total immaturity of those so called coaches who should not be allowed to be associated with athletes in a coaching capacity period.
    Ice hockey tournament, age, 18 and under, varsity, high school, players had a very bad game, knuckle head father of a player was allowed by the knuckle headed so called coach to enter locker room during ending of period and proceed to belittle, yell and berate the players, one smart young player got fed up and walked out, I told his dad, good for him, after learning of the nonsensical, immature tirade I mentioned the incident to one of the players, the player said that the dress down was successful because the team then went out there and played better, I told him that most chances they would have played better regardless.
    Coach Joel,
    I think Sparky Anderson mellowed some later in life, I heard him make the comment while he was still managing that , I am not out here to make friends.
    Some people do not have a clue, everyone spends their time attempting to carbon copy professional athletes and coaches which is a losing process, they are for the most part people who have been doing what they are doing for many years, although with the proper “TEACHING” knowledge and ability’s, one can implement certain aspects of the highly experienced athletes, coaches and managers into one’s own repertoire.
    The big “W” in parent’s and so called coaches mind’s distorts the main purpose of the whole process of working with athletes no matter what age or level of sports they may be participating in.
    Keep the thought process in proper perspective and our youth will certainly benefit greatly.

  19. Don ervin says:

    I meant to insert the following comment in my above comments.
    A dad of a baseball player who is a sophomore in high school told me that his son was told by his air headed, uneducated coach that, I am putting you in the ninth spot in the batting order because I saw you strike out the other day in a game, this young player makes excellent consistent contact who needs to be in the batting order with possible runners on base, Young players or other wise need coaches who can mentally and physically “TEACH” their athletes, not just someone out there filling up time and space, which I observe time after time.

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