It’s About the Kids, Remember?
By Melissa Wickes
July 19, 2022
The world of youth sports has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. I remember when I had to choose between gymnastics and basketball because my weak, pre-adolescent ankles couldn’t handle the pressure of both.
One sprained ankle after the next, I chose basketball because I liked it better. It was that simple. There was no “which sport will get me a scholarship” or “which sport is more likely to get me to a championship.” It was about which one was more fun to me. If I was going to wear an embarrassing ankle brace to middle school everyday, it was going to be for the sport I loved.
In a world of professionalized youth sports, burgeoning technology, social media, and high expectations from colleges, it’s easy to lose sight of why youth sports actually matter. They matter for so many reasons, but at the top of the list is because they’re fun for kids. They give kids an opportunity to blow off some steam, connect with other kids, and enjoy themselves outside of the world of school, any stressors at home, and the craziness of today’s world.
“Let’s remember it’s about the kids and not the championships and scholarships—we’re all here to make sure the next set of kids grows up and says I can’t live without sports,” says Yvette Seeley, Program Manager of Nassau County Police Activity League in Levittown.
Sports are supposed to be fun, and they’re supposed to be a release. Yvette is married to an FDNY lieutenant who survived the 9/11 attacks, and the youth sports world is what helped her and her kids get through this dark time. They serve as a light in the lives of kids, and that is what should be the focus of any adult working in youth sports.
“[The PAL] made sure every child had a safe place to be,” explains Yvette. “The police officers who ran the programs had a determination to make sure these kids had fun.”
Now, Yvette works for the PAL with the goal of giving as many kids as possible the same amazing youth sports experiences her kids had growing up.
Yvette recalls the most difficult period of time in their child’s sports career to be during college recruiting. The pressure, stress, and competitiveness of this time was simply not fun. This is why ensuring kids are actually able to enjoy sports at a young age and continue to elicit joy is crucial.
“Once the joy is gone, they’re no longer going to want to play youth sports,” says Yvette
Hiring Mission-Driven Coaches
So, how can we ensure the focus of youth sports organizations is kids having fun? It starts with the coaches. Are they mission-driven? Are they there for the right reasons? When hiring a coach for your youth sports organization, you should value their passion for your organization’s mission over their years of experience.
“A large part of our mission is carried out by the coaches. So we have to buy-in. How can an athlete buy-in if a coach isn’t? I would rather find coaches that are mission-driven over coaches and players that are skilled. We can teach skill. We can’t teach philosophy,” said Kelley Kelley, MAVS Volleyball coach.
Kelley is a good example of what she preaches. She played for the MAVS her senior year of high school before playing at Marshall University. After she graduated, she returned to the MAVS as a coach—her first coaching gig. She had to learn a lot about her new position, but she didn’t have to be sold on the MAVS sports organization’s mission statement.
Here are some more tips for hiring and keeping great coaches.
Joining Forces with a Mission-Aligned Partners
Every partnership you build through your youth sports organization affects and inspires the experiences you provide for the kids. By partnering with a technology company that cares about the same things you do, you’re one step closer.
Yvette spoke to 27 technology providers before she moved forward with LeagueApps.
“Why will you make a difference in our players’ lives?” she asked us. “They immediately came back with an answer that I wanted to hear. ‘That’s why we’re here. We want to impact your kids’ lives.’ And they were the only platform that said that.”
For at least one child in your program, it’s the most amazing experience to be at practice for even one hour, Shannon Gunby, Owner of Ambler Sports Academy reminds us. If you lead with that mindset everyday, and remind your staff and coaches to do the same, your organization can provide amazing youth sports experiences to kids.