Accountability Vs. Selfishness in Youth Sports

Our spacing on the court is a bit better than in photos ;)

Saturday I went to watch a few of our players compete at a Beach USAV qualifier at Empowered's new indoor sand facility in Fort Wayne Indiana. The weather forced us indoors which caused some logistical complications for the tournament director (shout-out to Will Robbins for playing the hand he was dealt as well as he could!), but aside from that it was a wonderful experience.

The coaches were fantastic. One of my favorite moments was watching two coaches from teams in the 18U final laughing and hugging on each side-switch (for those unfamiliar with beach volleyball, teams switch sides after every 7 points).

The players were respectful of each other, and it was great to see kids from 'rival' clubs having a good time together off the court in between matches.

The parents were extremely supportive. I saw the majority of matches where fans of both sides applauded for good plays even if their side didn't win the point. I also saw parents complimenting athletes of the other teams on how they played regardless of the outcome.

This blog has been on the tip of my tongue for months, but I hadn't figured out exactly how to word it. Leaving the facility Saturday, it all made perfect sense.

The majority of articles I read involving improving the culture of youth sports targets specific groups - Parents are a nightmare to deal with, kids aren't as resilient as they used to be, coaches aren't doing their job well. I walked out of that building and it just clicked.

The issue with sports isn't about a group of people. It's about a selfish mentality and lack of accountability - and that mentality can be found within all the above groups of people.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

I do think it starts with the coaches and directors, because the parents and players are coming to us for guidance. I know many coaches that try to avoid the parents, and I think that's counter-productive to avoiding issues. The 2 biggest things that prevent parent/player issues are Education and Transparency.

Many parents/players have not have a lot of experience with youth sports, and many that do have experience haven't always been given accurate information. Sitting with the families, explaining what you're providing, and setting the expectations for their commitment/behavior allows you to set the tone for the season. I personally have done so in meetings/put it in writing before we start the season, and I have had zero parent/player issues in three years. This also means I have to hold up my end of the bargain regarding what I provide, and I also have to be comfortable letting them go elsewhere in the event this culture isn't for them.

When coaches and directors are straightforward about their program and give their families guidance on what's needed on their end, their accountability creates a healthy environment for all people involved. When coaches and directors fall short on their promises to families, aren't transparent with what they provide, or look at parents/players as burdens instead of customers that are investing thousands of dollars and their time on nights/weekends, that's when selfishness causes problems.

From there, the players have to buy into it and cover their end of the deal. It can be tough to balance individual goals and aspirations with embracing the philosophy of the team they're joining, even if they don't always align. However, once an organization sets the parameters on what's expected of the player, they have to commit to it.

When players focus on what they can control and give their best physical/mental effort when they're at practices/matches, their accountability for themselves gives them the best chance to become the best they can be, as well as help their respective team. When players let external circumstances (less playing time than they would like, teammates with clashing personalities, coaches they don't mesh with) affect the things they can control (effort, respect for teammates, listening to the coach), that's when selfishness causes problems.

Lastly, the parents. I'm sure we could all write a book about 'that parent', but again, out of the thousands of parents I've worked with over the last decade, I can only think of a handful that were completely stuck in their ways - and most of those parents either were elite athletes themselves and had their own method of doing things, or they were heavily influenced by a former coach that made them believe it's one way or the wrong way. For the rest, many of the issues that come up all come down to one central idea: The experience isn't what they were expecting/hoping for, and they don't understand why that's the case! They may not always ask the question in a manner that's ideal, but again, many of them are spending a substantial amount of money and time for their child's development, and considering many of us are upset when our $10 meal isn't done correctly, why wouldn't parents be upset if their expectations aren't met?

Regardless of the above, it is crucial for them to approach the coach in a respectful manner. There is a huge difference between "My child should be starting over this child" and "I know my child would love to get to a point where they can make a bigger impact at games. What do you feel they need to work on outside of practices to potentially earn the opportunity to get more playing time?"

When parents approach coaches with the intention of understanding why things are the way they are and what their child can do differently, their accountability for their children allows for constructive feedback from the coach. When parents approach coaches telling them how to do their job (or how they're doing their job poorly) instead of talking with them in a respectful manner to try to understand why their child isn't getting the experience they had hoped for, that's when selfishness causes problems.

Accountability vs. Selfishness - it doesn't have to be that complicated. The more we work together and keep people accountable for their roles and remove selfishness from the equation, the healthier the environment will be.