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What is a Youth Sports Coach?

By: Lydia Scrofani

I am sure most people have heard the phrase, “Those who can’t do, teach.” When it comes to coaching, the message is slightly different. “Those who can do, coach.” Most club coaches have lived the life of an athlete. We can demonstrate the skills and see the tactics necessary to succeed. I played Division I Soccer for the University of South Carolina, won a National Championship for the W-League 2001 Boston Renegades, and earned all the accolades from high school through college. It would be safe to say I am therefore destined to be a good coach.

Most coaches who work in club sports have a similar story. They all played at some level, somewhere, for some program. Chances are they were the star of the team, captain of a high school program or MVP, and some were blessed with a chance to get recruited and play in college. We all have similar stories of how we got into coaching. If you were to ask me, I wouldn’t say I got into coaching because I understood the complexities of the job; instead, I would be honest and say I primarily got into coaching because I wasn’t ready to give up the sport I spent over 15 years of my life playing. For most coaches, they too aspire to continue that love.

Secretly though, we are all passionate competitors. Competitors who expect all our players to be as good as we once were or as driven to succeed. We do not intend to let it seep through, but we grow frustrated and terse when our players do not do what we expect of them. Then, add a loss, a crazy parent, and a few bad referee calls, and the love of the game slowly fades away.

I think the problem stems from our own ego. My ego at times became more important than what was best for a youth player. The desire and expectation to win comes with emotion. Coaches are encouraged to be careful with our emotions, but we are passionate people. We were successful athletes because we were passionate in the pursuit of success. For a coach to have that passionate fire while simultaneously focusing on player development is very difficult. Unfortunately, passion is a double-edged sword. Whenever you coach with emotions, you are trying to demonstrate your enthusiasm, your drive to win but in the end, no matter how bad a coach wants it, it is still up to the player to decide. In the end, despite your best intensions, your passion can deter a player from enjoying the sport you both once loved.

All the aspirations I had as a coach stemmed from coaches who weren’t even women. I respected John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and Anson Dorrance’s numerous National Championships for UNC Women’s Soccer. I attended coaching workshops and read books hoping to apply some of the philosophies these coaches used to build champions and leaders. However, I’ve realized after coaching youth sports for over twenty years, it is quite different to coach a Division I athlete or a Professional Athlete versus a youth athlete. The role at the highest level is to win…period. So, aspiring to be like Anson Dorrance or Pat Summit seemed like the right decision many years ago.

I now see things in a different light….

There are similarities to motivate a girl to excel regardless of the level you coach, but to truly connect with a youth player is very different when the outcome is not a national championship. I would venture to say if you asked most college coaches, they wouldn’t be able to clearly articulate how best to coach a youth player. Perhaps from a technical or tactical perspective, but to articulate how to connect and coach a young girl would be difficult for even the best college coaches in the nation.

There is an extremely large percentage of youth athletes who will never step foot on a college field. The statistics have been showcasing this number for a long ti

me; yet the obsession with college scholarships remains. Most sports clubs in America are well-oiled businesses. Youth Sports have become a multi-million-dollar business, and like most businesses, to be successful means they must win. These clubs must recruit the best talent, win the most tournaments, and demonstrate their club is the best choice to have any child succeed. The focus of youth sports has become about winning, ego, and accolades.

I want to be clear, I do believe there is a place for a college-bound athlete. We need

club sports to fuel the future of the NCAA, WNBA, & NWSL. What we don’t need is so much focus on that dream instead of a genuine desire to build athletic, healthy, and competitive young ladies. Furthermore, having a young player commit to one sport at such a young age prevents a well-rounded athlete. Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, two World Cup champions, credit their success to playing other sports along with soccer. I too played varsity basketball, softball, ran track, etc. and I believe it made me a better college soccer player. You can still be great at sports and not face the current burn-out rates we are seeing from female athletes.

The personal training, extra “optional” sessions, and year-round commitment may work for some girls. To all the club programs out there, you are creating excellent specialized players. To the girls who haven’t necessarily found their passion but want to compete, the Girls Sports Academy (GSA) is for you. The focus is about “building the girl” instead of building another championship. GSA is not creating mini-UNC soccer or Duke basketball programs; we are creating confident, resilient, and dynamic athletes. GSA’s focus is only on the ages of 8-14 years old girls. This age group has the highest rate of turning away from sports because they aren’t the best, aren’t good enough, or had a bad experience.

We are not recreational sports nor are we travel sports; we are the middle. GSA is a steppingstone, a foundation builder, to help girls find the good in sports and in themselves.

We have spent too much energy trying to make scholarship-ready kids instead of athletes who love the sport they play. There is only one person who can bridge the connection between hard work and fun. Only a coach can create the environment to balance a competitive spirit and a genuine love for a sport. We as youth coaches need to go back and reassess our focus.

My goal for the next 20 years is to put the girl first. The balance of grit and fun will forever outweigh my ego and desire for a winning record. Girls Sports Academy will focus on how a girl develops mentally and physically while simultaneously encouraging a competitive spirit and healthy lifestyle. GSA will offer multiple sports throughout the season, coached by former and current college athletes, and the emphasis will be about “building the girl” through sports.

The championships will come, the scholarships will happen, but without a healthy foundation, girls will not understand all the positives and good that come from sports. I hope more youth coaches take the time to understand there is a place for the Nick Saban’s of the world, but that place is definitely NOT in youth sports.

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