I’ve been inspired to write this post as a result of the following tweets:
— Alan Gould (@alanjgould) April 16, 2014
In Canada, at least according to statistics from 2005, sport participation by those age fifteen and older has been dropping. The numbers were 45% in 1992, 34% in 1998 and 28% in 2005. Ouch! Yet, our participation in leisure and overall physical activity has increased. 46% of Canadians 12 and older in 19998-99 and 51% in 2005. Hmmm…
My interpretation? Just because people are dropping out of organized sport doesn’t mean they’re choosing not to be active. They’re simply finding other ways, besides organized sport, to have fun and be healthy.
And that’s bad news for all of us in organized youth sport. We can’t afford to offer poor quality programming. People will not put up with it for long. They don’t need to put up with it for long. There are just too many other choices – sport and non-sport related.
It’s probably well established knowledge now thanks to sport psych and sociology research that youth sport loses up to 70% of its participants between the ages of 13 and 18. And it’s probably not surprising that the one factor that positively enhances a participant’s experience in sport more than anything else is access to a qualified coach.
Yet youth sport (at least soccer) treats the recruitment of individuals to coach like it’s a relief effort. I certainly don’t want to make light of natural disasters and the trouble they can inflict on people in their path. I think the analogy is accurate though. In a relief effort, every little bit helps. There is no inquiry into the type or amount of aid because of the urgency in providing the unfortunate with the support they require.
Every. Little. Bit. Helps.
We do the exact same thing with youth coach recruitment. The urgency is created by the large number of participants registered to a youth sport program. Any benchmarks of quality disappear because the organization is often practically begging parents to coach.
And that gives the advantage to the solicited parents.
When clubs approach coach recruitment this way, they can paint themselves into a corner. They have to accept any parent’s offer to coach without condition. Yes, it certainly would be nice if those parents would also do some coaching development or put in some more effort to be proficient coaches. However, the organization recruiting them is so desperate for warm bodies that they’re willing to overlook obvious things like that. The resulting dialogue goes something like this:
Parent: “Well, since you’re stuck I’ll coach BUT I’m very busy and I’ll only have time to do the bare minimum.”
Organization: “Oh that’s perfectly fine. Every little bit helps!”
Instead of this common scenario, what if it were flipped on its head? What if an organization only registered as many participants as could be accommodated by the appropriate number of qualified coaches available? Determine the number of players that a single qualified coach could handle. Multiply the number of qualified coaches available by that number and you have the total spaces available for participants.
The demand for coaches will still outweigh the supply available. That much doesn’t change between this flipped situation and the traditional one. What changes is the promise that every registered participant will have a qualified coach. If parents register late and can’t get into the program, they’ll know exactly what needs to be done to remedy that. They’ll know the club needs more quality coaches in order to up the total number of participants allowed to register. And they’ll know exactly what things need to be done in order to become a quality coach.
Now we have standards where none previously existed.
Unfortunately, youth sport organizations (at least soccer clubs) don’t think this way. They get nervous and fidget a lot when this sort of idea is brought up. After all, they’re mission is to provide the organized sport that they’ve been entrusted to oversee to each and everyone in their community. And restricting membership does not honour that mission.
Instead, boards trade the fight for quality with the fight for mediocrity. They substitute standards with the lowest common denominator. The end result is they spend plenty of their time fighting the fires of bad program delivery. A number of those fires typically happen because of problems their members have with coaches.
So the status quo is maintained and the annual relief effort continues. Unfortunately though, every little bit doesn’t help. Every little bit can hurt. Hurt a lot. And it’s quite likely the participation statistics are reflection of that.
Next post Saturday, April 26th