Coaching the coaches

Volunteers: Classes help volunteer coaches learn important lessons, such as seeing the game from the kids' viewpoint and handling unruly parents

Howard at Play

March 26, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Congratulations. Your kid's team needed an adult leader, and you stepped up. You're Coach.

You just took on a volunteer job bearing an amazing blend of egos, fun, skill, frustration, tact, time management, parenting, psychology, strategic planning, teaching, coping, logistics, listening, learning and humility.

No doubt, you have questions. But help's available. The county Recreation and Parks Department regularly teaches "coaching effectiveness" classes, and the county's largest soccer group conducts its own training.

The county's 3 1/2-hour classes, given to more than 5,000 parents over the past 15 years or so, don't deal with skills and tactics of a given sport. Instead, classes address broader issues -- safety for kids and, in this litigious age, from personal liability; planning practices; viewing sports the way kids do; dealing with parents; sportsmanship; and how to teach.

Coaches get insight into the horrifics that everyone dreads -- pushy parents who want their child to star, or get college scholarships, and win, all the time.

Chris Rohde, the classes' teacher for five years, grabs new coaches' attention fast with a vivid tape from an ABC-TV "20-20" episode. It shows parents -- not in Howard County -- fighting at a sandlot baseball game and 23 police officers responding to break up a parental dispute and assault on a referee at a youth football game. The tape ends with a crying 12- or 13-year-old boy in pads and grimy uniform saying, "We just wanted to have fun. It's only a game."

"Coaches and adults can take sports too seriously," said Rohde, "which can be awful for the kids and even causes them to drop out."

Because of the class, derived from material from the American Sport Education Program (ACEP) in Champaign, Ill., even some experienced coaches alter some behaviors around children and parents, Rohde said.

Dan Smith, 44, father of three sons and coach this spring of the Elkridge Youth Organization's 11-12 travel baseball team, was a recent student.

"You always hear that winning isn't that important, and I can go along with that," he said. "Now I know that you strive to win, of course, but it was reinforced that, for the kids, just being able to play is much more important."

Coach of a younger team last year and an assistant before that, Smith called the course good "both for those with some coaching experience, as well as those who've been at it."

"That ACEP program really raises the consciousness of coaches," said Howard Carolan, the Howard County Youth Program president.

The Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County uses a similar approach through age-appropriate classes for its new coaches.

For coaches of 6-year-olds and younger, for example, the focus is on what kids are like, how they learn and basic coaching principles. Videotaped practices let some coaches see themselves in action -- and take corrective measures.

"It's a lot to ask volunteer coaches to give even more time for the classes," said John Dingle, SAC/HC's player-development director. "But we can't expect our kids to learn until our coaches learn.

"The work of a child is play. Yet this is a different world than we adults grew up in, and some children are losing some things we got just by going out after school and playing. So the role of coaches has become even more important."

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