Weather permitting this week, Little League sluggers of all ages will don their jerseys, pick up their bats and prepare to do battle out on the Smith Field baseball diamond.
While these pint-sized players have been practicing for weeks in preparation for the big day, the coaches and managers have also been quietly working in the background. Their mission? To make sure these kids return next year for another season of baseball.
Gone are the days of coaches who shouted insults at their losing team from a perch in the dugout. In addition to teaching the basics of hitting, fielding and base-running, coaches must now also take into account the emotional well-being of the players.
Managers are now challenged to square the need to compete with the participation trophy culture, which sometimes overlooks the hard work and talent of some for fear of offending weaker players. The stakes are high. If players do not have a good experience, they won’t return. If they don’t return, the sport will suffer.
“Studies show that 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by age 13 because they aren’t having any fun,” said Brian Watson, executive director of the SF Bay Area Positive Coaching Alliance. “The coach is so instrumental to shaping the experience that kids have. It’s the experience at an early age with their coach, regardless of their skill level, that is really going to dictate the overall experience that kids have.”
Watson added that more than 50 percent of adults who volunteer to coach children are not adequately equipped with the resources needed to work with kids. As a result, there are missed opportunities to develop a child’s love of the game in a supportive environment that also cultivates risk-taking. That’s where the Positive Coaching Alliance comes in.
To be clear, the Positive Coach Alliance believes in competition, in fact, they encourage it.
“One of the best life lessons that kids learn through playing sports is competition,” said Watson. “We are a company of coaches and athletes who enjoy competing. We embrace competition.”
Enter the double-goal coach.
“When we talk about the double-goal coach model, we talk about first striving to win, and, more important, teaching life lessons and developing character,” said Watson. “It is important to win, but it’s also critical that coaches develop young athletes while helping them become better human beings.
“It’s all about replacing the win-at-all-costs environment with an environment where winning and competition are celebrated, but (there is) greater focus to teach kids life skills,” he continued. “At the end of the day, there’s a winner and there’s a team that’s going to lose. That sets kids up for success much later in life.”
Half Moon Bay Little League coaches and mangers are required to attend Positive Coaching Alliance training each year. The sessions are held in Half Moon Bay. There are also online training options available.
Coaches see great value in the lessons they have gleaned from the training. One of the most beneficial tips is the art of giving constructive feedback while creating an environment in which all players feel they are able to make mistakes and stretch athletically.
“Half Moon Bay Little League is committed to continuing to work with Positive Coaching Alliance,” said Half Moon Bay Little League Coaching Coordinator Brian Colucci. “Providing this training constitutes a significant cost to maintain our membership and take advantage of training sessions.
“We view this as an important partnership because we want to make this a good experience for the kids,” he continued. “One way to do that is to provide parent-coaches with the tools they need to succeed.”