The Biggest Problem In Youth Sports

Here is an audio clip from an interview with Bob Bigelow. Bob Bigelow is a former NBA player and current youth development expert. Bob also is featured in the DVDs Coaching Youth Basketball The Right Way and Coaching Middle School Basketball.

The Biggest Problem In Youth Sports

Bob brought up many great points throughout this audio interview. Here are a few of the main ones:

The biggest challenge is to get the adult ego out of youth sports.

When the adults' needs of winning trumps the children's needs of playing, competing, and having fun, it's not a good scenario. The structures and infrastructures revolves around the adult's need to win and this leads to many other problems such as parents fighting, kids getting burned out, etc.

Solutions to getting the adult ego out of youth sports.

Silent sidelines for parents where you could not yell at the children. A Norther Ohio girls soccer league decided to start silent sidelines about 10 years ago.

Silent sidelines for coaches. Annapolis, MD then instituted this for the parents and the coaches. Kids can not hear nor process most of the coaching instruction anyways.

Take the score off of the scoreboard.

If everybody can see the score, the natural adult tendency is to coach the score, rather than the process. All great coaches will tell you to coach the process, not the outcome. If you think the score is important, let the kids keep score.

Sometimes, you will win by 2 points against a very bad team and lose by 2 points to a far superior team. And you're most upset about the game you lost. So you're happy when you play poorly and mad when you played great.

What do you think about the lessons and advice shared? Please leave your thoughts and opinion below...


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Garrett Murphy says:
9/21/2014 at 11:39:15 AM

I don't think I've seen it yet in the comments, but I regularly have 1-2 kids per season who have this problem:

They have no interest in the sport; their parents made them sign up for basketball to fulfill their own egos, get them out of the house or as a form of day care. If a kid has no interest in basketball, they shouldn't be put into basketball in the first place.

I agree and disagree with the silent sideline. I really, REALLY dislike when I'm trying to get a command out to my players (I totally disagree with kids not hearing commands or not understanding; that's true in some cases, but simple commands and play calls are easy to do after the first couple practices) and the entire sideline of parents is barking their own orders, in many cases completely contradicting yours. At the same time, though, the best thing for these players is to hear encouragement from their parents; that's the person they're most trying to impress.


Ken Sartini says:
9/17/2013 at 11:48:39 AM

I couldn't have said this better!

Its very simple... young kids should be taught the fundamentals of the game and HAVE FUN while doing it.... good or bad coach.

IF you are a coach that wants to see your kids succeed and are proud of what they can do..... then teach them the game, and when they get to high school, you can watch them play. Then you will be proud of what you did for them.

The kids and their parents will be happy with what you did for them.


Youth Development & Conditioning Coach says:
9/16/2013 at 7:33:14 PM

I think a lot of people missed the point and should listen to the audio again. We're not talking about youth sports at ages 13-18, we're talking about 8 year olds who want to play and have fun. Coaching kids based on scores and wins at this age ruins the game for them, they begin to feel demotivated to play and begin to turn away from the game. At this age, kids just want to run around and have fun.

My outlook on this is that until kids become fundamentally sound in their field, they shouldn't be pushed to "win" or score a set amount of points. Until they start becoming competitive of their own accord, allow them to experience the fun side of sport, because when you think about it, that's why we all picked up a basketball, a football, a baseball bat etc. because it was fun. I've seen coaches push kids out of sport because at a young age they've been made to feel like winning is everything and when they don't win, they feel useless.


Tom says:
3/5/2013 at 7:55:38 PM

Adult ego is not only the biggest problem in youth sports but the biggest problem in sports. Too much self-worth is derived from winning. The real problem is with the fans. Too many people invest too much of their self-worth into whether or not ‘their” team wins. We see examples of this in fan behavior at games. This demonstrates itself in brawls and arguments between, verbal abuse of participants, throwing things on the floor, team boosters supplying illegal benefits so that they can brag about their alma maters success (with which they really have nothing to do), over the top sports betting 9and the crime and cheating that go with it), threats to players and coaches, and other boorish behavior which now seems to be accepted in sports.
I have been deeply involved in sports my whole life. My father was a high school coach and I was at most of his games and practices. His players were like big brothers to me when I was young and I worshiped them and him and it hurt me deeply when big mouthed fans would citizen he or them when they had no right to do so. I became a coach and have coached at the grade school, middle school, high school and college levels. Sadly, right now I am deeply disillusioned with the way society uses and reacts to sports. I remember watching the first Super bowl (actually it wasn’t even called that back then) as an eight year old Packer fan because that previous summer I had gotten Bart Stars auto-graph. I no longer watch the game. I attended 16 straight Illinois High School Boys Basketball finals but no longer even watch those games. Why, because of our society’s sick view of sport and how it has changed sport.
That being said, the suggestions in this article and talk are a reaction that goes too far the other way. Even as an eight year old playing football in the back yard with my friends we were very conscious of the score. THAT”S WHAT MADE IT FUN!!! The greatest joy in sport is using competition (both against your opponent to better his score and against yourself to better what you have done before) as a catalyst to turn a simple game into an art form. Take away the score board is a merely symbolic gesture which will only be an inconvenience to the people who have the right perspective and it will not deter those twisted people who pervert sport into something that is ugly and unhealthy.
Silent sidelines are an even worse idea. First of all, having coached youth sports for many years I (along with the many GOOD youth coaches with whom I have been privileged to associate) do realize that there can be an overload of advice from the sidelines. However, good coaches (of whom there are many) realize this and while we may overdo it sometimes, more often are very effective in communicating with young athletes during the game. In fact, it is necessary for good and appropriate coaching from the sidelines for the kids to get the optimal benefit from the game. Also, there is nothing wrong with parents and fans making a ruckus on the sideline if it is positive and appropriate. If it isn’t, just kick those who aren’t being appropriate, kick the offenders out! I have actually done so myself.
These days it seems that any time there is a problem we over react and take actions that make things worse rather than rationally look at the problem, find the cause, and correct that, thus eliminating the problem. Let’s not do this with youth sports by enacting a bunch of impractical and potentially damaging rules and practices.


Ken says:
1/14/2013 at 1:49:25 PM

Mike -

See if you can get the other coaches in on this ... a meeting would mean more then. Strength in numbers!

As far as your practices - do the best that you can with the 90 minutes - simplify things... hard to cover everything...... just make sure they have FUN at this age. :-)


Mike says:
1/14/2013 at 1:04:29 PM

I agree about the age brackets, and I see that some of the youth, non school , coaches do get into coaching for the same reasons you state. I did. I will keep discussing things with the league director and start to modify my practices like you suggest in the other blog.



Ken Sartini says:
1/14/2013 at 10:04:53 AM

I think most people get into coaching becuase they love the game.... and they love working with kids, helping to them to become good players and develop into young adults.

We all want to win, players, parents and coaches. The problem I see is at the youth level, where winning is more important than teaching/coaching!

Your director needs to sit down with all the coaches and rearrange how it is set up. 4th graders should NOT be playing vs 6th graders, no one gets anything out of this. They should break them down more like this... 3/4 grades ... 5/6 grades ... This way the kids will have more FUN which should be your #! GOAL!

Good luck, I hope you can work this out.


Mike says:
1/14/2013 at 9:54:45 AM

I can completely understand where Mr. Bigelow is coming from. I have 2 boys who both play football, basketball, baseball and even lacrosse. I dont ever see a coach whose out there soley for the kids and not out to prove he is a great competitor. Its like most of the coaches couldnt make it on the field as a player, so this is their redirecting their love for competition and trying to prove themselves by coaching. I have taken on coaching my 11 year olds basketball team, which for some reason consists of mostly 9 year olds. The church league we are in has a bantam division that spans 3 ages. The fourth graders are over matched out there against some of the sixth graders, and the sixth graders are not challenged often enough. I ve spoken to our director and expressed my concerns and hope to change the age breakdowns. I d rather they shut down the league than operate like this.
While winning isn't everything, I would like to see my kids be able to win a little , not always be losing by 15-20 pts. They look so excited when they are close in a game,, Id love to see them win, unfortunately they have become very accustomed to losing and that's not right either.


Ken Sartini says:
1/13/2013 at 12:55:36 PM

Scott -

I am just shaking my head.... why the heck would the league allow kids older that your group to play? THAT benefits no one!!

With only one hour a week, thats hard enough to teach the kids everything then know to play the game. The best thing you can do for your kids is to teach them some basics and let them have fun. Its a shame that you cant find some more practice time somewhere.

You should get the rest of the coaches together and go to the league director and let them know that THIS situation is NOT accceptable. Those older kids need to be playing kids of their age.... It is ruining the youngers kids chances to enjoy the game and get something out of it.

The older kids get absolutely nothing from playing with kids that much younger. They need to find a way to let them compete ... perhaps just against each other and let the younger kids play each other the way the league was organized.

This is a TERRIBLE learning situation at best..... and the worst thing that could happen is the younger kids NOT enjoying this, not developing a love for the game, let alone learning some skills. They might just say, "the heck with this" and quit.

Good luck, I hope you can find a way to solve this problem.... I guarantee you one thing... IF this was my son, I would be in the league directors office the next day... and all the coaches should feel the same way.


scott says:
1/13/2013 at 8:31:03 AM

I am now in my 4th year of coaching youth sports and I understand the concerns that a lot of you have expressed. I see less problems with the coaches and more problems with the way the leagues are being run. Most of us want to teach the kids and also win occasionally. The leagues are allowing too many stacked teams with kids that are beyond the age limit of the league. I currently coach a 12u team in a ymca league. The league has allowed a private middle school to bring in two teams to play and there are many kids that are above the age limit(13-15 year olds). My team is made up of mostly 10-11 year old kids that have never played. My son is 9 and move up based on his ability. We only have 1 hour a week to practice and try to develop these kids. We would get beat no matter what we did, but it would be nice to have more practice time to be able to develop the new kids. I admit my son becomes a ball hog in the games out of frustration because he is the only one who can score. The first few games i insisted that he always make passes and let the other kids try to score, but after the kids turn the ball over repeatedly he takes it upon himself to create. I have a wonderful group of kids, but the size difference and skill level difference compared to older kids on a middle school team is too great for them to learn. Myself and my assistants are now basically just forgetting about the games and focusing our 1 hour a week to the most basic skill development and some fun drills(games) just to create a good environment for the kids. If we had more practice time i think we could really teach these kids something!!
I wonder what the league or the other coaches think the kids are getting out of this league. The older kids who play together 5 days a week at school certainly are not learning anything either by beating small kids with no experience. If children do not have a parent or older sibling at home to teach them i would dare say most don't have a chance in the current system.


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