Extra help for youth sports coaches

Boston is known as a sports town, teeming with homegrown athletes throughout the city in both school and neighborhood sports programs. Behind these spirited athletes are their dedicated coaches, focused on fostering their players’ abilities on the field and their development off of it.

The Coaches Helping Athletes through Mentoring and Positive Sports (CHAMPS) Boston program is a sports-based youth development initiative of the Boston Foundation. At the heart of CHAMPS Boston is a training program for coaches to be capable leaders and mentors for their players.

“The coach is the constant. They’re not the parent, not the teacher, but they understand the kids in the community,” says Allison Bauer, Senior Program Officer. Ultimately, it is the athletes who will benefit from the initiative and “go pro in life,” she says.

The program’s goals include strengthening the city’s existing youth sports programs, creating new sports programs, and, through training, strengthening the ability of coaches to mentor kids and serve as leaders. The initiative also finds funding for proper equipment and refurbishing fields.

The 2009 pilot program focused on baseball and softball coaches from the East Boston Athletic Board and several branches of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, along with the Boston Neighborhood Basketball League (BNBL). A total of 600 coaches received training and over 90% of them requested more. Administrators hope to train 1,000 more coaches, offer a “refresher” course for alumni, get equipment donated and propel CHAMPS Boston as a fixed model for youth sports.

Troy Smith, Administrative Coordinator of the Perkins Community Center in Dorchester, noticed almost immediate changes in BNBL coaches and players. In player recruitment, training sessions, game situations and paperwork, a higher level of respect and professionalism became evident. “The tone of sportsmanship was the greatest feeling this summer,” Smith says, attributing the improvements to open, nonthreatening and courageous communication learned from the CHAMPS program.

“Some are basically coaching the way they were coached. Screaming and hollering when we were kids made us do it out of fear. These kids are different today,” he says. “It’s knowing how to communicate with each player, individually and collectively; [it] improves performance.”

The coaches are changing the face of the game by example - the sportsmanship, professionalism and respect trickle down to the players, who keep their competitive edge but play with a new-found level of respect. According to Smith, post-training games ran without the need for him to diffuse tempers and referee coaches.

He also recommends parent involvement.

“I strongly encourage parents to participate in this training. You put yourself in the position of the coaches, [dealing with] game and time management,” he says.

Ryan FitzGerald, Director of Recreation, Sports and Fitness for BCYF, observed that even small details mattered to newly trained coaches.

“The general sense of decorum became professional, polished and positive,” he says.

Wearing a collared shirt, an identifiable marker for referees to distinguish coaches, had proven to be a difficult rule to enforce in the past. However, FitzGerald noticed formerly training-resistant coaches not only adhering to the rules of the sidelines but also reminding each other to follow the dress code. After one particular game, a coach lent his collared shirt to an incoming colleague who had forgotten his.
Some recently trained coaches have careers that span 20-plus years.

“Even we went into it with coaches saying, ‘I know what I’m doing,’ not in a defensive or antagonistic way, but that’s how they feel,” FitzGerald says. After training, “they were mindful of how to positively teach and coach [their players],” he adds.

Dave Palacio, Assistant Athletic Director at the Mildred Ave. Community Center in Mattapan, coaches football, basketball and baseball.

“As a coach, you’re dealing with different attitudes and backgrounds with kids. You never know what they’re going through at home,” he says. From his CHAMPS training, Palacio has developed new ways to work with his team as a whole and as individual players.

“It was worth it because now you know how to deal with these things differently.”

Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club Teen Outreach Advocate Brandon Drawhorn emphasized etiquette, language and behavior to his boys’ basketball team after attending CHAMPS training. “We correct it as we go along; they’re more aware of language and behavior,” says Drawhorn. Statements such as “You play like a girl,” among other things, are “not tolerated and not positive.” His team continues to develop, on and off the court. “The kids have their own support system [in that] they are their own support system.”

CHAMPS Boston has worked with coaches in the All Dorchester Sports League, several Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston and BCYF organizations and plans to train coaches affiliated with Pop Warner (football and cheerleading) and local YMCA facilities. For more information, visit www.champsboston.org.