Ah, fresh cut grass, sunshine and multiple fields populated with kids ages 7- 14, learning the fundamentals and having fun.
That pretty much sums up my first Weplay Grassroots adventure with Kim yesterday. We'll that and the pages of notes we gathered after talking to a handful of seasoned youth sports coaches. Here's a summary of where we ventured, who we spoke with and what we learned:
Morning Stop - Friends Academy Summer Camps
Location: Locust Valley, NY.
We arrived at The Friends Academy just in time for the morning sports session. *Note: Kim is an alumni and former counselor at the camp, which is also held at her old school. After a quick tour, we immediately met up with Rich Mack, the camp director. In no time, we jumped in the golf cart and rode out to the football fields where, Coach Stephen Carroll was leading the morning flag football session.
About Coach Carroll:
High school varsity football coach for 25 years
Made the playoffs or better 16 of the 25 years
Three of his former players made it to the pros (NFL, AFL or international)
Father of two athletic college age sons
Close coaching staff
-Areas of Discussion -
Fundraising and Financials:
Key fundraisers include car washes, bowling night and clothing drives. 50/50 raffles and other "chance" outlets are not allowed both by high school or youth administrations. This is slightly frustrating for him and his team, since raffles can often be great fund generators.
Do any of you run into this issue? How can Weplay help serve your fundraising needs? Is there something we can do in particular to help?
Alumni participation, sponsorships and engagement is also a key resource for Coach Carroll and his current teams. As he put it, "Anyone who comes across my field of play is like family," he said. Helping see his kids through school and into higher education and elite play is something he is very passionate about.
Because of this mindset, former players often return or make contributions to new teams. He even had a player who went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers, purchase championship rings for one of his teams a couple years back.
Are alumni or community building programs big for your team, league, etc? If so, share a few ways you keep in touch and facility mentorship programs.
Coaching at the high school level means Coach Carroll often exchanges practice footage with other coaches in his district. Even more important, is the time he spends reviewing practice and game footage with his own players. Kim and me discussed our media galleries on Weplay and he was confident that the players would be interested in reviewing clips (especially of themselves) online - because they could do so at home and without sharing a dvd.
Do you and your players review game, practice or competition footage as a unit or at home? If so, what can Weplay do to help make this experience better or more convenient?
Coach Carroll is also an amateur photographer. His camera is awesome, by the way. He often stops by other games and tournaments in his community to take photos. While he has a media pass, he generally doesn't have too much of an issue capturing all the winning moments. However, he did say he would like a place to share his content, and act as a resource for the greater sporting community.
Kim and me jumped in and discussed our Weplay Local features. We explained that Coach Carroll could create a fan page for his photography services. He could list his services by state, city and community so fellow residents can become a fan of his work and see where he'll be taking photos next. Plus, others can contact him requesting photo services.
Do you think photographers in your community would pay a small advertising fee to be listed in our Weplay Local hub as a community photographer? Where do you normally get your team footage, especially when playing in a larger tournament and or championship?
Coach Carroll and his high school players meet about six days a week. They begin summer work outs quite early (June 28th) with practices Mon-Wed, and scrimmages against local teams on Thursday. He says they start so earlier because their league is competitive.
Early practices are also important to Coach Carroll because it provides extra time to build up incentives. His outlets include: player of the week, helmet stickers and visual team recognitions like a picture or name wall where he lists a player who has done something particular extraordinary.
What type of incentives can Weplay add to help you recognize, award and build up your players and athletes?
How soon before season play do you and your team begin meeting?
Coaching as a Team:
Coach Carroll hosts a "coaches bbq" each summer to begin prepping for the season. He also facilitates things like a pre-season picnic where players and coaches can enjoy informal/non-sports focused relationships.
During camp time, he also requires that everyone on the team, coaching staff or volunteer, participate in the "team skit". Anything from joke telling, funny dances to inspiration stories are shared, and he believes it is one of the best ways to help his group unite as one - no matter the age (remember he's primarily working with high school varsity players.)
One other notable event Coach Carroll uses, is a captains meeting. The leadership of the team attends a personal dinner with Coach Carroll where captains discuss ground rules, sportsmanship and share leadership skills.
"We're all the same, expect these players to expected to jump in and help facilitate in times of stress during the season," emphasized Coach Carroll.
Then it was back to the golf cart for a ride over to the baseball fields and lunch area. Coach Ed Moeller and Ron Abatelli awaiting our arrival.
About Coach Ed Moeller
38-year veteran soccer coach (all ages)
3-years High School JV Softball coaching
About Coach Ron Abatelli
Football, wrestling and baseball coach
33-years of experience
Son played college baseball
The first thing we jumped into was incentives. The coaches showed us a baseball with "MIP" written on it. They were going to give it to a player who started off the skills camp on the wrong foot, but whom was now showing strong signs of potential.
First and foremost, both coaches stressed that even the smallest incentive or words of encouragement can do wonders. They try and stay positive and give out constructive criticism. The also believe in visual incentives like the "Outstanding Player Wall," were images of notable athletes are displayed each week (with a short blurb about why they deserved the honor), and remain on the wall until the completion of the seasons. They give out daily awards as well as recognize birthdays and other notable holidays that their players might take part in.
What type of awards, trophies, custom gear are you interested in?
Throughout the season, both coaches said they estimate out of pocket spending at about $500-$600. Mostly on incentives and other team happenings (driving to a special non-school/league funded tournament, buying ice cream for the team, buying special trophies, etc).
About how much do you dish out coaches? Do you have tips for other coaches, who may want to get an estimate on extra expenses?
While they don't run team websites, they said that their players would be very engaged in a platform that allowed them to share props or awards with teammates. We of course discussed the Props Wall and all our cool custom printing options that can be purchased on Weplay.
Both coaches say they start the season with a code of ethics and parent contract. These are important for both administrative/league rules as well as building strong team ethics. From here, they jump into fundamental development and eventually evaluations. Meaning the test each player to see what they are having trouble with and what things they excelling at. From here, they can set an appropriate pace for the season.
How do you evaluate your players/athlests? Can Weplay help make this system better?
Bridging the Gap:
Coach Moeller and Coach Abatelli, obviously veteran coaches, both shared that kids they work with today simply don't share the same outlook or mentality about sports. In fact, in some cases, they feel their players don't really know how to even start a pick up game or just go outside and throw a ball against the wall to work on catching skills. Thanks to technology and other areas of stimulation, kids are not playing outside as much as they did when these coaches were younger. Because of this, they say that across the board, skill level is lower than it was when they were kids.
How can coaches help players/athletes develop and enjoy sports more when battling with the web, video games and tv?
Soon it was time to leave the golf cart and players and coaches at the Friends Academy behind as we headed to the Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club. The facility was buzzing as some elementary age kids were stepping off the bus, after a field day outing just as we arrived.
We sat down with Marc Bilbrey, associate director of the club, after taking a look at the various rooms and courts.
Turns out this Boys & Girls club alone hosts about 2,000 sports participants per year, with about 600 of those kids playing basketball. Approximately 90 percent of coaches are volunteers. There are 10 full time staff members and about 25 part timers helping out too. Since the Boys & Girls Club is not federally funded, most of their funds come from grants and private donors.
For this reason, sports programs require just one practice per week and one game per week. The hope is that kids will come and play, whatever the sport may be, during the remainder of the week. While they do not encourage direct coach to player communication outside of the facility (safety/organizational mandates), they do want to share media, notes and great stories from games. That's when we suggested they create a Weplay fan page for their sports programs. This way folks can share photos/videos, check out cool news and help promote the Boys & Girls programs, without team utility features.
Since neither Kim or me had much experience with the Boys & Girls club growing up, this was a wonderful learning experience. Thanks to everyone at the club who chatted with us!
Do you play at a local Girls & Boys club in your area? If so, how can Weplay best help you?
Reflecting on our time at the Friends Academy and the Grenville Boys & Girls club, Kim and me both agreed that it was an invaluable experience. Not only did we learn the above facts about youth sports in the Long Island community, we also left with some other valid food for thought (thanks again coaches for this insightful feedback). Let these more difficult topics/question marinade, then share your thoughts and suggestions:
Coaching players with mental disabilities (ADD or ADHD). How do you help facilitate a team environment where some players may do well when focusing on one task, but fall short when they must, block, defend and tackle a defender all at once? How do you tweak practices to accommodate those players who may have setbacks or challenges?
How does a coach or player deal with stigma associated with race, gender and so on? Is this discussed during a ground rules meeting? What happens when something negative occurs during a game or tournament - is their a team plan to avoid and remove a player or team from the situation? How does the team stand as one in times of distress?