One way a coach can instill in youth athletes a sense of pride in their sport is to schedule a few minutes at the end of every game, or practice, to help work on the playing surface. Some of the better coaches already do this — many of us can remember a good coach or two that made this a part of their team’s schedule in some fashion.
To that point, I’m reminded of a great baseball coach I had when I was 14. In his first year, he took our team from last place to winning the county championship. He did a lot to change the culture and attitude of our team without making any big changes to the roster. One specific change I remember was that we began cleaning out our dugouts after every game or every practice. It only took a couple of minutes, but we always left the dugout cleaner than when we arrived. Then, win or lose, we would head over to a side area after games and our coach would have us run sprints. In these times of participation trophies and safe spaces, something as simple as having a team pick up trash off the field and cleaning the team bench area after every use can be a great start to improving attitudes and creating a championship team culture.
Work works — always has, always will.
Among every youth team’s equipment bags ought to be a couple of rakes, a tamp, or even brooms and dust pans. I’m not talking about full field maintenance here; just one or two small gestures that brings in a little humility and teaches us that we’re a part of something larger than ourselves. Youth sports are a great opportunity to teach us that we’re part of a community. Taking pride in our fields and facilities builds that respect and awareness and teaches us about our individual responsibilities to society.
It’s human nature – people appreciate and care for something better if they have to work and sacrifice somewhat for it, rather than having it given to them. The day our youth athletes start simple field cleanup and maintenance is the day we begin to drop our societal ignorance of the importance of playing surfaces and facilities. If we also instill in our youth athletes a little community pride and ownership along with some work ethic, all the better.
A coach’s mission should be to help athletes reach their highest potential and to build a sense of team. So, coaches would be wise to better educate themselves on the playing surfaces and subsequent influences on a particular sport. They then can pass this knowledge down to the youth athletes to better prepare them.
Coaches should be teaching youth athletes what to look for in a safe, well- performing playing surface. (They should also be teaching about proper footwear.) Coaches can make it a practical education by having the athletes apply some of this knowledge on the field after practice or a game, if there’s time. Not sure where to start? Just do a Google or YouTube search for “(your sport) field maintenance tips.” From experience, I assure you that almost all elite, professional athletes are acutely aware of their playing surface issues.
Once you have a basic plan of how you want to get the kids involved in this kind of program, make sure the facility owner/operator approves. Then, take it to your local business community. My guess is that many local businesses would love to sponsor such a work-ethic related program. A small donation to purchase a few tools and materials gets things rolling. One idea to get such donations is to offer a banner on the outfield fence acknowledging the business’ support. After some results, and a few before and after pictures for the boss’s wall signed by the team, perhaps some larger, out-sourced field renovation projects could find funding.
As a kid, I remember once throwing a paper cup onto the dugout floor, probably mimicking something I saw on TV. One of my teammates saw me do it and reminded me how we’d just have to pick it up after the game, so I might as well throw it in a trash can right now.