Jerry Norton, a retired aerospace engineer and lifelong youth sports coach in the Ponte Vedra area, believes adults should minimize their role in youth sports and refocus their attention on teaching valuable lessons to young athletes.
In his book entitled “Unintended Consequences: How adults took the fun out of youth sports,” Norton argues that parents and coaches are hurting youth athletes by getting too involved.
“The book explains why parents, why adults, and that includes parents and coaches, have ruined kids’ sports,” Norton said. “Not that there aren't good coaches out there, there are many good coaches and many good parents, but the preponderance of adults in youth sports have really upset the whole applecart.”
Norton revealed that, historically, youth sports were intended to be recreational activities for kids to come together and play in local communities – until adults got involved in 1948.
“Youth sports became the golden egg for parents, and money and scholarships,” he said. “With those things at stake, parents got severely involved and very poorly involved.”
Parents began to overvalue winning, and coaches stopped teaching fundamentals, Norton added. Instead of preoccupying themselves with wins and losses, the youth sports coach said adults should be trying to strike a healthy balance between “competitive” and “fun.”
"They shouldn't be exclusive; what happens, if you do it right, then you're assured that both will be critical pieces," he said.
Youth sports should be "kid competitive" rather than "adult competitive," explained Norton, because overzealous coaches can harm the physical and mental wellbeing of young athletes by pushing them too far.
"That's when coaches do crazy things to win," he said. "They'll have their players use diuretics to make weights."
Citing a hot-tempered flag football coach who physically abused a young athlete after dropping a pass, Norton noted that fervid adults can endanger the health and safety of kids. In doing so, Norton argued that such behavior has been used as a pretext for youth football detractors to identify the sport as "uniquely dangerous" because adults have chosen to value winning over safety.
"But football is not a uniquely dangerous sport," Norton contended, citing an article entitled "In Defense of America's Game" that he said provided "very good insight."
According to Norton, part of the problem is kids are being taught that winning itself is more important than striving to win.
"Striving to win is the lesson, having nothing to do with football, having mostly to do with life," he said. "You should always try to do your best, you should always strive to be better, strive to do well, strive to do better than the next person. That's what competition is all about, and I have no problems with competition."
However, Norton delineated between "striving to win" and being obsessed with it.
"That [obsession] is not striving to win," he said. "That's an overzealous coach more consumed with winning than having his players learn how to get better and then how to excel and then how to compete."
Norton’s book also covers the verbal abuse of officials by parents and coaches, which the author decried as behavior that doesn’t belong in youth sports. Norton admitted that some level of heckling might be part of the culture of professional leagues, but he explained that it is "not what should happen" in youth leagues. Conversely, Norton said coaches should act as referees, mentors and instructors for both teams to help kids improve while maintaining a fun, competitive atmosphere.
Norton’s book is available on Amazon in paperback for $14.95 and via Kindle for $6.99. For more information, visit http://www.coachjerry.com/.