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Youth Sports Reformer Bob Bigelow Talks about Sideline Coaching

Part Two of a series on Bigelow and his message.

Last week I wrote about the first segment of a lecture by organized youth sports advocate and reformer Bob Bigelow. This is Part two.

Bigelow on coaching:

He tells a story regarding the 1992 Celtics and his friend, Coach Chris Ford, as an example of the difficulty in teaching the pick and roll to future Hall of Famers, let alone a group of 9-year-olds. He is emphatic when telling the audience that we are teaching and coaching our young kids in ways that we should not be. We are throwing too many serial skills at them at once.                   

Next, Bob pulls out, and reads, what he refers to as the “ironic youth sports fable in America.”

A mother was making a breakfast of fried eggs for her teenage son. Suddenly her boy bursts into the kitchen, “MOM! CAREFUL, PUT MORE BUTTER IN – MY GOODNESS, MOM, YOU’RE COOKING WAY TOO MANY AT ONCE – TURN THEM, TURN THOSE EGGS NOW. MOM, WE NEED MORE BUTTER – WHERE ARE WE GOING TO GET MORE BUTTER? MOM THEY’RE GOING TO STICK – BE CAREFUL, MOM – YOU NEVER LISTEN TO ME WHEN YOU’RE COOKING EGGS! HURRY, TURN THEM - HURRY UP, MOM! ARE YOU CRAZY, MOM? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND? DON’T FORGET TO SALT THEM! USE THE SALT! GET THE SALT!

The mom says, “What is wrong with you? You don’t think I know how to fry a couple of eggs?” 

The son calmly replies, “I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I’m out on the field trying to play soccer.”

Bigelow smiles — hugely — and asks us, as parents and coaches, to think about what is happening in our kids' minds while on the field. What are they thinking about? What are they seeing while we are out there giving them advice and guidance?

“Ask yourself another question,” Bob challenges, “Can they hear you? Do they want to hear you? Can they process what you are saying? Do they wish you were somewhere else — not bugging them?”

“Coaches, how much do you think they can process and internalize while out there playing something that we call a sport?”

Bob notes that any athlete, regardless of age, makes at least two decisions per second on the playing field (a baseball batter has about a half of second to decide to swing). And parents and coaches are out there shouting instructions at the same time.

Bigelow suggests that by stepping back off the sidelines 15 to 20 feet “you’ll be less inclined to yell instructions.” He suggests that we look at our roles and ask ourselves if we are really contributing. “The more we speak, the less they listen,” he says. “Our voices should not be hoarse after a game. It becomes pitter-patter.”

“Make your points during practices," Bigelow says. “Trying to correct the canoe midstream is very, very difficult. Be very careful on the sidelines, the games are difficult to play as they are.”

While he expanded on his point, I thought about The Boy’s last freshman football game. I’d gone a few games in a row keeping my mouth shut and trying to enjoy the action on the field. But at that last game, my consecutive game streak ended. I’m guilty. I yelled, no, I screamed instructions to him while he was on the field. I pointed to him and told him to get his head into the game. I shouted, “Get the quarterback — split the double team — get low — don’t stop until the whistle.” I was literally blowing his mind to bits with instructions.

Bigelow then hits us hard with, “Can we really contribute? Think of ourselves on the sidelines. How much advice, no matter how well meaning, are you giving your children while they are out there struggling to make their two decisions per second? Run-stop-pass-shoot-pick-nose-whatever. And you’re out there trying to give them more advice. Be very, very careful what you’re saying and doing on the sidelines.”

Instead, Bigelow says we’d be better off talking to our buddies rather than trying to guide what is happening on the field. Everything else should be taught during practices or when the player is off the field rather than during play. Anything else, he insists, is worthless.

His mood and the subject shifts quickly to the weeding out of our young athletes. “Do you think anybody can tell the ability of a kid who is five-feet tall and 85 pounds? And how good or bad they are going to be 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 years down the road? There is not one person in the history of the world that has been able to do this and no one ever will.”

“Folks," he smirks, “they are 10 freaking years old. I can put most of them in my pocket. As I tell them all the time, you could have played 3,000 basketball games, hockey games; you’re still only 4’9” and 80 pounds. What does that mean? You’re just a shrimp that has played more hockey games. That’s what you are. You can’t tell and you never will be able to tell.”

Bigelow had nibbled around the edges of his biggest gripe for long enough. And from my front row chair, in a corner of a gymnasium in Farmington, CT, I was seconds away from watching him bite into his crusade’s villain with the force of a thousand pre-pubescent athletes.    

Next Week in Part 3: Bigelow goes off on “cuts” and “travel teams.”

Cynthia Kobus December 07, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Lost my desire to play soccer in college because my coach yelled at me the entire game... tell me, if I was good enough to play 70 to 80 mins of a colleged level game, why all the yelling? I was playing well, and getting shouted at constantly. I made it to the end of the season and then decided intramurals were more fun. It was rediculous. Told him at one point to just bench me if I sucked so bad that he needed to yell all the time. We had plently of subs. But apparently he thought the yelling was what made me play well and just kept me in.... I can't imagine how good I could have been if I could have focused solely on the game.
Cynthia Kobus December 07, 2012 at 08:41 PM
wow. apparently my college education lacked spelling instruction. *college level game*
jim hartzell December 07, 2012 at 09:23 PM
I have to say I was THAT parent. After being asked to leave FSA and Oakwood on occasions because of my voice. It took my son to finally tell me to CUT IT OUT and STOP YELLING!!! I am very proud of my son and his team but I finally realized that at 9-10 years old, they need to have fun. And being yelled at, whether its encouragement or coaching from the sidelines, it's still yelling. So I say "Let them play and have fun!"
Ron Goralski December 07, 2012 at 09:56 PM
What do you think of the 2nd comment at: http://simsbury.patch.com/articles/bob-bigelow-and-saving-youth-sports-8962977f
Cynthia Kobus December 07, 2012 at 10:40 PM
As a professor at a state college I have had many students with parents involved in every aspect of their lives. It is interesting.
jim hartzell December 08, 2012 at 12:22 AM
Ron, WOW is right. She has her comments and I am sure it MUST work for her family and friends but for the rest of us who aren't in her circle of friends, we have our opinions too. Coaching happens at practices not at games, the game is the time for the player to shine. To use all that they have learned in practice, and do there best and have fun. If more parents would volunteer and coach maybe they would have a different outlook after the second year.
Scott Wheeler December 08, 2012 at 04:03 AM
First rule I live by while watching my son play is to show respect for the coach who is volunteering his or her time to work with the kids. They could be home with their family relaxing to a good meal but instead slam something cold down and are out there helping the community. I have been very lucky to have great coaches for my son that make it fun but also bring some discipline at the same time. Yes we all want our children to be winners but to gain friendships, work hard, and have fun are my top priorities and show respect for the volunteers as there are not many of them.
Pamela DeFilippo December 08, 2012 at 06:02 PM
My girls are gymnastic athletes. When they are up on that balance beam performing back hand springs and dangerous dismounts, the last thing they need is to hear me yelling something. Kids need to focus on the game, nothing else. To do otherwise is to jepordize their safety and compromise their own performance.

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