VJ Stanley: Making Sports Fun, Play Hard But Have Fun
Over the years youth sports has changed from something kids did for fun to a means to achieve a goal. Whether it is to gain a college scholarship or to make an elite team, Vincent J. Stanley is working to bring the FUN back to youth sports. Stanley says, “Kids need to be kids and play for fun.”
Vincent J. (VJ) Stanley is a long-time coach in multiple sports and the founder and president of Frozen Shorts, which encourages children to play sports for fun. Stanley has written a book, Stop the Tsunami in Youth Sports: Achieving Balanced Excellence and Health While Embracing the Value of Play for Fun, which is a guide for families, coaches and players to encourage the idea of playing youth sports for fun. The book is available in paperback, E-book, CD and MP3 file.
The majority of children playing youth sports at age 10 quit by age 13, and overuse injuries among young athletes are on the rise. According to Stanley, both of these trends could be reversed by allowing children to play multiple sports and to play for fun, rather than to reach some elite level.
Stanley shares his experience and advice on why coaches should make sports fun and how they will be surprised with the results.
In recent conversations and presentations I have been presented with the scenario of how much different it is to play-to-win versus playing for fun. It has been presented to me in different forms and variations. The coach and organization, for multiple reasons, convince everyone they know how to win, and are going to coach the kids that way. (Knowing how to win is a concept that is so abstract that even professional athletes cannot define and execute it continually.) No one knows how to win.
It has also been stated on numerous occasions, and I understand completely how this thinking evolves in coaches and parents minds, that the kids “want the coach, to coach to win.” And yet the data shows in ALL youth sports studies, including our own, that the kids really want to have fun and play with their friends. Meanwhile many coaches are managing games instead of developing players.
Let’s analyze this and break it down to its basic components. Many coaches, players, and parents see this style of coaching, playing to win versus development, going on every game. They see this paradigm playing out where a coach just plays his top players. If the game is close the bench is “shortened.” But, he still doesn’t win!
They see it play out constantly in youth sports, high school, college, and the professional ranks. What they do not see in the upper levels is how play by performance comes into play. But that is a conversation for another essay.
In a recent conversation with a long time high school coach, I was struck by the fact he didn’t see how playing for fun ultimately had his whole team playing better, and that if done correctly and consistently, gave his team a better chance of winning on a consistent basis, versus playing to win. He had coached exactly the way to get the most out of the kids. Let them relax and have fun, but he did not see it that way.
He recounted a story about how his team was going to face the best team in their league, and since his team was clearly outmanned he didn’t tell his players the clichés of “working hard, you can win”, because unless something extraordinary happened, and isn’t that what we want, they were not going to win.
He said instead he got the team together for pizza at lunch and then before the game told his players to go out and play hard but have fun. He told them to try new things on the court and to pass the ball around a lot and not worry about the score. Whatever happened he was going to take the team out for pizza after the game.
The next thing he said to me, stays with me to this day. “AND YOU KNOW WHAT, THEY PLAYED BETTER!” He had a smile on his face as he described how well his team played and how they put a scare into this top rated team. He was genuinely proud of his kids for their effort and persistence. The fact that he got ALL the kids into the game was a source of pride. When I asked him if any of the “subs” played exceptionally well, he exclaimed, YES they did!
He recounted another game he coached and said to me that he wasn’t comfortable putting in his “subs” when his team was up 15 points. He was nervous the other team would come back and score. When I told him that interterm competition was something he could embrace by scrimmaging two equal teams in practice and just let them play, he smiled. Yes, the same smile my wife gives me when I ask her do something we both know she is not going to do.
But I knew he was thinking about it. I had planted the seed. It was up to him to see what was going on with his team and apply what we talked about to his own circumstances. Growth had to come from within, not without.
Coaches and kids learn more from internal realization than external force.
The next thing he said showed why coaches need to stop coaching and just let the kids play for fun. He said, “VJ, you know I couldn’t do that before, during, or after a game we knew we should win. The players wouldn’t stand for it. They want me to coach to win.”
So I then asked him to tell me how he was going to win the next game his team played. He said he couldn’t do it, no coach could. There were too many variables involved both on his team and the other team so that there was no way he could predict the outcome. I agreed. I told him that many professional team owners, coaches, and general managers would love to have a formula for winning. But in the all the time I have been around sports I haven’t heard of anyone who did.
I don’t know who said this as I heard it late one night on TV.
“All great coaches have great players, the rest of us are eventually unemployed. Take the Auburn football coach. Two years ago with Cam Newton at quarterback, he won a National Championship, now after finishing last in the SEC this year he was fired.”
However coaches who coach to get all the kids in and for EVERYONE on the team to get better and have fun as the season progresses, are the coaches I want to learn from. They are the coaches I want coaching our kids for they are going to teach life lessons of community, chemistry and teamwork.
AND they win both on and off the field more than the other coaches most of the time.
Youth sports are about inclusivity not exclusivity. PLAY FOR FUN!
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