Now that my children are getting older, and I’ve been through most of the youth- sports phase of their lives, I feel I can clearly assess how far this industry has come. Not to sound old-fashioned, but when I grew up, we didn’t have as many of the advanced leagues, sports academies and camps, and the multitude of professional development training that exists today in youth sports. As a young child, if you wanted to play sports, you simply joined a local YMCA, or if that was not affordable, you took part in the local Parks and Recreation leagues available. It didn’t seem to be as competitive as it is today; everyone wanted to win, of course, but we were also out to have a good time.
Today, it seems different. More and more young players are encouraged to play in higher athletic programs and leagues, including AAU, and on travel teams, for example. Nothing against these programs, they do an outstanding job of coaching and developing their players, which is part of the reason for their success. My concern is more for the players who aren’t as athletic, or don’t have the means to participate in these advanced programs or train with the elite coaches in professional academies, and so forth. Those players, it seems, often don’t get the chance to play when they get older, in high school or in other programs for youths of their age group.
I don’t fault the high schools entirely; after all, they’re feeling the pressure to put winning teams on the court and field, and so oftentimes they will pull their athletes from the pool of advanced players who they know have played at the higher levels. Makes sense if you’re a coach, but again, what happens to that segment of society that wasn’t able to take advantage of those training prospects growing up? It doesn’t mean they don’t have the skill or ability to be just as good, nor the heart to want to achieve just as much. All it means is they didn’t have the opportunity to be taught like many of their peers. That’s no reason to shut them out.
An article in Tennis Magazine(November/December 2017) about unsung heroes in sports is about a coach who addresses this very concern with tremendous success. The story is about David Steinbach, the head tennis coach for Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wisconsin. As the story goes, when asked to take on the head coaching role for the school’s tennis team, he had only one condition—that he be permitted to run a “no-cut” program. The school, in need of a coach, agreed, and that was the beginning of one of the most successful tennis programs in Wisconsin history.
Coach Steinbach is well respected and admired by his student-athletes, primarily because he treats everyone the same and expects each player to put their best effort forward, no matter where they are on the roster. When the young player at the bottom of the roster knows Coach is watching him as much as he is those at the top, they’re more motivated to try harder. His techniques and drills are designed for all to learn and grow in the sport to reach the best of their ability. That’s why today he has 115 girls on the women’s team and 80 boys on the men’s team. How does he manage it all? He has parents and volunteers who are more than willing to help and he trains them in the best way to bring these young players along in his system. The results speak for themselves, 13 state championships, 28 conference championships, over 1000 victories, and the 81-year-old Steinbach has been named “National Coach of the Year” six times.
The majority of his players won’t go on to play on their college team, nor will they be a part of the actual matches that won the state or conference tournament. However, as a member of the team, they are still champions and they carry that title with them along with their wonderful experiences on the court and with their teammates, in addition to all they learned from Coach Steinbach and his trained volunteers.
It would be nice if there were more like Coach Steinbach out there, as well as programs like his, giving all kids the opportunity to be a part of something larger than themselves. There’s no question it makes a huge impact,and very well may allow these kids to go further in life to achieve things they never thought possible, all because of this valuable experience. That’s what matters most, I think.