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Bird Brown: Grateful for youth coaches for molding our athletes

One of the benefits of having kids spread out over a number of years is that you get to witness sports being played from many different perspectives.

My oldest played most sports until high school where he played soccer his freshman year but settled on rugby to complete his youth sports career. My middle son was a soccer and lacrosse player with many friends on the school’s other sports teams, so I’ve watched my share of games at that level including a state lacrosse championship in his senior year, his only year of playing lacrosse.

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And my youngest, well before he got to high school, he lived by the motto of “if you can play it with a ball, I’m in.”

He settled on soccer and lacrosse in high school yet injuries and desire had him drop lacrosse after the JV level.

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The perspectives I have from my folding chair or from those cold bleachers at Ruby Field allow me the luxury of watching the games and the players develop and mature as they get older.

I also have had the privilege of being involved in high school sports as a girls’ and boys’ soccer coach and a JV boys’ lacrosse coach; being in the game gives one a far better understanding of the talent required to participate in a high school varsity or even JV level sport. It’s a different game than their club sports but still has an expectation of talent and athleticism to be competitive.

A good “feeder” system is extremely important. Watching my oldest and youngest sons play lacrosse at WAX and Gamber and compete with some of the best teams in the state, including Hereford, a program where my godson grew up to become a member of the Under Armour All-Star team, I realized why some of the best teams in the state come from those areas.

Hereford is one of the top programs in Maryland state at the high school level as perennial state championship contenders. Westminster battles it out each year with its county opponents for the county title then go on to be strong contenders in the playoffs, competing each year for the state title.

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But Gamber and Hereford aren’t on their own.

I was at many a lacrosse or soccer tournament when my kids were younger where the kids from Freedom and North Carroll programs were having equal success against some of the better clubs in the state.

Many of those kids went on to play for the programs at Liberty, Century, and South Carroll, some of them also bringing home the state hardware.

The coaching our kids are getting these days is a far cry from when those same coaches were coming through their respective youth programs as players.

Many of the local youth coaches have played at the collegiate level for some high quality programs and coaches and bring the same level of instruction to the youth programs. The coaches they may have had were dads that just wanted to be involved in their kids’ sports but with no real playing or coaching experience to speak of.

Many of the state licensing organizations now require youth coaches to receive a minimum of training in both sport and non-sport related coaching and managing of a team. Recreation councils and clubs now offer several opportunities for their coaches to receive training from experienced coaches in addition to their required licensing.

I was fortunate enough to work a few times with some WSA travel and recreation coaches that shared the passion for the game.

The competition they face is also far superior to what it used to be. To find better competition, local programs had to travel to far away places but now practically every youth program offers enough levels of competition that you can find the same opportunities closer to home. In soccer I think you could bring back a county-only travel program as the competition would be there and the travel significantly less.

Equipment has also come full circle. I was laughing with a friend this weekend that when we played lacrosse we were lucky to have matching jerseys. Now, kids not only have matching jerseys, but their crazy shorts, socks and wrapped helmets and their ultra-light sticks that cost in the hundreds of dollars help them stand out on the field.

As high school coaches, we are grateful for the time and energy that our recreation and club coaches put into the sport and the love of the game they pass along to the kids. Every one of us has an obligation to pay back to the programs that helped us get to where we are as players or as coaches and to show gratitude for the work being done.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.”

We owe at least that to the next generation of players and coaches.

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