The Four Roles in (Youth) Sports

Coaching youth sports is a combination of skills, psychology and patience. Not necessarily in that order. To me the top goals of youth sports are to teach kids about teamwork, camaraderie, and ultimately something about themselves.

AA Bruins --- Team Sweatshirts (front)I have coached, managed, and have been an active parent in youth sports for the past 10 years or so. I have been fortunate and privileged to spend time teaching dozens of kids about sports and about themselves.

One of the best lessons I learned was from Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching. I was lucky enough to attend one of his Youth Sports seminars. He uses a lot of examples to explain how to encourage our youth to engage in sports by being a good steward for their efforts. On particular point has stuck with me for many years is The Four Roles in Youth Sports.

He told us the story about the Four Roles in Youth Sports and that you can ONLY occupy one role at any given time.

He said you can be a:

  1. Coach
  2. Player
  3. Umpire / Referee
  4. Fan

And to re-iterate you can ONLY occupy one role at any given time. I have used this list of four roles when umpiring and it came in quite handy to calm an unruly “fan” and a Little League baseball game.

Real World Example –
The Four Roles of Youth Sports in Action


I was umpiring a Little League baseball game with 9-10 year olds (a AAA game – if you know the LL levels) and one particular “fan” was standing behind the backstop and yelling at the kids about when to swing and when not to swing. It was distracting and not in the spirit of youth sports.

I called time out and spoke to the coach about his “fan” and his detrimental efforts on the game. The fan continued to yell at the kids. I looked at the coach and he indicated that it was OK for me to deal with it directly.

I called time out again and spoke to the fan – just to him –in a quiet enough voice so that we could hear each other, but it would not go beyond us. He decided to yell his replies. At which point I raised my voice loud enough so the fans could hear me and I asked him if he knew about The Four Roles in Youth Sports. He said he had not heard of them. I continued in the same loud voice to list all four roles and that you can only play one role at a time. Then asked him --- Which role are you playing now?

He sheepishly answered “Fan” and I let him know that the role of the fan role in Youth Sports is to encourage the kids to play their best and to cheer them on.

I asked him if he did indeed want to play the role of a fan and he agreed. The game continued without further incident.

My initial thought was that the coach would handle this situation – as an umpire I defer to the coaches to manage themselves, their players, and their fans. When it was clear that the coach was unable to effect a change I stepped in. Again, my initial thought was that this would be a brief conversation between myself and the fan. However, as I learned this wanna-be fan had never learned the roles and responsibilities of being a fan. I was happy to oblige and help him learn about the Four Roles in Youth Sports. After all this was a little league baseball game with 9-10 year olds.

The End Result

The coach and the families on the team thanked me and apologized for their fan. They let me know that he had been doing that all season and they were not sure what to do about it. They said that I was direct, yet subtle, in my discussion about the Four Roles. A few asked me to repeat it. I let them know if was not mine and that the credit goes to Bruce Brown.

I saw the “fan” a few games later. He called me aside and let me know he was sorry for his earlier behavior and that he has since shifted to an only positive tone and cheering all the kids on. I let him know I appreciated his kind words and that the kids probably did too.

Why share this story?

The goal of sharing this story was NOT to imply or encourage confrontations while umpiring. It was just to show that there is a really simple way to help people understand what their role should be in sports.

Alex - shooting 4 By explaining these four roles to the managers / coaches and asking them to pass this on to their teams – parents, players, fans, and potential umpires it may help them keep the focus on the intent of youth sports.

Next time you are attending a sporting event, especially one with kids, keep The Four Roles in Youth Sports in mind. I think you may even enjoy the game a little more.

If you have a story or parable about youth sports I’d love to hear about it. Please comment here or send me e-mail.

Thanks for reading. Remember. It’s about the Kids!


David A. George said…
Great post Jeff - I've been coaching for years now and this will come in handy as discourse.......Hope things are well!

Anonymous said…
I agree- this game is about the kids. To the dad (you know who you are) that stood behind the backstop and yelled at my son "full swing bunt" not once but twice, he DID hear you. He was a call up this year (never played Coast) and that was one of his first Majors games. We need to remember that we are all neighbors and friends... I know sometimes competition gets the best of parents, but negative comments like these do hurt feelings.
What a great way to handle the situation Jeff!

It IS and should be about the kids, but unfortunately sometimes not everybody understands that.

Kudos to you, your fellow umps and coaches and the fans that do understand.
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