Coach Rob Kurtz was recently named a 2010 winner of the Positive Coaching Alliance's Double-Goal Coaching Award. Rob coaches both the girl’s varsity soccer and basketball teams at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. His soccer team won the 3A Maryland State Girl’s Championship in 2008 and the 4A Maryland State Championship in 2009 compiling a 35-1 record over a two-year span. When Rob isn’t on the field or basketball court (which is rare!), he is a guidance counselor at Thomas S. Wooten High School.
flyBurst: What general advice do you give to parents of young children regarding sports participation?
Coach Kurtz: They important thing is to expose kids to a range of sports to see which one they enjoy the most and have a knack for. Sports provide enormous benefits for kids – physical, psychological, and social. For example, so many of the kids I work with as a counselor and coach – from 4th and 5th grade through high school – interact with their team as their primary peer group. The DC area is blessed with a developed youth sports environment that provides a large amount of options and benefits for parents and kids.flyBurst: Are all these sports options a blessing or a curse?
Coach Kurtz: It’s definitely a blessing, but parents need to closely monitor their child. “Monitoring” means asking questions like - Is my daughter or son enjoying this sport? Are they improving? Do they like the group of kids they are playing with? Do they connect well with the coach? Can the child (and parents!) handle the schedule and other demands of the activity? Let me give you an example. When I was a kid, I loved all sports – golf, basketball, soccer, and baseball. I was pretty good at most of them. When I got into high school, my Dad said, “You know Rob, you seem kind of short for basketball and a little slow for soccer. You should think about focusing on baseball.” It was good advice; I ended up playing Division 1 baseball at Rutgers University (though I now I wish my Dad would of steered me towards golf!). I don’t expect all kids to play or want to play college sports, but parents should help kids make adjustments along the way so they can get the most out of their sports experience.
flyBurst: What else can parents do to help their kid have a positive sports experience?
Coach Kurtz: They need to be a good consumer of sports services. I am biased, but to me the quality of coaching is absolutely critical. This is true for any age and at any level. I have nothing against parent coaches, but the fact that a parent has played basketball, football, soccer, etc., doesn’t automatically make them a qualified coach. Interestingly, the DC area has become such a hotbed of soccer talent because of the influx of international coaches available to youth teams. These coaches de-emphasized winning – particularly at the younger ages – and focused the programs on skill development. The kids in this area have greatly benefited.
flyBurst: Are you seeing a greater focus on skill development in this area?
Coach Kurtz: It's still very uneven. For example, the girls that I see in soccer and basketball are still frequently on teams where skills are not stressed. I see boys in middle school that can juggle a soccer ball on their toe 900+ times. Conversely, I have had the experience of asking a girl at a middle school soccer try-out to start juggling and they start tossing the ball around with their hands like it was a bowling pin! These girls may have great potential talent, but they missed out on the fundamentals. I will bet you they were never exposed to a coach or trainer with soccer experience. A large majority of the boys that I see had a coach who focused on skill development (e.g., controlling the ball) and didn’t worry about who won a U-8 soccer tournament! Basketball, particularly girl’s basketball, is very similar. The sport has suffered from not having enough emphasis on skill-focused coaching. I get many girls who show up in high school and they can’t dribble with their left hand or display other basic fundamentals that they should have learned before they arrived in my gym.
flyBurst: So, should parents all run out and get a top-notch sports trainer?
Coach Kurtz: Definitely not! First of all, parents needs to be good consumers of the services and programs out there. There are a lot of folks who will take your money, but your kid may not benefit much. Especially at the younger ages, your child should focus on exploring a range of sports to see where the best fit is from a social, time, cost, skill, etc. perspective.
At the same time, if your kids does show a talent and passion for something and is ready to commit to a sport - you should absolutely think about exposing your son or daughter to a skilled trainer. If your daughter showed a knack for violin that she picked up in the elementary school orchestra, then most parents would go the next step and hire a violin teacher. The same with soccer, basketball, softball, baseball, etc. – somebody working with your child could definitely help them get better.
flyBurst: Let’s talk about how parents should interact with coaches. As a high school coach, you must have parents offering all kinds of advice?
Coach Kurtz: I am actually very fortunate. At B-CC HS the parents of my players are very reasonable and have a great perspective on things. First of all, they know that I am very honest and will tell them what I think about their daughter. They appreciate that. To me the whole coaching thing comes down to communications and honesty about what I am trying to do. It’s just like the classroom. If a student needs to improve, the teacher should provide straightforward feedback that the student can act upon to get better. It shouldn’t be such a mystery. It’s the same in sports. If parents are honest – with themselves – about their child’s talent level, attitude, work ethic, etc. – they can more effectively help their kid implement better success strategies. Parents should look at the coach as someone who gives a dispassionate view of your child. They should also expect the coach to work to put your kid in a position to be successful. For example, if I have a smaller player on my soccer team with good foot skills, I am not going to put them at mid-field and make them go up against the biggest players. Too many coaches are team-focused and not player-focused. I try to be the latter.
flyBurst: Wait, isn't it team first?
Coach Kurtz: Well, it’s not an either-or situation. If you are helping your players maximize their potential, the team success will come. Whether a player has aspirations to play in high school or college or just participate in a sport, the coach should work on trying to improve the player. Too often, Coaches get caught up in wins and losses or other goals at the expense of helping to develop young athletes.
flyBurst: Any final words of advice to parents?
Coach Kurtz: Be patient. Parents need to, at times, stand back and let things play out a bit. Parents should look for the passion in their kids eyes and their love for a sport grow each time they are out there playing, kicking, throwing – what ever they are doing - with their peers or coach. Sports provides an amazing opportunity for kids to develop a sense of who they are and there are so many great teaching points that will have a lasting impact on who they become in life. I just love sports and what they have done for me. This is what I try to pass on to the kids that I coach.
Coach Kurtz can be contacted through his email at Robert_J_Kurtz@mcpsmd.org