If you are currently an athlete, you probably have both good and bad memories from participation in youth sports. For some people, good experiences in youth sports are why they continue to love sports throughout their lives. Similarly, a bad youth sport experience can lead to dropping out of sports (or physical activity altogether). Because of the huge impact youth sports can have on future sport and physical activity endeavors, we must be careful how we interact with children on youth sports leagues such as junior roller derby.
Junior roller derby has become increasingly more popular in the last couple of years. There are over 70 teams that compete in the Junior Roller Derby Association. The mission statement of the JRDA is “…to nurture bold self-confidence in youth by developing teamwork and athletic ability while treasuring individuality within a culture of integration, encouragement, and service to others.”
Junior roller derby coaches should, of course, know this mission statement and be aware of how their actions support the goals of junior derby. At the most basic level, coaches should be nice and supportive of all junior derby athletes. However, research shows that just being nice is not always enough. Youth coaches should also emphasize that mastering physical skills is more important than winning or losing. It is also important for coaches to implement one-on-one interactions with junior derby skaters, which helps the skaters realize that coaches see them as people, and not just athletes. Coaches should also help junior skaters develop mental skills, such as using positive self-talk. Integrating these concepts into junior derby coaching behavior can help increase sport enjoyment, future participation in sports, and positive life skill development.
Just this year, the International Journal of Sports Policy and Politics also published a list of recommended youth sport policies that integrates what they call the 3P’s: performance, participation, and personal development. While some of these are not entirely relevant to junior roller derby, it is important for anyone involved in youth sports to keep these recommendations in mind:
(1) Regulate length of season to 3 or 4 months, with a maximum of 6 months.
(2) Limit lengthy travel to organized competitions.
(3) Introduce ‘grass-roots’ sport programs that focus on trying different sports.
(4) Do not implement a selection process of more ‘talented’ children until the specialization years.
(5) Provide healthy competitive opportunities, but do not overemphasize winning and long-term outcomes such as championships.
(6) Discourage early specialization in one sport.
(7) Allow children to play all positions in a given sport.
(8) Promote deliberate play within and beyond organized sport.
(9) Design play and practice activities that focus on fun and short-term rewards.
(10) Understand children’s needs and do not ‘over coach’.
Although junior roller derby needs to include variety, fun, and a de-emphasis on winning, this does NOT mean that junior derby shouldn’t be competitive. The competitiveness just needs to come from building intrinsic motivation to work hard and play your best, as opposed to simply beating the other team. Coping with loss is also essential to youth development in sports – it helps athletes become more resilient, continue to work hard, and focus on the important aspects of being an athlete.
So if you have a child involved with junior derby (or you help coach/volunteer with junior derby), make sure you are aware of your interactions with the athletes. Are you helping them love physical activity? Do they think positively of themselves, their peers, and their coaches? Are their experiences going to make them continue to be athletes in the future? For young athletes, even the smallest interactions can have a lasting impact. Every time you encounter a junior derby player, make sure your interaction is a positive one.
White, R.L. and Bennie, A. (2015) Resilience in Youth Sport: A Qualitative Investigation of Gymnastics Coach and Athlete Perceptions. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 10(2-3):379-393
Erickson, K. and Côté, J. (2016) A Season-Long Examination of the Intervention Tone of Coach-Athlete Interactions and Athlete Development in Youth Sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 22:264-272.
Côté, J. and Hancock, D.J. (2016) Evidence-Based Policies for Youth Sport Programmes. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 8(1):51-65.