I view coaches as part of a community rather than as individual leaders of opposing teams. Therefore, my suggestion for improving youth sports is to help take coaches to the next level by developing a new coaching education model that is based on collaborative learning. At present, my vision of this model is to contrast the ubiquitous in-out workshop/clinic or expensive week-long evaluation/testing based certification courses with a more long-term process whereby coaches lead their own professional development.
Small cohorts of coaches work collaboratively to improve their own coaching by looking at their own athletes (students). These coaches come together with a question and plan a practice (exercises, coaching points, learning objectives, etc,) around that question. One coach will coach that practice to his/her athletes and others will watch and observe athlete performance and learning. This is followed up by the coaches coming together to discuss athlete (student) learning. Coaches may decide to revise the practice for that coach or another coach to present to his/her athletes for the cohort to observe. Through this process coaches are able to rely on a combination of outside knowledge as well as their own coaching knowledge to improve how they coach.
There are several upsides for youth sports as I see it. First, this model may be more effective than the mentorship model in recruiting and retaining women and minority coaches as it gives coaches a supportive community for developing their coaching skills (this is not to say that the cohorts are organized around gender or race, but rather around developmental level and maybe sport). Also, this model has the potential to break down barriers between coaches on opposing sides which in turn may encourage positive coaching behaviors during competition and recognition among coaches that while they are part of a community, so too are the youth regardless of which team they are on. If my competition improves so do I.
It’s a work in progress…