Mike DiBiasi, MS, RD, is a sports dietitian with UPMC Sports Medicine, but his first job was a youth sports coach with the YMCA. He was a teenager, and he coached 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds just learning to play sports. The program featured four sports: soccer, floor hockey, basketball, and T-ball.
It was all about teaching fundamentals, DiBiasi says. The kids learned how to pass, kick, throw, hit, and work with teammates. But he learned something, too.
“It got me falling in love with helping athletes be healthier,” he says.
It also made him think a lot about the role youth coaches play and the benefits of coaching. Not just for the kids, but for the adults who volunteer their time.
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Why Become a Youth Coach?
Coaches don’t have to come in with the healthiest fitness habits or be in best shape. But they should be ready to teach, inspire, and be present.
“The point of being a coach is to plant trees under whose shade you may never sit,” DiBiasi says. “That’s one of my favorite sayings.”
It rings true when he thinks about how much impact a good coach can have — in ways they may never know.
DiBiasi ultimately went to school to focus on exercise and nutrition. He now works with every level of athlete as the director of Sports Nutrition at UPMC Sports Medicine. This includes middle school and high school athletes, as well as high-level collegiate athletes and even elite athletes.
One thing he knows for sure is that he couldn’t do what he does without the dedication and hard work of youth coaches. These are the people who are often a young person’s first experience of a sport.
It’s why becoming a volunteer youth coach is such a great opportunity to make a difference. Besides getting the chance to teach great life and teamwork lessons, you also derive physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
For example, coaching in a youth sports program can help you get in shape. “A coach who wants to abide by their own philosophy will often want to improve their health,” he says. “When you’re trying to pass good habits along, it helps to live by them yourself.”
Not sure what that might look like? Keep reading! DiBiasi has some advice.
Who Can Be a Coach?
Many people want to get more involved in their community but aren’t sure how. They don’t want to serve on a board or run for office. Coaching is a great option, and one that doesn’t require a background in exercise science or nutrition.
“You just need a passion for being a mentor. And a desire to teach and elevate someone else,” DiBiasi says. “When kids recognize someone who wants to be there for them, that can have a huge impact on their lives.”
In many cases, you don’t need a strong knowledge of any particular sport. Many organizations will train you or partner you with others. DiBiasi says a great example is Kids of Steel, which UPMC is affiliated with.
This Pittsburgh training program helps motivate kids and their families to run and walk together. The idea is to complete 25 miles of “training” ahead of a marathon, and then run 1.2 miles at the marathon. “So it’s a marathon’s worth of running over several months,” he says.
Coaches get support and training from the organization. What he loves about it is that coaches learn how to integrate healthy programming into daily life. It can be a game-changer for a kids, their parents, and beyond.
“Just helping kids feel like they belong to something can affect the whole community,” he says.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Cycling League, a mountain biking program for student-athletes, is another great opportunity. The coach training is more involved, but you don’t need any experience to get started.
Local YMCAs and community recreation centers are also great options. “These organizations are always looking for volunteers,” DiBiasi says.
Coaches Need Coaches: How UPMC Can Help
The reality, DiBiasi says, is that coaches need coaches, too. As you’re motivating young athletes to move and improve their skills, it’s beneficial to have someone motivating you. “We need to learn and develop ourselves, so we can pass it on,” he says.
This is why DiBiasi is a big fan of Sports Performance at UPMC Sports Medicine. The program happens at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, where sports performance experts work with all levels of athletes and active people. This includes youth athletes just learning and older adults trying to get back into shape.
“Our strength coaches can teach you how to be more fit and move better,” he says. “A coach can help you get back to where you want to be. They can also help you recognize your mental and emotional state around exercise.”
Being in the right mental space can help you to better inspire kids to develop lifelong habits around fitness and movement.
The strength and conditioning program offers both group and one-on-one sessions. “The coaches tailor programs for the individual,” DiBiasi says. “They’ll meet you where you’re at.”
DiBiasi compares it to his own experience. “I’ve worked with strength coaches even though I am a coach myself. I get a better workout and know I’m tailoring my goals more specifically when I have that emotional, physical, and social support.”
Learn more about Sports Medicine at UPMC.
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About Sports Medicine
An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.