These few keys will help immensely to ensure the youth are having an enjoyable time.
Pitch “Count all” games. In this method of play, all horseshoes that score points count. This means that both participants will often score points at the same time. Kids really like scoring points and building up a score, so counting all points is popular. The alternative is “cancellation” where one person’s ringer would cancel the other’s ringer and no points are scored, or only the closest point counts. You will need to teach the youth both the “Count All” and “Cancellation” methods as they will certainly be exposed to both of them as they pitch in other leagues and tournaments.
Pitch short games. You want to avoid marathon games that will quickly burn out a kid. This is especially important for those new to the sport. Horseshoe America recommends 20 shoe games for youth leagues. “Shoe” games are games that are played to a set number of pitched shoes. Many people are familiar with pitching point games, “21” for example, however point games are discouraged for beginners who may not make many points at first. Additionally, it is difficult to predict the time length of a point based game and therefore hard to plan.
Even the more experienced youth tend to enjoy these short games over the longer 40+ shoe games; remember, Short = Sweet. If you are running an advanced youth league with experienced teenagers, 40+ shoes may be appropriate, but as a coach you will need to watch closely for youth who are tiring, becoming bored, or possibly frustrated. One advantage to short games is that if something is not going right in a game for a kid, the game is over quickly and you can then better coach the kid as to what to try in their next game. By this short game method, improvement is seen sooner and pitching enjoyment is abundant. Lastly, short games allow for many games. Kids like change and diversity. So, letting them play more people is very well liked. This also exposes the kids to each other’s differing styles of pitching and soon kids even start to help one another with areas they need to work on by giving tips to each other. If your league is participating in the NHPA’s sanctioned league and awards program the current requirement is that the league be comprised 40 or 50 shoe games. Caution should be given if your league has many new or young participants.
No Handicap. Handicap is a practice utilized by many horseshoe leagues to “even the playing field” between better horseshoe pitchers and those who may be less skilled. Kids have an incredibly pure sense of fairness. They tend to be sensitive to handicapping harming those who are good at horseshoes. Not only do they conclude it is unfair, it discourages improvement in them as they will have to give up more points the better they get. Although accepted in adult leagues generally, handicapping is strongly cautioned against in youth leagues. It teaches the wrong lesson that hard work and the resulting success results in “punishment” when in competition. Hard work and success should result in enthusiasm and an increased desire to pursue even greater success plus a hunger for higher-level competition. Even in youth leagues where 40 percent difference in ringer average has separated the high and low players, non-handicapping has not been an issue IF adequate coaching has been done so that kids are working first for personal success then second for the win. Lesser skilled kids tend to measure their successes on how well they did against the higher players. It gives them a challenge and goal for improvement. For the higher player, it pushes them to keep their game up and improving as they know those below them are gunning for their top spots in the league. One additional consideration, when setting up league teams the Coach or Director should ensure that no one team is stacked with all highly skilled pitchers, but rather they are disbursed across the teams. This usually gives each team natural leadership and improves competition.
Give Awards and Prizes. Youth thrive on recognition, both intangible and tangible. When asked about what they find most fun about pitching horseshoes, many kids will first identify the prizes they receive. The following are ways you can award kids for their learning and accomplishments; though albeit small, the value of the recognition on overall positive moral and enjoyment is immense. 1) Ringer treats. Kids love these. Simply place a paper cup or small bowl with non-melting candies such as Skittles at each end of the court during games. If a ringer is pitched, the kid who pitched it can take two from the cup, their opponent takes one. An added benefit is that both youth will start hopping the other makes more ringers! For kids who rarely make points, let alone ringers, they can take two for scoring a point and likewise, the opponent one. 2) Victory treat. The winner of a game is allowed to take a treat from a bowl on the directors table when they turn in a score sheet as the victor. This adds a little more motivation to play well enough to win. 3) Prize Wheel. A prize wheel is extremely popular with kids of all ages. At the end of each day you can quiz the youth about various components they have been learning. A correct answer gives them an opportunity to spin a prize wheel that may have various kinds or sizes of prizes they could choose from. All kids should spin the prize wheel each day. This gives kids added motivation to remember the coaching you gave them and it ensures that every kid wins something each day, no matter how they pitched. 4) Final Awards. At the culmination of your youth league you will have a Tournament followed by a BBQ and awards ceremony. Be sure all kids will receive an award for their efforts. However, top or most valuable awards should be awarded to the league tournament champions and the league team champions. Trophies are nice and appropriate for the champions. Patches and certificates of achievement are appropriate for all participants.