Athletes Need Equal Playing Time Until Age 14

Posted: April 17, 2013 in Athletes, Good coaches, Lessons Learned, Parents, Psychology
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© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

 

When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?

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Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

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Comments
  1. Katie Shenk says:

    Meagan, this is a great post and one that every parent, coach, and youth sports organization should read. There are so many valid points made throughout your post that are often over looked when everyone is heading out the door to the field, rink, or court. One of the biggest challenges we face is lining up the perspectives, as you mention. Coaches feel pressure to win so that their sports organization can be “successful” and continue to grow in size. If they don’t win, parents will be unhappy and look elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s true because you are going to always have youth organizations that will want to win at all costs.

    What’s interesting is that I’ve had many conversations over the past few months about the psychological implications of playing time and the stress we (parents / coaches) are placing on young athletes – it’s making parents unhappy to see their children suffer. Yet no one is willing, or has determined how, to make a stand for change. As a coach, I can change how I interact with my players, but it is done on such a small scale. As a parent, I struggle with knowing that my decisions and opinions don’t impact me, but rather my daughter. While I can hope that one day she will understand why I made the decisions I did, she may have to suffer the near-term consequences as the youth athlete. These are only a few of the roadblocks to change.

    How do we get back to the core concepts of playing sports – an opportunity to be physically fit, to challenge the body to develop physically, and how to be an integral member of a team (regardless of playing time)? I wish I had the answer.

    The other added challenge we face is that the vast majority of individuals out there coaching the young athletes are volunteers who have had little to no training in coaching and/or child development. They, most likely, do not feel empowered to make a stand against a parent who becomes irate after losing a game because the coach implemented equal playing time. They feel it is their job to make the parents happy and thus lose sight of the importance of playing a sport for the fun of it and the importance of developing the child (physically and mentally).

    So, to answer your question, no. I do not think youth teams should have bench players. As athletes approach age 14 and beyond, playing time will not be equal, BUT there should never be a player that see ZERO game time. Period. As for the younger age groups, equal playing time should be a given and not something we need to mandate.

    As always, thank you for the thought-provoking post and here’s hoping we can make a positive change in the youth sports landscape.

    Katie

    • meaganfrank says:

      Katie,
      You bring up some excellent points. Depending on the culture of the organization, the pressure to win is pervasive. We need to consider what acceptance of this culture is doing to our kids. It breaks my heart to see kids so stressed about performance, living up, needing to win that they become physically ill or they get so sick of the environment that they quit well before they should be done competing. We can only control our own decisions, and on a micro level your choices as a coach ARE making a difference for kids. It does get more complicated when our decisions impact our own children, and I too have run into this with our kids. It is going to take a concerted effort to continue learning what the best decisions are on a case-by-case basis. Thanks for being invested in growing with me through this, and I too hope we can have a positive impact on kids.
      MMF

    • stephanie says:

      I can not begin to explain and express myself as well as Katie said it but when I read something and it makes me choke up, get goosebumps and be on the verge of tears, I know this is hitting home. I have three children, all that play competitive sports and this subject has been weighing heavenly on my mind. Quoted by Katie, “While I can hope that one day she will understand why I made the decisions I did, she may have to suffer the near-term consequences as the youth athlete,” is how I am feeling each day. I KNOW what I would like to say and do. I would love nothing more to try to make these coaches see things from my perspective and to talk about the damage that I think they are possibly doing to my child but at what cost? Will my child NEVER play? Will my child be treated differently? Will my child be dropped to a lower team b/c I chose to speak up? It is an awful for me to to think about and be responsible for.

      • meaganfrank says:

        Stephanie,
        I appreciate so much that you commented. Thank you for taking the time. It is these decisions as parents that drive us crazy. We want to be good parents. We want to do what is best for our children. And we especially do not want the decisions we make to adversely affect our children. I have suffered through this with our two oldest so I totally get it. If I am being honest with myself, the emotion I feel when faced with these decisions is fear. It is the overwhelming emotion I heard from parents I interviewed too, and I hear it in the questions you are asking yourself. This is such a worthy conversation. What are we all afraid of? We are afraid our kids won’t be able to participate, we’re afraid they’ll be told no, we’re afraid they’ll be hurt by vengeful coaches and we don’t want to be the reason they feel that. I think my approach has shifted a bit as a result of the research I’ve done for this book. Speaking up is something I can control. Helping our children through fallout from voicing my opinions, something else I can do. Seeking out a place for them to play, not because it is the highest level team, but just so they have a place to play… I can do that too. We need to start identifying the places we can each institute small levels of control to guide our kids to adulthood, but we have to let some of the emotions they will feel belong to them. We have a choice about protecting them from harm (driving ourselves crazy to do that) or preparing them for harm and guiding them through it. I choose the guidance role, but man is it tough sometimes. I sense this should be its own blogpost…stay tuned.
        MMF

  2. I agree that equal playing time should be a practice in youth sports; it’s the age breakdown that I’m not sure I agree with. At age 14, kids are entering high school and so BAM, they are suddenly hit with the fact that they have to fight for everything. I think that by 7-8th grade, which is more around age 12, kids should be gradually introduced to the reality that they will have to work for their playing time; it will not be given to them. Otherwise, high school sports will be a culture shock for them.

    • meaganfrank says:

      Janis,
      You make a good point. I’m conflicted about the middle school years…mostly because middle school years are so problematic in the first place. There is so much cognitive development happening for kids ages 12 and 13 that we have an opportunity to have an enormous impact on them as people. Can they be taught some of the “dog-fight” experiences and learn from those experiences? Certainly. The issue is, how do we decide which kids need to learn that? Would a gradual introduction to playing time woes include all athletes, or just the select few who are toward the bottom of the pool of talented kids? I don’t know. In an ideal world, what would it look like to gradually introduce middle school athletes to the reality that is coming in high school? You give me great food for thought. Thanks for weighing in.
      MMF

  3. Linda says:

    Thank you for all the great posts. I would ask this question however…. Is the issue so much about equal playing time or fair playing time. I ask this question because as I read the above posts I can very much relate. My heart is breaking for my child as his u15 lax team is approaching the final game for the state title. For much of the season all kids played in all the games, not necessarily equal time, but fair time. For the semi final game the coaches played only the starters with the remaining six kids getting maybe five minutes each. Shortly after the game An email went out stating how great this was and what a rare opportunity for the team and the town. Followed by the following statement which led me to this site and others like it. While all children will have the opportunity to play in the final game, it is our obligation to the team and the league to win as these opportunities are so rare. My son came off the field after the semis, and while many of the kids around him were celebrating, he was ready to burst into tears as he did not, at that moment, feel part of the team. I have coached for many years, both as a parent coach as well as prior to children. My emphasis was building a team framework, and encouraging kids to strive to be the best they could. I so wish that coaches would understand that although it is great to win, it is more important to develop the kids as players, foster a love of the game, create a “team” philosophy, and build up their self esteem. If coaches could do that they may find that they would still be able to win games. They might also stop asking why as kids get older they choose to drop out of that sport.

    • meaganfrank says:

      Linda,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I think you make a really valid point “equal” vs. “fair”. Adding up minutes does not necessarily provide kids with the “fair” opportunities of competing in the closing minutes of a game, or when playoffs are on the line. I am sorry your son had to deal with the decisions of his coach and hopefully it is something that can build great character in him. That character-building can happen with patient support from you and it sounds as though you are doing everything you can to guide him through it.

      Thanks again for commenting! You gave me great food for thought.
      MMF

  4. Larry Harlow says:

    Does not a coach who must play everyone become a better strategic coach? I have fought this battle many times.

  5. Adijatukubra says:

    Fabulous comment, only works if we can ALL believe it and walk the talk.

  6. Gwen says:

    I find the points in this article the typical response to playing time by most parents. On a competitive sports team, no matter the age, playing time is earned. If parents want equal playing time, then there are non competitive leagues that your child can join where everyone gets equal playing time. The ‘everybody wins’ attitude is what is wrong with our society today. Do you think a medical student who isn’t cutting it should be passed because it’s ‘fair’? Some might argue that the article is talking about children, not real life. Children need real life lessons. Not lessons that teach them that working for something less will still get you the same results. The children who practice and genuinely want to get better will if they are encouraged by the parents to do so. Parents who take on a ‘woe is me/my child’ attitude will raise children who think life is equal. These children grow up and are slapped in the face with the real world.
    The argument of ‘how will they get better if they don’t get playing time’… coaches evaluate players based on practice. If a kids shows improvement at practice, then they get more playing time.
    I personally want my child to sit the bench when he is not performing well. Why punish the rest of the players if my child can’t get his act together on the field? He earns his time. I recently saw where a team was in the running for the championship. The weakest link on the team played very little the last game. It was well known by most of the players that the kid caused multiple goals throughout the season. The parent threw a hissy fit because her child didn’t see much playing time during the championship game. The kid was fine when the team won… UNTIL the parent threw a fit about it. Why punish the rest of the team who did what they were supposed to? Parent’s need to wake up and realize life isn’t fair or equal. The sooner your kids realize this, the better they and society will be.

    • meaganfrank says:

      Gwen,
      This post is written from more than the perspective of a parent seeking equal playing time for her kids. I write as an athlete, coach and educator. Likely the biggest influence of the arguments I make is that of an educator. Do I think all kids should win? No. Do I think all medical students should pass just to make it fair? No. Do I think children (mind you this article addresses the mental and emotional needs of CHILDREN under the age of 14) should have a chance to play? Yes…absolutely and without the distinction of “competitive” or “noncompetitive” teams. I feel badly for the children you term “weakest links” and it is that attitude that drives seemingly less talented athletes away from sport entirely. As they are developing, they will and should make mistakes, but they should not be punished for not achieving . If we did that in our classrooms, we would simply stop teaching the kids who didn’t get the math stuff the first time around. “Johnny, I’m sorry. You didn’t get that math problem right on your test. You need to go sit in the other room while I teach the kids who are doing it right.”
      I don’t believe in giving every child a trophy when competing in games or tournaments. They need to learn how to win and lose. I do believe in wins and losses but in a team arena, too much damage can be done to kids if winning matters more than developing each and every child on the team. I also believe in encouraging effort and rewarding effort. The kids will eventually figure out, on their own, how they stack up to their peers, but I don’t think it is the job of adults to plant seeds of worthlessness as the children are LEARNING to play and compete.

      • Pete says:

        Meagan – I think you are missing one important factor. Motivation. I dont think anyone suggests that sitting the bench is or should be used as punishment – at least I hope not. However, why should one unmotivated player have as much playing time as a motivated one? Why should Sally play just as much as Mary, when Mary practices at home, and gives 100% effort and Sally does not? I think alot of what you say is true, but you are not considering the “emotional” impact of those players when they ask their parents, why do I have to sit the bench as much as Sally? And trust me there is an impact. I am sure there are 100’s of books on the psycology of children – I have read, well just a few of them. But there is on thing that is true and you dont need to spend 1000’s of dollars on books to figure out. Self Reliance – you can’t teach it in a book, it has to be learned. As I stand here today, a person who sat the bench…I learned at a very early age that my Parents were not going to complain to the coach which is so commonplace today. I had to figure it out – I had to practice in the backyard – I had to go to the coach and ask what I needed to do to play more. THAT IS THE MAGIC Megan – and that magic is lost in our youth, and its the Parents Fault. If there was one lesson our young athletes shoudl learn, it is that one – not how to throw or kick a ball. The complaining adults get too caught up in the complaining to see it…and unfortunatley that complaining mentality has taken hold of our society, and our youth. Certainly players of a young age should not be “Benched” – Ever. However, there should not be “Equal” playing time for all. And by the way I stand here today a person who was passed over years ago at my Job…only to find that the several people who I was passed over for…now report to me :).

      • nonplused says:

        Pete I think the point is if a kid doesn’t deserve playing time on the team he/she is on, they should be on a lower tiered team. It makes no sense to place a child on a certain team and then not play them. Where kids decide their effort level is evaluations. After that they are all equal for the season.

    • Ken says:

      If you think life isn’t fair or equal, then you shouldn’t be working with children.

      Perhaps you should be coaching a professional team…..provided you yourself can make the cut.

      Many parents have indeed woken up…..they want what is best for their children. We are not living in the stone ages any more…..we have an understanding of the psychological damage done to children with a “win at all costs” philosophy.

      The rewards of playing sports in a positive environment where play is fair and equal is worth the “hissy fit” you describe.

  7. Jack says:

    Gwen,
    I don’t think that giving equal play time to children is the same as “everyone wins.” Giving equal play time is about player development, not fairness or booboo kissing.
    There’s a saying that everybody knows, “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” It’s usually directed at players who aren’t using their teammates. You can look at it from another perspective also. It can be directed at coaches who want to play star players to win games at the expense of other players. Giving more play time to the best players hurts the team. By giving the better players more opportunity to play, you’re robbing the players who need more work of opportunity to develop in the game. Practice is a learning environment where plays are drilled and movements are practiced. Playing on a field against another team shows players how the training pays off and cements those plays and movements into the player’s subconscious. To take that opportunity away from the players who need it most, you weaken the team by having only a few really good players among a host of lesser players. A team with star players is only good when they’re on the field. Players quit, move, get injured, or take vacations. A better team would be one that has many good players and can stand on its own without the need for star players. If a preferred running back is missing, there is a whole team of them that know the position.
    It will seem obvious to the coach who wants to win games that you sit players who don’t perform as well as other players, and I will concede that it’s hard to sit a player when he’s playing hot. There are certainly times when the players, coaches and spectators want to see the best tight end catch one in the end zone. But to sit an elementary school child for 90% of the game because he isn’t performing to the coaches’ standard (it happend to my son at his last game) isn’t acceptable.
    Let’s not forget that on the other side of the bench are the spectators who want to watch their own star players. These aren’t stands filled with people who come for the love of the game. They’re not hauling their folding chairs and cameras to distant towns to watch a riveting game of football, or baseball, or whatever. Most people watching the game would not be there if their own star player wasn’t there. Grandma will not come to a game if her grandchild isn’t there. Try and point out parents who are there without their kids. You won’t count very high. As a parent, I come to watch my boy play. When I watch him sit on the bench looking down at his shoes, or I watch him ask the coach if he can play and the coach grabs the kid behind him, it breaks my heart. When I ask him if he had fun at the game, I don’t get an enthusiastic response with details of his daring do. What I get is a shrug and an “I dunno, yeah?” I’ll wager that if he played more of the game he would have more to talk about, and be proud of. As a parent, I would rather watch my child play in loss than to watch him sit on the bench in a victory.
    What should I say to him about it? Do I say that the reason he’s not playing more is because he’s not as good as everyone else? Do I tell him to try harder and maybe the coach will play him more? It may be true, but that’s how kids at the elementary level should be coached. It sends a message that he’s not wanted because he’s not good enough, or if he were better he would be liked more. This business of giving the better players more play time has to stop.

    Players should not be benched for poor performance. It’s not the job of the coach in grade school sports to win games, it’s to develop the players so they can win or lose the games on their own.
    The game doesn’t belong to the coaches, it belongs to the players. Let them play it.

  8. Ken says:

    There is only one opinion that really matters in this debate: the voice of the young athletes themselves.

    And anyone who is serious about youth sports has seen the studies done on this topic. And the results have always been clear…..even without these studies:

    Children play sports to have fun.

    They want a chance to participate and learn with their peers. Children care about playing and learning, not winning at all costs.

    Once adults realize this truth, this debate will quietly end.

    Professionals in schools applied this knowledge decades ago, and now schools focus on participation and teamwork. Youth sports organizations have been slower to catch up, but thankfully, there are signs of hope.

    The military too has always understood the value of teamwork. No one is left behind. Every member of the team is equal. No one is special.

    Athletes learn lessons of fairness, sportsmanship and teamwork in an environment where there are no “stars” only team members of varying ability, all striving to learn skills.

    Many adults do care more about giving athletes equal playing time than just winning. .

    But, it takes courage to give the developing members of the team a chance.
    It may mean losing a game. That is why educating parents about expectations is so important.

    Coaches are beginning to realize that their developing players are often more likely to continue on the team. And some are being bolder. I watched one game recently where a youth soccer coach told his team to stop scoring goals……they were winning a lopsided game, and he wanted his team to respect the other coach and players. The same coach lost a game because he played some junior players who let in goals. The parents knew his philosophy, and there was not one complaint.

    The children need to be the focus. As adults, we need to work as a team to get there.

    The coaches are the teachers. Anyone can put star players on the field and look good. Only the best teachers can develop all the players and have the courage to put values ahead of winning.

    It will take time, but if we only consider the children, this debate is over.

  9. I think athletes need equal playing time until age 49… in grassroots, anyway. And then maybe they might prefer more rest time anyway. Here in Australia, in the Beautiful Game (soccer) there are codes of conduct for coaches and for players which pretty much say what Jack says. It’s not the coach’s job to make the team win. It’s the players’ job to make the team win. The coach’s job is to make the players happy, confident and competent, so they can do so.

  10. nonplused says:

    If you aren’t going to play my kid, don’t take my money or put them on a lower tier team where they will play. I am not here to subsidize other parents, and my kid is not here to be a practice pylon. I think most parents feel the same but those parents who happen to have a top player of course immediately start seeing it differently. However, if the club started charging by play time and perhaps even charging the play time hog parents to pay the practice pylons to show up, once they realize what the fair financial implications of expecting favoritism in play time are they might change their tune.

    So it’s simple. If my kid isn’t going to play don’t take my money and put them on the team. I’ll take a lower tier team where he/she does get to play thanks.

  11. […] In high school soccer, I coach the highest and most competitive level 90% of American kids will play. As such playing time is not going to be divided up evenly, nor does it have to be according to Dr. Nicole Lavoi, Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports However… […]

  12. Brock says:

    I think kids should have equal playing time until 7th grade because they need to get ready for high school in 8th grade and they can’t find out what the sport is really like unless they get to play more.

  13. Ken says:

    This one is a no-brainer if you talk to the right people.

    Of course, if you talk to the adults who are organizing the sports, winning is so important. Its all about winning, the coaches’ son is special, and benching and cutting players is just a necessary function….just like in professional sports.

    The surprising thing we fail to do is to involve the children themselves in the decision-making. Of course, they are only children,so how could they possibly know anything? And they all want to win, of course.

    I suggest changing sports from being top-down, adult-driven, and involve the athletes, the children. If you do that, you will find that collectively, winning is less important than adults commonly believe. Most children just want to have fun, participate, and play in a environment with lots of positive reinforcement. They all deserve the chance to play, and if they “make the team” surely teamwork demands that they have equal playing time.

    But of course, we have adults who will nay-say that, and indicate that these competitive children need to be on winning teams. Often these are the same adults who push children in sports to the point of abuse. And we see the ridiculous antics of certain coaches and parents at the games. (Of course, some coaches and parents do not fit this description at all, and their ranks are, thankfully, growing).

    The school system and the governments are already a long way down this road focusing more on participation and healthy living than winning at the cost of the children. Probably less than one percent of child athletes have any hope of playing professionally, and having happier and more cooperative children might be more important in the long run than having unhappy and competitive children.

    I have played, coached, and have children that are athletes. My own solution has been to pull my children from overzealous teams. Other parents need to do the same, and to be vocal about it.

    If the kids were getting paid to be athletes, all the professional sport lingo and philosophy would be justified.

    But they are not getting paid.

    They just want to play.

    And they expect adults to treat them fairly and with respect.

    One day, we will get there.

    • nonplused says:

      Ken,

      It’s even worse than that. By not developing the whole team the coach leaves the team vulnerable to injuries to their top players or even recruitment by other teams. A coach should not be carrying any players he/she doesn’t feel they can play, as the longer term result will be the collapse of the team. And trust me the top players will get injured. If you go up against another win at all cost team, and you are relying on one or two key players, the other coach will take them out. I know it’s not very sportsmanlike but don’t be counting on sportsmanship. The way to beat a win at all cost team is to have too many dangerous players for their goon to cover, and to do that you have to develop all your players.

  14. Tom Callahan says:

    I’ve wrestled with this topic as a coach, a player myself, and as a parent of kids who found themselves on the bubble at various times in sports.I wasn’t satisfied in my first go-round as a baseball coach where minimum but not equal play time rules existed. I thought at the time, that I should try to be fair to all players including the more competitive ones who wanted to be on a team that had a chance to win at game outset. I decided that I did owe it to my players that if I were going to give them a lesser role that I personally had to offer opportunity for them to improve their situation. I did voluntary skills practices one evening per week instead of offering the usual go play catch with your dad advice that is sometimes given to the struggling kid. I won’t say the extra practices completely alleviated the inevitable playing time disagreements but I felt I was at least offering something.Even efforts like what I tried to do may come up short, in terms of fairness, it depends on point of view. I think equal play time rules until a certain age might even be a better way to dispense playing time. After such age, I still think the coach owes something in terms of offering a kid a chance to work themselves up other than tacitly encouraging parents to write another check to some skills camp or the like during the “off-season”!

  15. James Friskey says:

    I think that this article is spot on. I always will take the team that isn’t that good over the team that is all about winning. I follow the same words I know I did good job coaching not by my wins and losses but if the kid I was coaching got better at the end of the year. It teach some of the kids that winning is good but learning is better thanks I need to send this to some of the coaches that coach in our club

    • Nonplused says:

      I think another aspect to the winning/learning argument that does not get near enough attention is that whether a team will win more than they lose is usually determined before the season even begins, and has little to do with coaching or individual player effort during the season (assuming everyone is trying their best). Factors like which kid signs up for the club, how well the evaluations are done, and which tier the team is placed in have more to do with it than anything. If a team doesn’t lose a game all season chances are the club placed the team in the wrong tier, and similarly if they don’t win a game all season.

      In adult leagues this issue is easier to deal with because teams usually are fairly consistent from year to year and where they are placed is usually based on past performance. A typical strategy might be to have the top 2 teams in each tier “move up” the following season and the bottom 2 teams “move down”. However this is extremely difficult to do with youth teams as the teams are typically completely rebuilt every season based on evaluations. Many players end up in the same “group” for a period of time but that would be based on them developing more or less at the same pace. Unlike adult leagues, with youth teams the top few players move up rather than the team, so each season you basically have a new team.

      Does that mean coaching doesn’t matter? Well, it’s better to have a good coach than a bad one but most of the coach’s work gets done at practice, not during the games.

      For these reasons many youth clubs focus on player development rather than winning. The easiest way to win all your games is to put the team in a lower tier, but that doesn’t necessarily teach the kids anything.

  16. Mike S says:

    Meaghan,

    I really enjoyed reading your article and I could not agree more with your perspective. My girls have played softball since they were 7 years old, They are now 14 and 11 and still playing in programs that cost thousands of dollars.. During these past 7 years, I’ve seen it all in terms of the worst in youth sports.

    Some examples:
    My youngest daughter played every inning of every game at age 7, signed on with the same team the following year and really looked forward to playing. We paid the $1000 and the coach was really excited to have her on the team as the ninth player … that is until a better player came along. Long story short – the coach decided to only play 9 players nearly every game (you can play 11) regardless of the score. Of course he did not tell me ahead of time so that I could place her somewhere else and yes I did not learn about this new approach until my $1000 check was cashed. My daughter ended the season telling me that she never wanted to play softball again.

    My 14 year old was playing on a team and the coach decided not to bat her for nearly an entire tournament. We called the coach – after a long discussion she assured me that my daughter would not have to fight for playing time and that she would never be hit for again. Two tournaments later, my daughter did not bat – again after the $1500 check was cashed.

    The local town league sneaked into a conference room and passed a rule not allowing club players to play on the league team (the only town out of 39 that has such a rule). They knew going in that it would only impact my daughter. Not a word was said to me. At the end of the year, they sent several emails inviting her to tryouts only so that they could cut her because of the new rule.

    These are just a few stories I could tell.

    Youth sports in one of the only things that an untrained coach can work with kids and impact them for life. If I tried to open a school to teach kids math – I’d have to be certified. Ditto with day care, If I want to teach kids how to play a sport, in this case softball … here is the bucket of balls. No training, no certification, no coaching skills – just go for it. These coaches think that by watching ESPN, they are qualified to coach youth sports. As Bob Bigelow puts it – you’ve got plumbers, bakers, real estate agent, candlestick makers making decisions on the athletic future of kids as young as 6 years old. Oh, and I am reminded that they are volunteers doing this for free (some actually get paid but are no more qualified). The ones who do it for free aren;t really doing it for free as they get to bring their kids along and assure that they get playing time.

    In short, adults are ruining the sports experience for millions of kids. They are exploiting these kids. There is a nice hot place in hell for 2 kinds of coaches – one who does this profit – and one who thinks he/she is a great coach because he/she wins. Hold up the trophy and let me show you how great I am as a coach.

    Mr. Bigelow defines success as a coach as “if you least talented player wants to come back the following year”. I’d add to that – “every player wants to come back.”.

    Youth sports programs are driving kids away at an alarming rate. Many kids are now leavinb sports at earlier and earlier ages and never know the benefits of sports. Something really needs to be done. I need to deal with this for a couple of more years but once my kids move on to high school, I plan on pursuing changing the way youth sports are managed. Mandatory training/certification for coaches, playing time rules such as guaranteed 75% playing time for all, required membership in professional organization such as Positive Coaching Alliance, etc.

    I don;t really know how effective I will be but I do intend to add my voice.

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