Monday, May 11, 2009

Athletes are not created equal!

There has been a clear trend in youth sports programs toward becoming participation based as opposed to performance based. While there is clearly an age where this is and should be the primary focus, I believe that we are extending the trend into ages where competition and performance should begin to matter. When six year-olds are playing T-ball or soccer, participation and making the experience a fun, positive one should be a priority. However, waiting until children are in high school or even middle school to learn the importance of striving to succeed through athletic achievement is waiting too long. By that time, we have already created many habits, thought processes and expectation levels not centered around performance. Then, all of the sudden we expect them to begin to understand how to deal with successes and failures.

Isn't it time that we recognize that all athletes are not created equal, regardless of age. We begin to separate children based on ability at the very first opportunity in school programs. There are advanced groups in every subject in academics all through elementary school. Music programs have students who sit in first chair. The choirs at schools and Churches offer solo parts to the better singers. Those who are ahead or advanced or gifted are given opportunities to succeed and enhance their talents, without regard to the despair or hurt feelings it may create in other participants. Why is athletic competition regarded differently?

Youth sports programs today appear to be more focused on being sure to create a fair opportunity for the players with less talent or experience, at the expense of ensuring the development of better players and success of the team. Basically, I contend we are dumbing down our leagues, relaxing the established rules and creating an environment where it is simply easier. Showing up is enough....not creating an understanding that hard work will create opportunity. Wanting to play first base is enough....rather than actually having earned it through practice. Sometimes you get to play even if you don't come to practice. If a young person was very talented at mathematics, but were only allowed to advance at the rate of the bottom third of the math students in a particular class, most parents would not stand by and allow this to happen.

This attitude is incorrect from another perspective as well. The participants who are less talented or experienced are being put in positions to fail rather than succeed. A coaches job is to find a way for players to contribute and be successful. If a young person is not an accomplished goalie for their soccer team, but wants to is unlikely that they will be successful. That negatively impacts the team, but also that individual is going to have to deal with being unable to help the team or perform well. If you contend that players need opportunities to play to find out if they have talent or skills, I believe that is nonsense. They get those opportunities in practice. My belief is that we are not being fair to the less talented players by putting them in positions that they are not ready for. If a young person was not a good reader, but the teacher continually put them in the higher reading group and required them to read out loud to the would their confidence level be? Most parents would not stand by and allow this to happen.

Athletes are not created equal. Students are not created equal. Nobody is created with the same level of ability and making rules to ensure that ability is not considered in determining playing time or position is just crazy. Why is it that athletics is on its own island when it comes to these issues. Kids who can't sing don't get leading parts. Kids who aren't attractive do not land modeling jobs. Kids who are not strong math students do not make the math team. Kids who are poor dancers are placed in the rear lines. It should follow that kids who can't catch shouldn't play first base, kids who can't dribble shouldn't be a point guard and kids who are slow shouldn't be forwards in soccer. Yet the youth programs today continue to trend toward urging coaches to allow everyone equal opportunity or equal playing time and to just make things easier so that everyone is closer to the same level.

Instead of the current approach, why not use these difference in ability to motivate and teach. Sure some will gravitate away from things they are not good at...but they will also gravitate to something they are good at and enjoy. Its time we treat athletes and their abilities the same way we do others who have certain strengths.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Handling Discipline...

Its been awhile since my last post, partly because I have had so many little league games to coach during the last couple of weeks.

If we can start the discussion by making the assumption that the role of youth sports in each child's life is actually larger than the specific sport or skills themselves, then I believe that many of the rules in youth sports programs today are prohibiting coaches from maximizing the opportunity to help kids grow. It is clear that a very, very few will make a career playing some form of sport. The real benefit of sports programs at all levels is the lessons they can impart that will actually impact participants lives regardless of their chosen path.

My concern is that rules designed to positively impact children are actually having a negative effect. Rules such as mandatory/equal playing time, a lack of practice attendance policies, continuous batting orders in little league, trophy/game ball presentation regardless of outcome and just the general 'as long as the kids have fun' mentality. While the intention behind such rules is good natured, they are making it more difficult for youth coaches to teach the life lessons through sport.

An example of this happened this week on one of my little league teams. The young man involved is a very good player, probably the best on the team. He didn't get to start the game pitching and consequently had a negative attitude that was visible on his face, through his body language and the effort he put forth. When he was asked to pitch in the 3rd inning, he did not perform well and showed a poor effort. When the coaches talked to him, he expressed that he was upset he didn't get to start the game as the pitcher, instead playing shortstop. We explained that his obligation was to help the team in any way he was asked too and that no matter where he played, he had a responsibility to the other players to try his best. Showing no remorse or attempt to rebound, we removed him from the game after the third inning. We sat and talked to him on the bench about being a teammate, being selfless, sacrificing for the good of the team and he refused to make eye contact or even answer. After not playing him in the fourth inning due to his attitude, we again tried to talk to him and again to no avail....he was not responsive. This is where the dilemma begins. The league we participate in has a rule that each player may not sit on the bench for two consecutive innings, for any reason. Therefore, we had to play him again after he had openly demonstrated a disrespectful attitude. He got to play and it felt like our chance to reach him had been taken from us because of the playing time rule.

At this point in the game, he did not deserve to take playing time away from the other kids who where giving it there all and maintaining a proper attitude. Not to mention the fact that the other kids were all aware of the problem and watched as there was very little consequence for his actions. Now the rule has not only limited the coaches ability to reach the child in question, but all of the other players are observing the behavior and the fact that there was no real consequence. We talked about the issue as a team, but its difficult to create a standard when there is no option to enforce it.

Even though the league believes that the mandatory/equal playing time rule is benefitting kids, I contend that the rule prevented the coaches from having any chance to benefit that child. Its not the easy road, I know, but limiting the opportunity to teach life lessons through sport seems like exactly the opposite of what is in the best interest of the participants.

The young man in question is 10 years old. Is that too young to begin to worry about issues such as attitude, respect, sacrifice, teamwork, etc? Does your opinion of the story change if the player is 15? Does your opinion change if the player is 7?

I believe most involved in athletics would expect a 15 year old participant to display a proper attitude at all times. My worry is that not enough people are demanding it at 10 years old...which is producing more problems by the time they are 15. Difficult to create 15 year old athletes with the proper attitude if we haven't always expected it out of them!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tough Day Yesterday...

Saturday was a tough day for my two sons who play little league baseball. Both teams lost and lost very badly. Each team was a victim of the 10 run rule and both teams seemed to just not have it yesterday. Both teams are much better than they performed, but had one of those days. Its why we need competition and adversity to become better....they have to understand that its how you deal with these days and your attitude that impacts whether or not these type days can actually be an opportunity for growth. In an effort to teach them just that, we went to the ballpark today for a workout. Trying to show them that when things don't go well, you simply go to work!

On Tuesday night, I will be participating in a discussion on the chat utility at the following website: I encourage everyone and anyone to attend and participate. The idea is to have a general discussion and the direction will be dictated by the participants. Hope to see you there...

Friday, April 17, 2009

Are you serious...

This article is an example of exactly the attitude that is ruining the youth sports leagues around our country.

It actually advocates many ridiculous ideas. The strategies in this article have no place in any youth sports programs that have the intention of actually helping the participants become better people, not just players. Why do we want to work this hard to make kids feel good about themselves as players....when its simply not true in many instances.

It is obvious that safety, sportsmanship, adherence to all rules and parent behavior are important priorities for all leagues. But reducing youth sports to intramural, non-compete, everybody plays-everybody wins activities is removing what makes sport great. Where are the lessons of dealing with adversity, sacrificing for the team, hard work to earn playing time and other ideas that can benefit young people for their entire life, beyond sports. Its about more than making everyone feel good.

Why I am Here....

I have been coaching youth sports for years. I have a Bachelor's Degree in Exercise Science with a specializing in Sports Management and a Master's Degree in Sports Management, studying the issue for a long time. More importantly, my personal experiences have led me to find the motivation to begin to speak about the things I think are WRONG with youth sports today. I am also hopeful to find others that share my views and are interested in REPAIRING YOUTH SPORTS programs around the country.

This blog will likely be controversial due to the views I hold of our youth sports programs. Change is needed before we lose an entire generation of children who will not have an opportunity to benefit from the life lessons that participation in sports has taught for so many years. This is a beginning that will hopefully provoke a new thought process for many who have simply accepted the current direction of our youth sports programs.

Lets get to work....spark debate....change attitudes....and impact kids!