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!

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