I anticipate this being a controversial post, but I gotta say it anyway; it’s been burning a hole in me for years:
Youth recreational sports should be focused on
As soon as I typed that, I heard a collective “sigh” from a large number of people.
Great, another one of those liberal, don’t keep score, let every child win, and give them all trophies posts.
Yeah, that’s not my point at all.
Coaches should try to win, and we should keep score, BUT the emphasis should not be on the winning. The emphasis should be on
Instead, Americans seem to have a Darwinian view of youth sports–where only the fittest survive, the weak being lopped off by natural selection, with coaches and parents holding the knife. Is that really what we want for our young children?
This Darwinian mentality has destroyed youth sports in my opinion. It has blinded coaches, enraged parents, and disserved our children.
Here is what I have witnessed just in my small corner of the youth recreational sports world:
League leaders and coaches cheating.
I’ve seen super-glued flags in flag football.
I’ve seen coaches posing as coaches for other teams in drafts and stacking teams.
I’ve seen all-star and select team coaches conspire and favor players of friends over more qualified players.
I’ve seen coaches suspended for cheating.
Winning with elementary school-aged kids is so important that it leads to cheating?
How screwed up could priorities possibly be?
What are you compensating for that you have to live out your adrenaline through kid sports to the point where you surrender morality and good sportsmanship?
Isn’t it supposed to be about the kids?
ALL of them?
Kids benched for large percentages of games in deference to more skilled players or to coaches’ children.
Rule skirters, who technically comply with playing time rules but manipulate them to maximize bench time for the weaker players, as opposed to following the spirit of the rule intended to balance playing time.
On a 3rd grade recreational basketball team, one of my kids was benched for nearly 3 quarters of every basketball game. I confronted the coach, and this is a paraphrasing of his pitiful response (it pains me to even type it):
The better players deserve more court time. It’s not fair to them to have to sit on the bench while less skilled players get to play.
Mind you, my kid was not even a bad player. He is actually quite a good athlete. In fact, all of my boys are quite good athletes. But even more than that,
HE WAS IN THE FREAKIN’ THIRD GRADE!
COME ON PEOPLE!
Instead of coming home excited about basketball, he came home in tears about not getting to play and about practice being all about the top 5 players. I talked to him about practicing harder and being more aggressive, not giving the coach a choice not to play him, and he came home everyday after school and worked with the basketball outside. And he still didn’t get in.
Do they realize
what they are doing
to these young kids’ spirits?
Or do they even care?
Does it make them feel good?
I burn up every time I think about it.
This is when multiple daddies (or mommies) of talented kids collaborate to get all of their kids on one team. Funny to see a team with 5 or 6 coaches, all with A-list player kids.
Hmmm . . .
Watcha doing there guys?
Does that feel like good sportsmanship?
And typically, these kids are placed in all the skilled positions and the other kids are never given a chance. The same player runs the ball every play. The same player brings the ball down the court every possession. The same players man the infield the entire game. No rotations to allow other kids to show what they can do or to get better.
It’s all about the Daddies’ kids
Talented kids intentionally flopping in tryouts to get lower draft scores in order to increase likelihood of getting drafted by stacked teams.
This is painfully obvious during the tryouts.
Kids are not good actors.
And they BRAG about what they are doing.
And usually with the parent’s encouragement.
I can only hang my head in shame.
What a good life skill to teach your children–gaming the system.
And we wonder why our kids are self-centered?
These are often the same kids who bawl when they lose because they have been taught that winning is everything.
These are often the kids that celebrate in the losing teams’ faces.
These are often the kids who mock the other teams or players for not being “good.”
What are we teaching our children?
Parents arguing and almost fist-fighting during drafts.
Fans screaming and even cussing at referees, even teenage referees.
I witnessed one man fully decked out in Army fatigues screaming and cussing at a Ref at a youth football game to the point he got so angry that he repeatedly kicked then jumped the fence, charged the Ref, and was escorted from the field by security.
At that same game, a mother from the same team was screaming “Break his legs!” while the other team was running the ball, because she felt like the other team was being unsportsmanlike.
When Christ returns,
He might just choose the ball field
to make His appearance.
I’ve seen normally mild-mannered mommies transfigure into raging lunatics and even fighting with other mommies.
Mommies are supposed to be nurturers. You can’t nurture with your face all twisted up and red and spit flying out of your mouth.
Take a DEEP breath.
Where are you placing your values?
Are youth sports really worth getting that upset over?
Seriously, pause for a moment and ask yourself that question.
Stacked teams running up the score on un-stacked teams.
20-0, who cares, keep piling it on, and still not let those poor bench players in the game.
And the coaches feel like they’ve accomplished something.
It proves they are “good” coaches.
As if winning with stacked teams makes a good coach.
As if winning at the price of your bench makes a good coach.
As if dominant player dependence makes a good coach.
Darwinism has blinded them.
(See Good Coaching below)
DOMINANT PLAYER DEPENDENCE
Allowing dominate player to score all or most of the team’s points without encouraging teamwork.
Time and again, the best teams have a stand-out player, and this player shoots every time down the court or runs the ball every down. Sure, the kid is impressive and has a bright future. But if the coach was really coaching, he would teach the kid to pass and work the ball around. Get everyone involved in the game. Develop other players. Such coaching makes the dominant player an even better player overall. Such coaching makes the coach a good coach. He would get what youth sports are supposed to be about.
But it doesn’t stroke the parent’s or coach’s ego.
They gotta win.
And they gotta win BIG.
And it has to be their kid.
Parents push their kids so hard that they often burn out and end up hating the sport.
and select teams
camps out the wazoo
countless thousands of dollars later
and these kids
I’ve seen families crumble over sports, where a parent placed too much energy and value in athletics.
Parents go into remorse and sometimes change personalities when it’s all over. Or when their kids rebel against the sport.
What are we doing to our kids?
What are we teaching our kids?
Why is it so important for your kid to be the best on the field instead of him just enjoying the game?
Why is it so important that a 3rd grade basketball team win?
To the point of destroying the spirits of the kids riding the bench.
To the point of encouraging bad sportsmanship.
To the point of losing sight of
what’s important in this world.
THE GOOD COACHING
For all of the poor sportsmanship, misguided coaching, and embarrassing parental behavior, I’ve also witnessed it done right.
My middle school child’s last basketball season was coached by a strongly Christian man, who was a fantastic basketball player himself back in the day when he still had hair (yeah, I’m banking on him reading this one).
How did he get it right?
He intentionally skipped those draft-flopping kids stacking other teams.
He picked kids he knew had good attitudes
and kids who tried their hardest in tryouts
and those who needed some coaching
and gladly took the “leftovers.”
And you know what he did?
He taught those kids skills and how to move the ball around and work as a team.
They were one of the worst shooting percentage teams I’ve ever seen, and their first couple of games were lousy, but by the end of the season, guess what?
They were winning.
And credit card thinness close to toppling the league’s best team.
He got what youth sports are supposed to be about.
Kids don’t get better on the bench.
They will have plenty of time to ride the bench in older leagues, where winning becomes the focus.
But not yet.
Not in third grade.
Not in elementary school.
Another basketball coach drafts some of my kids every year, and he has a similar philosophy to the coach above:
He gives all the kids court time.
And the improvement from first game to last is
And he has been highly successful in the win/loss category, taking one of my kids to the tournament final. Another season they didn’t do so hot, but they all played, developed, and had fun. What else matters?
An ex-NFLer coached two of my kids one year in football. He played all the kids, and everyone got a chance to run the ball. Benching wasn’t a problem. And guess what? That team won the championship.
I tip my hat to the ex-NFLer.
I would rather my kids be coached by those two basketball coaches and ex-NFLer any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
ALL the kids learn
and advance their skills
and have fun in the process
and don’t get their hearts
ripped from their chests.
I don’t care about the wins.
I care about coaches developing young kids, regardless of their skill levels.
That is what youth recreational sports are for.
If you don’t get that, you shouldn’t be coaching.
Those coaches who stack their teams, bench their weak players, and win every game . . .
They miss the boat entirely.
They are swimming with the fishes.
They are blinded by Darwinism.
There is a reason select teams, and all-stars, and AAU leagues, and travel teams are there. The A-listers go there for tougher competition. To hone their skills. To satisfy parents’ dreams of college and pro athletes. And I hope their kids don’t have to sit on the bench on those teams. Those teams are primarily about the winning.
But not recreational leagues.
Let kids be kids.
There is a whole life ahead of them
to be adults,
to be disappointed,
to be rejected for lack of abilities.
But not yet.
Instead of destroying their confidence,
While they are still young,
give them the chance to THRIVE.