You Get What You Pay For

By Brian Gotta

I received two emails in the same week that were related. The first was from a parent who was seeking advice on how to handle her daughter’s first-ever team sport experience in which the coaches only cared about winning and didn’t let everyone play. The second was from a coach who was removed from his soccer team for focusing more on player development than winning. In both cases, I had a similar response:

The parent who wrote me complained that her fifth grade daughter was trying basketball for the first time and, in the first game, didn’t get in to play at all. She said her daughter cried on the bench, after the game and all the way home. Of course, I felt sorry for the young girl. But something about the story didn’t sound right.

I replied back and asked if this was a competitive or a recreational team. The mother responded that it was a competitive team. She said she’d spoken with the coaches after the game, and they’d told her that they would be trying to win every game and that only the best girls were going to play unless they were way ahead or way behind. They recommended her daughter try recreational basketball.

I get these types of emails frequently, from parents who have put a child on a competitive team and now are upset over lack of playing time or what position their child is playing. I always wonder the same thing. Didn’t they think to ask before they signed up? Weren’t they informed that the objective on this team is to win, only the best will play, and time on the field or the court will have to be earned, not granted? Why then do they complain when their child doesn’t get equal playing time with others? They apparently want it both ways. The idea of playing on the best team seems great until it means their child will be sitting the bench. Then it isn’t fair.

If you want equal playing time, that’s what recreational sports are for. Most rec leagues have rules mandating a certain number of innings or time be given to each child regardless of ability so that everyone gets a chance. The emphasis is not supposed to be primarily on winning, but on player development and enjoyment. If your child isn’t ready for the more competitive environment, (as this mother’s daughter clearly was not as evidenced by the crying), then let them play Little League, or AYSO, or whatever other sport, in a recreational setting. While these types of recreational leagues can still be very competitive, they are designed for players of all skill levels, not just elite athletes.

The other email from the coach seemed like a sadder case to me. Judging by his writing, English was not his first language. He told me he’d played as a youngster, had invested his own time and money into coaching this team as well as in obtaining a coaching license. He didn’t even have a child on the team. He was doing it, as he said, ‘because he loved the game.’ I told him that it was unfortunate that the club had taken such a hard line stance because he seemed to be someone I’d like to have coaching my kids. And like in the previous example, the players were preteen. Still, if the club’s philosophy was only about winning and he wasn’t in line with that mindset, there was no advice I could give him other than to find a recreational soccer club and take his desire to teach youngsters there. Youth leagues are always looking for volunteers, I told him, and I even searched through our database of clubs and referred him to one nearby.

So yes, it is a good idea to know what you’re getting into before you sign up. Ask about playing time and positions before you write the check. If the team doesn’t guarantee that everyone will play and rotate to different positions and yet you still sign up, then don’t complain if it doesn’t work out for your child.

And with all of that said, what kind of 5th grade girls basketball team is SO competitive that some girls just are not going to get to play unless the team is ahead by 20 points? I’m not a basketball coach but I guarantee you I could win some games and still make sure everyone got in for a few minutes, no matter how unskilled they were. In fact, win or lose, I couldn’t imagine coaching both halves, making substitutions, and looking at little kids on the bench but never once putting them in. If everything this mom was telling me was accurate, competitive or rec, shame on those coaches.

And as for the young guy who just wants to coach soccer skills and isn’t as concerned with winning, I feel sorry for the club that decided they didn’t need him. Because based on the brief email correspondence I had with him, they lost a good man. It is amazing how often in youth sports we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com

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