Thursday, December 11, 2014

Does Your Kid Deserve More Playing-time?

Oh, boy, I guess I know how to pick controversial topics...

Yup, that's the title of an online article I stumbled upon recently. And, while I might not agree in total with what the authored said, I've viewed older hockey players in his way through most of my 40-years in coaching. But, why don't I let the author of that piece, Bill Speros, tell his side of the story, first...
"One question every coach from Pop Warner and Youth Volleyball, on up through the highest levels high school competition in Texas, has heard in their coaching career is this:
'Why isn’t my kid playing?'
This topic came up in the wake of a column that ran in the Boston Globe last week about the lack of play for some in youth sports. The absurdity of many 'win-at-all-cost' coaches in youth sports is neatly matched by the fanaticism of 'play-my-kid-or-else' parents at the high-school level."

Ya, that debate does go 'round and 'round in youth sport circles. To me, seeing a LinkedIn hockey forum post suggesting either side of those issues strikes me like the sound of fingernails scraping down a chalkboard.

Thankfully, Speros makes a distinction between the earlier described youth sports and the slightly higher, more competitive levels...
'They’re just not good enough.'
'He/she just isn't fast enough.'

'He/she just isn’t strong enough.'

'He/she just isn’t tall enough.'

'He/she is too fat/too skinny.'

'He/she just didn’t try hard enough in practice.'

'He/she should not play over Jimmy/Jenny because they're faster, quicker, stronger, taller, and/or try harder.'”
Aaaaaaah, do any of those sound familiar?  If so, I'll have some advice for you at the end of this article.  Of course, as Speros suggests, "Good coaches, however, are not usually that blunt or honest."

No, I'll suggest that most coaches -- and especially the smart ones -- are probably a lot more tactful.  Are they hurting the coach/parent communication process by pulling punches, though?  My thinking is that it's entirely possible.  I mean, is there a better way to say that a kid isn't good enough?  If there is, I'll offer an idea to my fellow coaches by suggesting, "Your kid isn't one of the better ones RIGHT NOW."  And, by the "RIGHT NOW", I'm telling a parent that there is hope, and that his or her youngster just might pass some of the others -- with some time, with some work, with some whatever.

Moving on to Speros' thoughts...
"Parents get a little nutty at times when it comes to their children and youth/high school sports. Nearly every parent ever [this one included], at one time or another in the dark recesses of their minds, fancies a scenario where their son or daughter can master this or that sport well enough to earn a free-ride to college. When that dream/delusion is squashed after meeting the reality of genetics, talent, and/or interest, it’s hard to reconcile."

I'd like to say that I've never been one of "those parents", but I have.  Thank God I ultimately grew up, and I also eventually learned not to let my emotions be fueled by others (think about this one, folks).   

Speros goes on to rightfully so suggest that parents see things a lot differently -- and maybe a lot less realistically than their own kids...
"The thing is that many kids know what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at. When it comes to football, for instance, most of the middle-schoolers or freshman already know the one or two kids who are good enough to play on the varsity team. And be the ones likely to catch the eye of a college recruiter. Their parents do not."

Now, those who have followed my writings know that I see some other values to amateur sports, beyond the chance to compete and maybe excel.  Others will define that extra benefit as "learning helpful life's lessons", but then those same folks seem to retreat and look to protect the kids from doing just that.

With that, let's hear more of what Speros has to say...
"Participating in high school sports, for instance, is no different than any other education experience. You learn about winning and losing. You learn about bad calls and bad breaks. And some kids just aren't good enough to play, at least on a routine basis."

Then, here's something all of us parents need to keep in mind, especially if our kids have been given trophies and such, just for dawgone showing up...
"Far too many children today are living in a world where they never learn 'no.'  They don’t know how to handle disappointment and failure. Nor do they know how to react and move on when they don’t get their own way.  Interacting with actual people, and not just the screens on their iPhones or iPads, is a challenge, if not an impossibility.  I won’t call this 'abuse', but it’s pretty damn close."

Hmmmmmm...  I've never looked at Speros' latter suggestion, but I'm not sure I could argue with it, either.  Yup, hmmmmmm...
"This is a world constructed by 'well-meaning' but dangerously naive parents. The children know no better because this is what they’re taught.  Real-life doesn't come with 'Participation Awards', '8th-Place Trophies' or laudatory bumper-stickers telling everyone that you're able to do your job without screwing up."

I guess I said that thing about "participation trophies" earlier, and so did I comment on gaining (or not gaining) benefits from learning "life's lessons".  Then, I love it that Speros next personalizes his feelings a bit...
"It sucks when your kid isn’t playing. Been there, done that. No reasonable parent wants to see their child hurt. But no one escapes this life unhurt, emotionally if not physically.  When these kids move on in life, they are going to get rejected when they apply for college, turned down when they ask out someone for a date, fail to get the job they want, the shift they want at work, and taste failure and disappointment on multiple fronts."
The author and I are obviously on the same page with all of this, and I'll also go along with his recommendations for coaches...
"Legitimate safety concerns aside, coaches should try to make sure everyone gets some playing time. But that should never come at expense of other kids who are more talented, try harder or spend more time practicing." 

Then, as I've already mentioned, Speros finishes...
"There is, however, much on the upside to playing team high school sports that barely gets mentioned nowadays.
In that sense, sports is a true metaphor for life. No one is guaranteed 'playing' time in life. For the most part, hard work, effort, planning and desire is rewarded. The benefits can be wonderful. But it’s good to (be) prepared when it doesn’t work out that way."
Okay, now for some advice I'm forever sharing with my members, as well as some articles that should further help anyone feeling he or she could use more ideas in this area...

Number one on my list of suggested reading is something I penned not long ago asking, "Are Bad Coaches Good For Players?"  My feeling is that they kinda are, if only to give our kids the chance to experience them, and add to their practice at the so-called life's lessons, at a time when those lessons are not so critical.

Here's something else I really want to share with my readers, though, because it's something I ultimately took on in my own sports parenting, and it's something I believe will help anyone who truly wants to make a difference.  And, that's to take on an approach with your youngster whereby a tryout fate or his or her playing time isn't left to chance.

I'm not saying that a kid should be pushed towards something he or she doesn't want.  However, I think there's another life's lesson to be learned if we ask our youngster, "Does this really mean anything to you?"  And, if it appears it is important to him or her, I'll suggest that the parent go about finding ways to help that younger gradually overcome his or her shortcomings -- again, ultimately to the point where nothing is left to chance or luck.  The fact is, you don't have to be the biggest, the strongest, the fastest or whatever; you just have to be good.  Then, for a bit of advice in this area, I'll recommend parents read "Where Real Players Get Real Help".

PS:  Use the link up top to Bill Speros' article in its entirety.  I think you'll enjoy that.  And, hey, he must know his stuff, 'cause he's also a former Bay State native.