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Sports for Kids: Everybody Plays vs. Winning

By Katie Allison Granju |

kids basketball

My son E in a headlock from his pall B after their team won the game

Last week marked the last regular season basketball game of the year for my middle schooler E’s basketball team, and it was pretty special. Not only did E’s team win, they won in large part due to the points scored by E’s good friend W, who had barely gotten to play all season, but unleashed his inner Michael Jordan when the coach finally gave him a chance in that final game of the year.

W’s mom is a good friend of mine, dating back to the days when we were both pregnant with our boys at the same time,  and she was weepy with joy at that last game the other night, watching her son shoot basket after basket as the crowd cheered. But at the next-to-last-game, the one the night before, she was near tears for another reason: her son sat on the bench for every single second of the entire game, never getting a chance to play at all.  It was hard for her to watch, given that this has been the way W had spent almost every other game all season – patiently sitting on the bench while other boys were rotated in and out off the court until the final buzzer. She felt frustrated that W, who had worked hard all season, never missed practice, kept his grades up to the team standard and had basically done everything else right, had spent most of the season on the bench, quietly hoping for his moment to get in the game.

Finally, in that last game of the year, the coach sent W out onto the court. And just like some kind of inspirational ABC Afterschool Special, the boy who had never gotten to play very much at all for the entire season went out there and KICKED ASS.

He scored!

He scored again!

And again!

I was cheering like crazy, and also had tears in my eyes as I watched him lope up and down the court with a huge grin on his face, sneaking glances up at his family in the stands to see how proud they were.


(continued after the photos below…)



Scenes from E’s final regular season basketball game of his whole middle school playing career.

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Sports for Kids: Everybody Plays vs. Winning

C and NC get a photo with their idol after the game

The girls are holding the flowers that each 8th grade player got before the game in recognition that this was the last regular season game of their middle school careers. Two players (E and B) let the little girls hold their flowers, which made C and NC giddy. The perspective in this photo makes E look HUUUUUGE (but he really isn't. At all.)




But as terrific as that final game was, I agree with W’s mom that it’s not right that her child only got to play a little bit for the entire season when he was doing everything he was supposed to do to earn that right.  As well as W played in that final game, he doesn’t yet have the hotshot, aggressive playing style of some of the other boys on the team, and those were the boys who got the most playtime – almost all of it, actually. And I think that sends the absolute wrong message to kids about sportsmanship and competition.

Now don’t get me wrong; I absolutely do believe that part of what kids learn in competitive sports is…how to be competitive. Winning is what we want to have happen when we assemble a group of kids and mold them into a real basketball, lacrosse, soccer or baseball team. And by middle school – which is how old these boys are – learning and executing the skills to actually win games should be a larger part of the goal of their sports participation than it was, say, back when E and W were 7 years old and were playing AYSO soccer, where the league’s mission explicitly includes the idea that every child gets to play, every single game.

I totally get that the boys are now in middle school, and middle school basketball is a feeder for highly competitive high school basketball, and for the boys who are very serious about making it to the next level – the prep level – playing well and playing on a winning team matter a great deal. And to some (not all) parents pacing the sidelines of these middle school basketball games muttering about the ref and yelling directives at their child on the court, or screaming incessantly from the stands, this is serious business for them as well.

But there has to be some balance. If a boy does what the coach asks of him all season long without complaint, he should get some chances to play – and not only once or twice in the whole season. To me, even those kids who may not yet be the hotshots they hope one day to become should be able to earn play time during games with their attitude, work ethic and commitment.

Given the varying opinions among parents on this issue, a middle school boys’ basketball coach clearly has a tough situation on his hands. He has to balance the fact that by middle school, team sports are  no longer a casual thing for many of his players (or the parents who have his home phone number and email address) with the fact that these are still KIDS, and kids need to learn that hard work will pay off, even if that personal payoff for that child may not actually serve the greater team goal of winning.

So I’m wondering how other parents feel about this. When it comes to youth sports, where does a coach need to find the balance between “everybody plays” and “let’s field the group of kids who are most likely to win this game?”   Does that balance depend on how old the kids are? Or should it remain the same from kindergarten through college? Have you ever been the parent of the child who never got to play? How did that feel for you, and for your child? Or maybe you’ve been the parent of the superstar kid on the team, frustrated when the coach puts the kids who maybe aren’t quite as skilled as your own into the game, giving them some play time but making it less likely that your child’s team will end up with the win.

What are your thoughts on this thorny topic, and how did you develop your point of view? Let’s talk about this one in the comments below.





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About Katie Allison Granju


Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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35 thoughts on “Sports for Kids: Everybody Plays vs. Winning

  1. paula says:

    in my opinion, it’s simple. If a coach isn’t going to give a player equal or near equal playing time, he/she should not choose the player as part of the team. Any coach who knows what he/she is doing, will also be aware of the dynamics of a TEAM, and that demoralizing any one player will not serve the team as a whole. Also, how does the player improve with only limited play time, and how does the player have the opportunity to contribute, as well increase rather than shatter his or her confidence (I say this in direct relation to how this affects the team), which will in turn, increase their ability? Yes, i have been in this situation with my son, and even though I am no longer, some other kids on the team still are, and it makes me feel terrible watching them. I agree, if you play on a competitve team, you are expected to perform, but more importantly, these are kids, and it is the adult coach’s responsibility to develop the kids both as players and as team members, if he or she chooses them as part of the team. it’s unfair to kill the love of the game for these kids, and we all must remember this for what it is…kids’ sports!

  2. paula says:

    oops, missed some important points…all of my comment above assumes that the player shouldn’t sit consistently if they woks their hardest, try their best, and plays and behaves as part of a team, on and off the court/ice/field, etc.

  3. Cath Young says:

    It depends on the “league”. For the en mass recreational leagues for young kids, everyone should play. And those are the leagues where you should put your child if you want play time. When you apply to those “tournament” leagues that have more kids wanting spots than they have, it’s a whole other story. It should be up front whether a league is competitive and will not give any, much less equal playing time to kids.

    I think one of the huge shames of the public school sytems in this country is that they take the thousands of eager soccer players and reduce them to one school team in middle school when the rec teams are no longer an option for the kids. Same with high school. A kid not good enough to play on the official school teams sees his soccer, among other sports days ending. A lot of kids could benefit from participation in sports and at this crucial time, the doors close for them. For that reason, I believe that middle school teams should give each kid at least 25% play time. Not equal for all kids, but every kid should get at least that much. You never know who might become the star of the team in the next few years, as their bodies grow, and schools cut some talented players the way they operate.

    High schools should have intramural and/or club teams for all who want to do a sport. It is ironic to me that our more exclusive private schools here have an “everybody play” and “everybody has to do a sport” regiment whereas the public schools cut the kids at that time. My kids were not good enough to make the public schools’ teams but played vigorously on their small private school team, and one year my second son’s team whomped the private schools during the state finals, and yes, he played. Would have never gotten the opportunity at our local, excellent high school, as he would not have gotten a number of opportunities that we bought him for high school through private school tuition. Also, my 3 oldest all were college level players, two national champions, and again, in high school one was primarily a bench warmer, and two of them would not have made public school cuts for sports.

    I think most middle school coaches I have seen should get swift kicks in the back sides with their benching policies. It’s too young to make those cuts as to who is going to benefit from play, and winning is not all important at that level. Development is the focus and too many of the coaches forget that.

    My non athletic 4th son barely made the cuts for his high school team each year, sat on the bench but for minutes throughout the season,never had the come back W had in a game, but senior year was the unnamed scout team captain, won the team award for his attitude and work ethic and team suppor in 4 years. The coach, at the banquet, said that the game is only one small part of the work out the players have and that the practices that my son led as scout team captain were instrumental in the team going undefeated in the regular season. Son got the award and a standing ovation from the players. Worth every minute he sat on the bench for 4 years. The thing is, he had no assurance he would have gotten that recognition at the end. He did it because he enjoyed the process. So playing the game is not the only part of being on a team. If the kid is not getting practice play time either, I would pull a younger kid off the team in an instant, because then he would not be getting even the instruction and practice t play.

  4. Cath Young says:

    I was so long winded in my take. I want to give a kid’s take on it. My youngest son’s school has two basketball teams. Everybody makes the team who want to play. But as a result two teams are huge, even the “A” team. My son was in the position where he made the cut for the “A” team but was not a starter. He was in the bottom third of that roster which meant very little, if any game playing, and even worse, practice playing time. However, if he were on the “B” team, he would be one of the starting 5 which means the most practice time and attention, as well as the maximum playing time. But it’s the “B’” team that plays against other “B” teams and weaker teams, unlike the “A” team that always wins or places in the top middle school division in our area.

    His choice, and he chose to be a bench warmer and not get as much time and attention at practice, over being one of the annointed 5. And he knew the score exactly. He preferred to be with the better players and play the more compettive leage than to play more, a lot more with the less skilled players and in a less competitive league. I disagreed, as a parent, but let him make his pick which he did for all 3 years of middle school. Just wanted to share a kid’s perspective on this when he has the choice right in front of him.

  5. Matt Brayton says:

    I’m a dad who has a 16-year-old son who has played competitive basketball for the past five years. He plays for an “AAU” club team when he’s not playing for his high school. I’m just a dad, not a coach, although I’ve helped in many practices over the years.

    My son is not a star player, nor someone who is hoping to earn an athletic scholarship to college, etc… He plays because he loves the game, the guys on his team, and a lot of the people who are on the opposing teams. (He’s played on teams with a lot of kids from other clubs/schools.) He’s fit and has learned a lot of valuable lessons about preparation, teamwork, winning/losing.

    The scenario Katie presents is a very familiar one, and over the years, I’ve “been there, done that.” It’s especially tough for parents when their first kids reach middle school and are getting their first taste of real competition. My son has ridden more than his share of the bench, i.e., “the pine,” but what has to be understood among all the parents is that the higher the kids progress, the greater the emphasis on winning.

    The kids grow to understand that school and elite club teams must win to be successful. Winning is what makes a group of players feel good about themselves. All the kids benefit from playing during practices, but the coach has little choice but to play his best players in games. If your kid is one of the better players, great. If your kid isn’t one of the better players, work harder, or, at least be patient and wait for your time to come. It’s especially true of middle school players that the kids who are big may not be so big in high school and the kids who were small in middle school grow to be bigger players.

    I have great empathy for the kid (and the parents of the kid) who doesn’t get a lot of playing time. It is a great lesson in discipline, to not receive the immediate reward for your hard work. Every parent wants their kid to be featured, to get playing time, to be acknowledged for their hard work. If your kid isn’t getting enough playing time on your school or club team, don’t beat up the coach. Listen to your child and guide them. Encourage discipline, wait for your kid to grow, or, weigh the benefits of playing recreation- or church-level teams, where your kid may get more time at a less competitive level.

    My son has chosen to be a “lesser” player on very good teams. He has rarely started a game, and still doesn’t get as much playing time as parents would like. He is recognized as being an excellent practice player, who is always glad to compete against the very best players. He’s happy. He’s a great teammate, playing with his friends, doing what he wants to do.

  6. victoria says:

    I tend to think of middle school as the time when, for a lot of activities, you start to see a big divide between the kids who will end up taking it seriously as teens and beyond and the people who enjoy it but for whatever reason (talent, dedication, desire to do other things) won’t. (I wasn’t an athlete, but one of my siblings was, and I did some other activities where things started to get much more competitive around that age.) I think that’s a pretty appropriate dividing line, too. Middle schoolers are pretty realistic about where they stack up relative to their teammates.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with middle school sports starting to emphasize winning and strategy more, although I would hope that coaches would be really conscious and proactive about involving all the kids when the outcome of the game isn’t in doubt. I think it would also be ideal for non-competitive rec leagues to continue in the community through middle and high school, just like they have them for adults, but I know there’s not a critical mass of kids in all cities for that to happen.

  7. Jennifer S. says:

    I think if they’re on the team, they should play. Period. Otherwise, don’t put them on the team. I’ve experienced both types of coaches, those who will stick with the “stars” and those who will put everyone in regardless of talent. My youngest started with a great coach who played everyone, and every single one of those kids can play pretty decently. Even the big kid who used to trip over his own feet. They’re a great team even now, and I think a lot of it was because the coach TAUGHT them all how to play and put them in the game. How are they going to learn if you don’t put them in? Practice is completely different than an actual game.

    My oldest had a good experience until high school where he was the “extra” guy on the bench and only got in if they were winning by a sizable margin or if someone really needed a break. Needless to say, he finally threw in the towel after junior year of high school. They won conference that year, but he played a total of maybe 10 minutes the entire season. It was too much work for that much pain and sitting on the bench. I’m proud of him for sticking with it so long, but I didn’t have a single problem with him quitting.

    I believe that before varsity level in high school, every kid should be in every game for more than just a couple minutes. Once they get to varsity and it actually means something to win (i.e. win a conference title or more), then they can be more selective. Otherwise, it’s all a teaching opportunity and the coach has a responsibility to figure out how to get each child to play better.

  8. Dayna says:

    I think that there should be a minimum guaranteed playing time – in our baseball league, it’s 2 innings and then I think 2 minutes (?) in school basketball, and 2 quarters in rec league basketball. For all the outcry about participation trophies ruining a kid’s perception of competition, I also believe that a child is a child and even the ones who aren’t star players, but participate in practices should play in the games. Otherwise, how awful do they feel? And how do they ever hope to improve their game, or prove that they have been working on it? My 13 year old son actually played league basketball for the first time ever last year and when he started, he really wasn’t very good at all. He found that he really loved the game though, and his coach gave him the opportunity to play and prove that he was working hard all season. This year, he’s actually really good and scores several points a game. Had he simply sat on the bench through it all last year, he would have none of the “game skills” that he has now and he probably would have quit. Basketball is a sport where subs are a regular part of play… I can’t wrap my brain around a coach just never bringing a kid in off the bench to play.

  9. spiney says:

    you play. to win. the game.

    I’ve coached both rec leagues and HS varsity (football, basketball, soccer), and I’m a parent who has watched (and mostly kept my mouth shut) as my eldest girl played a couple yeas of soccer.

    My take is:
    rec leagues – everyone plays. Maybe not the same amount, but they play (and not just token end-of-game minutes).

    competitive leagues (school teams, AAU, etc.) – you play to win the game. Sometimes that means playing the same kids all of the time. A good coach, however, should realize that you need to prepare everyone on the team to be ready at any time, and some of that preparation simply cannot take place in practice only. There is a distinct difference in what happens in practice and what happens in a game. At some point there’s gonna be an injury, sickness, or academic ineligibility and someone else will have to step up. If you, as a coach, haven’t prepared that player to step in, that’s all on you.

    The coach in your example seems to have spent a season overlooking a potentially-useful contributor to his (I assume) team. That’s his bad.

  10. Toby says:

    I know E and Katie very well and, while we’ve never talked about the “should everybody play” directly, I’ve counseled E on sports before. (Personally, I am so glad he is playing B-Ball and Lacrosse, which are both more suited to him physically, though he’s got a linebacker’s mindset when it comes to playing any game as far as I can tell.)

    Look, you play games to win. That’s the bottom line. As you progress farther though, the emphasis should be on winning, but that progress in relation to emphasis should be gradual. Younger kids’ team should see a “everybody plays” regime, but as you get older things change. Sorry. That’s just how it is. Kids don’t grow as fast, are not as quick, or lack the motor skills as other kids. As much as we would all like everyone to play, sometimes it isn’t the case in team sports. One of the ironies of the “everybody should play” folks’ argument is that it takes a very individualistic approach to team sports. “My kids ego (or my own) is more important than the collective advancement of the team.” It was very tough for me to sit on the sidelines when I got to the college level in football. So much so that I took dangerous risks, like actively trying to get on the special teams (the equivalent of a banzai charge several times a game), to impress the coaches. I came away from it with several nasty concussions and orthopedic trauma galore. I got it. I had to lay it on the line for the team to make MYSELF feel good. I regret it and I also regret the weird relationship I had with my parents who saw it as right and proper.

    Personally, I am trying to guide my kids away from team sports toward things like cycling, rock climbing, running, etc. Team can be important there, but, to me, it is more important to have an activity that you can do when you are past your competitive days (which may never come). Basketball is great. You can still “run games” at the Y at the age of 50. Football? Not so much. You can go to your local climbing center at the age of 50. Same with running, cycling and so forth.

    The lesson: Accept that you are going to reach a level that you might not be able to get past in somethings. This goes for your kids. Once you get there, a choice can be made to pursue the sport as recreation or to pursue something else that will serve you and your kids the rest of your lives. Many a day as I go over the dreaded climb up Brown Mountain on my bike in Tennessee, I don’t regret walking away from just being an average football player and becoming a great cyclist (in my mind). :) Which reminds me: I need to ride more and get these doctoral pounds off!

  11. TJ says:

    I have a different perspective as I was an athletic trainer through all levels of my schooling. As trainers have to ready the players daily, you hear it all from every player. Of course, every player would love to start, but honestly, most are committed to their team and understand their position on it and are OK with it. It always seemed to me that their parents were much more upset about their playing time than they were. They practice with the team, they know where they stand. They compete with each other all week for those starts. Coaches are usually quite clear what is needed from players who want more court time. Some can improve with practice, others just are not as athletically gifted, so they cannot change their position. Sports are now taken much more seriously much earlier in a child’s life than they were 25 years ago. Parents sign up their children for youth sports starting at 4 years old. They pay large amounts of cash to enter and travel with leagues before their children are even 10. Then they pay for AAU, which is thousands per year. This seems to give them some sense of entitlement that doesn’t exist in school sports. Just because they played since they were seven doesn’t mean they are good enough to start. Five players get on the court. If there are fourteen boys on a roster, not everybody is playing. Period. Even in the NBA, some get time, some don’t. Parents need to wake up. You know what you see in games on TV, be honest with yourselves and your child. Life is not fair. Shoot straight with them. Yes, there might be many players better than your child and if you are bitter that they don’t play and they tell you they are unhappy with the team, then help them find other opportunities as mentioned in above comments. Don’t blame the coach. He is tasked with running a successful program, or he doesn’t keep his job. And like the rest of the workers in the world, I’m guessing he might like to be upwardly mobile in his profession, too.

  12. spiney says:

    The Herm Edwards quote that leads off my comment above comes from this legendary and amusing press conference:

  13. Cath Young says:

    I have “beaten up” many a coach who has not given developing players much if any playing time. They so deserve it. If it is understood up front that this is the case, it is a whole other story. But in many rec team situations, you have no choice which team your young child will get and if that coach is not going to play all kids and worse not work with them in practice equally, focusing on the starters and the better players, it is the job of a parent to kick that coach’s back side. That is not right if s/he is operating that way. I have raised quite a bit of stink. I don’t think equal time for every single child should be mandated, but each kid should be playing at least 20-25% of equal in the games–there should not be a near shut out, and if there is, that coach is doing wrong unless the league is so defined up front.

  14. marta says:

    This is the second year my oldest son (11) is playing competitive handball. His team is one of the worst in the league and right now they’re trying to qualify for the next phase – they have to win the next game or else. ;)
    Their coaches’ approach seems very reasonable and fair: they have to do their best and by their best they mean being in a higher position at each consecutive series, which they have (they started out as 5th in 5 in the 1st, then moved on to 4th in 5 in the 2nd and are now in the 3rd position in 5 at the 3rd and final series before qualification for the finals). They have games every weekend, so a kid who misses practice once during the week (practice is 3x/week) won’t be allowed to come to that weekend’s game. All the kids who attend all the practices are called in for the game.
    During the game they rotate (there’s 7 players in the court, and multiple kids at the benches) and no single kids gets to just sit on the bench for the entire time of the game (25 minutes each half). The coaches usually rotate the kids as they get hurt/very tired/make a series of foul plays/change the tactics of the team. Some kids usually play for the entire game (my son does – not because he’s the best, technically speaking, but because he’s very resistent – long-distance runner!), some others began by playing a tiny part and now are playing about 40 or 50% of the time. All kids get to play.
    I think the team is not good enough to set aside some kids and accept only the ones that have already proved to be good. If that were the case, then my son, who is developing into a good player but started out as a very shy, hopping and running but no ball catching player would never had the chance to evolve. Being on a competitive team that is not stellar has only good sides to it, in the end ;: everybody is expected to continously evolve, everybody is necessary for the outcome and, in the end, when a game is occasionally won, it is done very proudly by ALL team members.
    My son says, in awe, that the excellent teams in the league have bigger, faster, stronger boys than any other average, lower team. We keep reminding him that if his team aspired to be an excellent team, then it would have to let go most of the players, and he immediately says he’s rather be in 3rd with this team than in 1st with the stellar team.
    That’s what matters: they’re fit, getting to learn responsability, cooperation, teamship, competition, hard work, and enjoying themselves immensely through it all. What more could we, as parents, ask for?

    Marta from Lisbon, Portugal

  15. Jeff Ray says:

    I tend to take my cues on this from Coach Mike Krzyzewski. He inculcates in his teams the fact that everyone who turns out to practice, who makes an effort, who puts in the time is a part of any victory. The team wins or loses the game, and that is the whole of the team – the guys who practice against the starters, the coaches, everybody plays an integral part in any success, and that success for a team is never measured by an individual’s contribution, but rather the success of the team as a whole.

  16. Toby says:

    Team Handball is a sport that needs to come to the States. Love it. (And you can play it when you are 50).

  17. Bopper says:

    I don’t think on a competitive team (as opposed to a recreational team) that all the kids should get the same amount of playing time.
    But I think a coach is doing the kids and the team a disservice if all of the kids don’t get some playing time during the season. Why do you have 11 kids on a team? Why not just 5? Because sometimes kids get injured. Or they are sick. Or they foul out. So you need to have back ups. But if those kids never play, they aren’t very good backups. Also some of the ones who play all the time might be older kids. If the younger ones never play, they won’t be so good next year. I think there are ample opportunities to play when your team is up by alot or down by alot.

  18. reluctant mom coach says:

    Reluctant coach of 5/6th grade girls “B” basketball team. At our school, over 3/4 of the girls play (not many self-select out), and the teams were divided based on skills. So, these low-skill girls are not there to play the game, but to socialize. They don’t do summer camps, leagues at a young age, pick up games in free time, etc. At practice, we still deal with rolling around on the floor, getting our shoelaces tied, eating potato chips during game warm-ups, etc. Some kids come to 1/2 the practices, but wouldn’t miss a game.

    This team is emotionally very young on the team sports continuum, especially compared to their opponents. So, I play everyone close to the same amount of time/at least twice the minimum required, even though the opponents’ coaches don’t play the same game. That puts my kid (the top scorer) at a disadvantage, but I do it anyways.

    But, very occasionally there is a moment where a kid who would be benched for most of the game gets in there and has a strong play. We will likely loose every game this season. If I played the best 5 most often, we might win 1-2 games. My hope, much to the chagrin of the coaches who will inherit this group, is that every kid enjoys the game enough to join the team next year.

  19. jzzy55 says:

    My son rowed in HS after giving up on soccer, because he didn’t like being injured by bigger guys AND because he didn’t like the substance-using, troubled kids on his travel team (who were also going to be on the HS JV team).
    The ideal body type for a male rower is 6′ or taller, 170, long legs, big shoulders. My son is 5’5″, 120, with a long torso and biggish shoulders for someone his size. Naturally he never made the varsity “A” heavyweight boat.
    He was regularly encouraged to become a coxswain (a small person who sits in the stern and calls out the strokes, usually a short girl). He did not want to b a cox. He loved to be out on the water — ROWING. This meant we had several years of his grumbling nonstop about being put into B boats with increasingly less experienced rowers just because they hadn’t reached their full height yet. Our comment was always, “Any time you want to try another sport…what about Ultimate Frisbee?”.
    He stuck with it and eventually there were enough shorter, lighter varsity men to create a Varsity A lightweight boat. As a senior he finally experienced the kind of successful season he’d hoped for throughout his four years on crew.
    So, I think if your child likes playing the sport, they have to get what they can out of practices and not focus on the games or meets. Most sports time is spent practicing anyway.

  20. RJG1980 says:

    In my opinion, this is a gentle reminder of what is wrong with today’s generation of young leaders and the children to follow. What is it with children being put in a protective bubble by so many parents? It’s disturbing. Because once they get out into the REAL world, they are still looking for that same protective bubble. Why are parents OK with a child quitting, simply because they didn’t get any play time? As a kid who grew up playing every sport imaginable and not always being on the starting line up, I can understand and appreciate how a kid may feel who isn’t played as much as they’d like. You know what my parents taught me? To go out there and PRACTICE. To work harder. To take every training, camp, coaching opportunity out there. I would practice before school, after school, during vacations, and summer. I was on every team I could fit into my schedule. If I wanted it bad enough, I would work for it. I never expected a hand out then and I don’t today. I am a successful independent woman capable of facing a challenge. If I fall, I get up and I try again. There were sports I excelled in and others I didn’t. I focused on my strengths, learned my weaknesses, and worked harder. As a business owner and manager, I look for characteristics of strength. It’s frustrating when you hire a young adult who is lazy, probably to no fault of his own but because of a parent who “thought s/he should get ample play time” even if they were terrible at the game. If they enjoy the sport that much and want it enough, they will work harder. And if they are not happy with the results, perhaps sports isn’t their thing and maybe they should find an activity they will excel at. We are all great at something.

  21. Laura says:

    ” If a boy does what the coach asks of him all season long without complaint, he should get some chances to play – and not only once or twice in the whole season. ”

    I disagree with this, but it is an attitude I see a lot in my (college) students. They will come to me after an assignment (or at the end of a course) and tell me how hard they worked on something, and ask why that can’t be taken to account in their grade. They’re not lying. I know they have worked hard. But when I am assigning grades, I’m telling you about the level of proficiency you achieved – did you do excellent work? good work? adequate work? poor work? One of the things my students have a very hard time understanding is that you can work very hard and still not do well – and some people will not try very hard at all and may do better. There are times when effort matters, and times when outcome matters. I think middle school basketball is an appropriate time to begin learning that you could try very hard and put in a lot of effort and not develop the skills that would place you at a level to be put in the game. At that point you make a tough decision – stay with it because going through the process is worth it for you, or move to an intramural team with an explicit goal of having everyone play (rather than a competitive team where the goal is winning).

  22. FL Mom says:

    It seems like part of strategic coaching means knowing when to put which players on the court. No matter how competitive or “how much is at stake” in school games, each kid should get at least a few minutes in each game. If nothing else, it would be to keep them encouraged to come to every practice and to keep their parents encouraged to transport them to every practice. Every team dynamic is different, and a good coach should know how to develop the players (all the players) into a thriving, winning unit.

  23. A.K. says:

    This is why my oldest runs cross country. He’s not the fastest runner by far, and he’s not made it to the state meet yet, but he gets to run in every meet otherwise. He’s also consistent and he trains all year round, so he’s every coach’s dream student. His improvement has been steady since he began, and he just doesn’t give up. So, for folks out there who find it annoying that their child sits on the bench most of the time — find a new sport. I recommend cross country running. . . . And as your kids age, they can still keep running. You don’t need a team to do it.

  24. Jenn @ Juggling Life says:

    I think that by middle school it is time for the player to talk to the coach and ask “What do you need me to do so that I can get more playing time?” Unless every game is super-tight there should be no reason for every player not to play at least some of every game–and middle school should still be a learning time. Varsity, and to a lesser extent, JV teams in high school is when the real competition should be.

    I say this as the parent of a young man who is playing water polo in college; clearly he was talented, but he still spent time rotating out in many games so that other players on the team could learn and grow.

  25. Heather says:

    My daughter plays soccer both on a competitive team and (hopefully) on her hs JV soccer team. She is a goalie and soccer is her passion. She also swims at our local swim club in the summer league. She decided to join the JV swim team at her hs to keep her fitness level up. She has been to every practice (even on holidays!) and every meet. If she makes the times, she could even letter. She probably won’t but has gotten so much out of being on the team. She found friends (new school for her) and has really blossomed. I am so glad it was a “no-cut” team because even though she isn’t very fast she has felt every bit a member of the team and participated in all that they offer (sleep overs, cook outs etc). You must try out and make the soccer team. She has already decided that if she doesn’t make the team this year she will run track. She is very athletic and wants to be involved in a sport of some kind and track is another “no-cut” team. I am happy that her hs has options that allow kids that are not at the top of the game to participate.

  26. geri a says:

    wasn’t going to join in this one, but laura you bring up an excellent point. someone can work very hard at something, do what is required, and still not be proficient at something, and therefore not earn an A, as in grades, or a regular spot on an athletic team. what i find interesting in katie’s story is the young man in question, when given a chance to play, did score and play well. makes me wonder what he could have done if he had been given the opportunity to play more often? I do believe if one makes a team, they should be given an opportunity to play in the game, if only for a few minutes. I have seen coaches play the same 5 kids, who are so exhausted they can barely move, rather than put in other players. Always baffled me.

  27. Kayla says:

    I completely agree with Laura’s comment especially here. I am not a parent, but a recent college grad and a former terrible lacrosse, field hockey, and softball player. By the time I hit middle school I was doing everything ‘right’ that you list here, but barely made the field at all because I simply lacked the skill set and natural drive. Of course my mom would have loved to see me play but instead of showing me if she was upset about it she reminded me the importance of TEAM sports was the TEAM and by middle school I was old enough to understand that. She encouraged me to find other ways to enjoy the sports I love, and I coached rec leagues in HS and loved it.

    I see too many fellow college kids come with this ‘i work hard I should get a great outcome for it’ attitude that’s being peddled in schools now and its not doing anyone a great service. I think one of the best things competitive sports taught me was to be realistic and understand that my needs were not always going to be the focus, and to find things I was good at. And my moms no coach confrontation approach taught me to solve problems on my own. I still had a great time as part of the team, because I learned to care about something bigger than myself and to sacrifice my individual wants for collective success- and I think that, and not playing time, is what team sports should be about.

  28. FL Mom says:

    @RJG1980: I don’t think this is a case of protective bubble. No mention of feeling entitled to a starting lineup position. It sounds more like, “At least throw the kid some crumbs through the season.” That’s a far cry from a helicopter demanding elite treatment for their precious snowflake (a despicable practice that won’t be missed when it finally dies).

    Lots of great stuff here from parents and players both.

  29. kokopuff says:

    I agree with Jenn’s comment. When my son was on the JV team as a freshman, he didn’t play much. I told him to set up a meeting with the coach, and ask him what he needed to do to improve in order to see more playing time. I told him don’t complain that you aren’t playing, ask what YOU need to be doing to play more. It worked for him. My son went on to be the star of his high school team…but now that he’s in college, he recognizes that he’s not college-level material, basketball wise and his time would be better spent on his studies and just grabbing a pick up game once in a while.
    While I appreciate W’s mom staying quiet and not engaging the coach, maybe W would have benefited from a conversation with him. Sometimes a coach will ignore the quiet, cooperative ones. Squeaky (but not whiney) wheels do get the grease!

  30. Artemisia says:

    If someone is on a team, he or she should be playing – maybe not starting but playing regularly. If he’s not good enough to play, he shouldn’t be on the team.

    In this case, though, it seems less about “good enough” and more about the coach’s limitations/preferences, and that’s even worse. The requirement that everyone play at least part of the game would mean that the players are less likely to be impacted by a coach who only likes the kids he coached in little league or can’t manage to think about more than the top six kids on the team or whatever.

    I take issue with the idea that older kids are only in sports to win. Jeez, I hope there’s more to it than that – the joy of getting better at something, of playing a game you love, of being part of a team come – just to start with. All those benefits are greater in middle school than in kindergarten.

    It’s a huge mistake to think of high school sports in the same way as pro sports – “winning is all” might fly in the NBA but in youth sports, it’s a destructive philosophy, even for the winners. Most of whom are NOT going to make it as far as college sports – just to keep some perspective here.

    As a parent, I want my kids in sports so they stay in shape, develop new skills, learn teamwork, but most of all, because I want them to think of themselves as competent athletically and to be confident in their ability to take on a new sport or physical challenge.

    As a taxpayer and citizen, I want schools to focus more on skill development and confidence and teamwork – that’s all an important part of education IMO – and less on a few elite kids, whose parents have been priming them since they could walk, winning a state title.

    Cath Young wrote: “I think one of the huge shames of the public school sytems in this country is that they take the thousands of eager soccer players and reduce them to one school team in middle school when the rec teams are no longer an option for the kids.”

    This EXACTLY. It’s a crime that public monies support this.

  31. Julie says:

    Rec league-any age-everyone plays at least a minimum amount (a quarter, a half..something)

    Competitve travel teams–any age-play to win

    Middle school teams-mimimum amount

    High School JV-liked to see everyone play-coaches discretion-still a development scenario but right on the line

    High School Varsity-Play to win

  32. Claire R says:

    My daughter had basketball passion from the age of 7. She was a very skilled and smart player, and loved the team aspect of sports. She was always a starter. I only say all this to give some perspective on what I say next: She found it disheartening, every year through high school, that some of the lesser players were nothing but bench-warmers. Her feeling, and for the most part the feeling of the other players, was that Kid A who was a total hot-shot, never missed a basket, made 3-pointers, but skipped practice, got lousy grades, or was a jerk to the other team, was not a good representative of the team, despite the number of points she may have scored. Kid B, who was not quite as natural an athlete, but who showed up for practice, threw her heart into the team, and was determined to be a contributing team member, was widely regarded by the kids as someone who should play. I take my cue from the kids: it’s bad for morale, no matter the age, to have someone/s who sit there all year waiting for 5 minutes in the final game. It’s basketball, not world peace or a cure for a terminal illness. It’s just not that crucial, IMHO.

  33. Michelle says:

    I get so sick of the “You play to win the game” attitude. No wonder professional sports in this country (particularly football) are the ethical hot mess they are if that is the attitude with which we are inculcating child athletes. No, that is not the goal. You play to Play The Game to the best of your ability, as a whole person focused on the experience and not merely the score. Winning is the instant gratification of playing well, and strategy is indeed a part of the process of playing well. But sportsmanship and character are the long-term reward for working together AS A TEAM, with everyone doing their best, with everyone being given adequate opportunity to contribute, and with everyone spending their fair share of the time keeping the bench warm. If all you care about is the final score, then you are going to end up with a bunch of athletes who can rack up points, but who will have a hard time overcoming the temptations to unethical shortcuts (e.g., doping, rule-bending, cheating) that are hard to resist when winning is all that matters in competition. What you won’t end up with is a strong, ethical, and competitive TEAM.

  34. Kim says:

    We’ve been on both sides of this situation. My son was nine last year and on a competitive basketball team. He sat on the bench most of the time, and then the coaches split the team into two teams. He was on the “bad” team, of course, whereas the coaches’ kids were on the “good” team, even though they were obviously not better than the “bad” kids. The funny thing was that my son was the best shooter on the team. And he went to every practice and the coaches always said he was the best behaved. I guess he wasn’t aggressive enough at first and they never gave him another chance. It was like the first game determined his place on the team. It’s unfortunate, because it seems like many coaches do not see potential and try to help the kids become the best they can be. These basketball players were the youngest level in our city, so if anything, that seems like the time to develop players instead of trying to win every game. To me, it seems like every level until high school varsity should be to develop then kids skills.

    On the other hand, my son also plays baseball and is pretty good. But his dad is usually a coach or assistant coach in Little League (and a coach in travel baseball), so I am sensitive when it seems like he’s pitching or playing more than the other kids. In competitive travel ball, my husband has had some subs sit quite a bit during games, but they know beforehand that they are there to fill in where needed. I feel bad when the kids sit on the bench, but I know they all play in each game, and they know they were hand-picked to be on the team. My husband is “old-school” and will have kids sit if they misbehave or if they miss practices. Many coaches don’t even do that, which is a shame.

    I guess it seems like a lot of the parent coaches are living vicariously through their kids (nothing new there, huh?), so winning becomes extra important. It’s too bad when they let their own egos get in the way of the kids’ fun and learning. The younger years should be fun and developmental. But I’ve also seen some coaches who are all about fun, and I feel a bit sorry for those kids, too. Their teams rarely win, the coaches don’t develop the kids or even know them individually, and there is a lack of guidance and fairness. I guess there needs to be a balance.

  35. suze says:

    I also find the huge emphasis on winning questionable. And this emphasis is offputting to the majority of kids who are not the ‘best’ – it leads to fewer kids doing team sports and is a factor in rising obesity and inactivity rates. I don’t think that teams should not try to excel and hone their skills. But I have seen this very competitive attitude, expressed by male coaches (not the female coaches my kids have had) to kids at a very young age, eg as young as 7. And it just means that a lot of kids drop out.

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