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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Keeping Score

I had a great conversation with friends last night regarding youth athletics.  Finding I may not know half as much as I should about how the games are played moving forward.  It stems from our 3rd grade school basketball "travel" team having 23 girls on it.  In fact, the teams through 6th grade have 20 or so kids for the most part.  Now, if you are unsure of basketball let me tell you only 5 kids are on the floor at one time.  And since we are not making cuts or having tryouts, the hardest part of coaching is working in EVERY kid equally.

My opinion is if we are playing competitive games, which travel leagues are, there have to either be cuts, or tryouts.  My daughter had tryout for the town travel soccer program, prior to 3rd grade.  And tryouts for travel basketball seem like a no brainer too.  Other schools and their teams want to come to our gym and beat us.  Do we need kids on the team who have no interest in being there?  Not only does that take away from the dozen or so kids that can excel and grow, it can be dangerous.  Basketballs careening off iron rims from errant shots rain down on helpless, pig-tailed girls like you cannot imagine.  I have seen girls breakdown because they have to remove their earrings prior to tip-off.  Wait til they get their first jammed finger.  Not pretty.

The counter argument, as argued with a couple with far more experience and knowledge, was the longer you keep kids in the game, the more positive impact it will have on their overall life.  They gave an example of a boy scoring a basket during a 5th grade game earlier this year.  He is a boy with some marginal talents that is clearly out there building confidence and having fun with his friends.  As he came back to the bench during the mass substituiton he cried.  Here was an earth shattering moment in this young man's life.  And it will be one he probably remember the rest of his life.  Had their been cuts in 5th grade as I argued this moment would not exist. 

And my contention that we should at least break the teams into 2 was also met with resistance.  "Than, the talent is deluded." I was told.  That is where I think we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths.  If we are concerned about talent and how best to utilize it, cuts are imperative.  If, we want to include everyone interested, 2 teams seems the only way to go.  So we have 5 or so quaility girls on each squad.  If our jobs at this level is to cultivate talent and increase skill levels each team WILL improve as the season goes along.  Should they both improve and have what it takes to make a playoff run so what?  I grew up playing kids from my school as well as kids I knew from Public schools.  Those games were the absolute best.  You could have bragging rights in the schoolyard or neighborhood.

In an area that is already fairly soft and shielded, with kids maturing and growing ever so rapidly, we need to look at Social Darwinism more closely.  Less and less this country produces.  We wait for innovations and consume them with vigor.  We passively watch other countries revolt and ignite social change.  We eat ourselves heavy and cancel gym memberships.  All the while a naive and Stepford like smile adorns our chubby little faces.

And as we continue to award participation and not stress the importance of competition, these things only become more prevalent.  I want to protect my girl as much as I can.  Her feelings and growth are the most important thing in my life.  I understand she is 8, and very much a child.  But I am not going to come down on her when she asks what the score is Wednesday night during her first softball game.  And if they win or lose there are lessons that can be taught, and certainly learned.

Scoreboard is important.  Can't we agree with His Tiger Blooded-ness and start "Winning."


  1. Talk about an errant shot careering of the rim and jamming a finger, flashbacks to the FYC playing with the "Suburban Man". OUCH!! I must be old, we never knew what a "travel" team was. After basketball season we played baseball. After baseball season we played basketball, wiffel ball, tennis, went to the pool, & other activities in murphs back yard. The good ol days.....

  2. 23 kids on a basketball team is too much. The team should be split into two or three squads. To me, for children younger than 13, the emphasis should be on skill development. Competition is important, too, but to me at this age, skill development is first. Kids like to compete and they should be encouraged to do their best, but the emphasis should be put on how much did the kids learn, how much did they improve, and how much fun did they have.

    To me, putting the emphasis on winning at this age level is likely to be counter productive. At this age level, its important to start building a base of skilled players who can build a foundation for longer term success. Sports participation tends to be self selecting over time. Eventually, the kids who are not as athletically inclined or who develop other interests will simply stop playing. In addition, puberty often re-shuffles the deck. Its at this time that smaller kids or other "late bloomers" may grow into their bodies and turn out bigger, stronger athletes than the kids who were considered better players in their earlier years Before the age of 12 or 13 (amy maybe even 14 or 15) there simply is no way to predict who the "star athletes" will be. You don't want to risk cutting your future star forward because they were undersized as a 9 year old.