|OPINION PAGE - OCTOBER 13, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GEORGIA|
The Jackson Herald
October 13, 1999
double toil and trouble
Ghost hunters bite back: More than 200 respond to Herald article. Click here to view letters
By Mike Buffington
October 13, 1999
Sports is more than just playing time
When I was about 10 years old, I decided to play Little League baseball. The problem was, I wasn't any good. I couldn't catch. I couldn't hit. I couldn't throw. But I could warm the bench seat with my bottom, a position I came to know well.
So when I read the recent letter from a mama upset because her boy didn't get enough playing time on a local rec league football team, a part of me could identify. I, too, was once a bench-warmer.
Still, mama is wrong. It may be painful to face, but not every child can play competitive sports. If they could, every boy over the age of 10 would become an NFL star.
There is one important distinction here - there's a difference between "competitive" sports and "non-competitive" sports. Generally, younger children play non-competitive sports where scores aren't recorded and all children are allowed to play no matter what their ability. Older children enter the world of competitive sports where ability does matter. You earn your position on a team and the better, older boys generally dominate the playing time, especially in football.
The problem is, parents often confuse the two. When a child reaches 10 or 11, he usually begins playing competitive sports. While the child might accept that, often his parents do not. As in the case of the recent letter writer, some parents believe all children should play regardless of ability. When they don't get their way, they complain to coaches and write letters to newspapers.
Rather than doing that, they should stand back and let their child grow up. Like their grown-up counterparts, not all children can play first string. And while there are coaches who abuse the "win at all costs" with their egos, more often than not, it is parents whose egos get in the way of youth league sports.
In complaining about the lack of playing time, these parents are teaching their child the wrong lessons in life. Rather than encouraging their child to work hard to earn his position on a team, they're teaching him to gripe and complain until it's handed to him.
Is that what we want for future adults: whiners and complainers who think the world owes them a handout?
The Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department could stop much of this complaining by making it clear to all parents what age is considered "competitive" in its programs. Every parent of a child in competitive sports should have to sign a waiver acknowledging that they know it is a competitive league; that the starting team will be selected on ability; that not every boy or girl will get equal playing time; and that the coaches' decision on who plays and who doesn't is final. Such a waiver would be a fair warning of the league's rules. Parents could then decide if they want their child in a competitive environment, or if they'd rather find some other pursuit.
The odd thing about those who complain the loudest when it comes to youth league sports is that many never played competitive sports themselves. Nor do these complainers sign up to be a coach. They'll sit on the sidelines and shout at the coaches, but they'd never dare put themselves out front and commit time and energy to the game.
Of course, there are lousy coaches out there who rant and rave and act like children themselves. There is no excuse for adults to act that way and the rec department should always deal swiftly to reprimand those who get out of line.
But the truth is, most coaches try to do a good job and be fair to all the players. Most coaches will give playing time even to boys who aren't good athletes, if those boys practice hard and show a good attitude.
But before young boys can do that, they first have to have parents who have a good attitude and who encourage their children to work hard even when they spend a lot of time on the bench.
Youth competitive sports is a lot more than just about playing time. It's about learning basic skills and the value of hard work. It's about learning how to be a good sport. It's about earning a position and being motivated by competition. It's about learning to accept your part on a team, even if that part is to keep the bench seat warm during a game.
I didn't actually play much Little League baseball, but I participated. Sitting on the bench 30 years ago didn't hurt me, even if I didn't like it very much at the time.
Thank goodness my parents didn't embarrass themselves, or me, by complaining to the coaches about my bench-warming.
The only thing worse than sitting on the bench is for parents' misplaced pride to get the better of their tongues.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
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