I get dozens of emails each month from parents and coaches who are frustrated with the direction that a particular sport or youth league in their town has taken.
In 99 percent of these correspondences I’m asked to keep the specific details and the sender’s identity private. And I always do. You can bet Grandma’s inheritance on it.
Often, however, I will draw examples and situations from that info (as well as my own experiences) so that I can make a point based on actual events.
Here (based on an email and a conversation) is an example of why I think Select Teams (Travel Teams, Elite Teams, etc.) have no place among pre-high school athletes.
Jack didn’t try out for the 8th Grade Travel Basketball Team. There were a lot of reasons for his decision. He knew the coach from another sport and quite frankly thought he was a jerk. He was the kind of guy who coached by intimidation. And besides, the coach's son was always talking trash to Jack. It sounded like stuff that probably came from his father.
It also cost hundreds of dollars for the season and that didn’t even count sneakers. Jack knew things were tight in the household, so he was happy to play in the Rec league with most of the other kids.
Jack was having a fantastic season. The Monday after he’d won the game with a 3-point fade away jumper at the buzzer, most of his friends were talking about it.
The Travel Team kids began to say that since it was only a Rec League game, it didn’t really mean that much. Rec ball was just … rec ball.
During the week, Jack’s coach ran into one of the referees and was curious about some of the calls during the game — a little clarification to pass along to his players. The ref’s response was, “It’s just Rec ball. None of those kids are going to make the high school team anyway.”
And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. At 13 years old, the word on the street is that unless you are on the Travel Team, your basketball career will end upon entering your freshman year of high school.
Whether that’s actually true is not at issue here. Can’t you see what is happening? Youth sports are turning into an elite or bust mentality. And what’s worse is that Coach Daddy and his buddies are often holding the sledge hammer.
Would you blame Jack for getting discouraged and not trying out for the freshman team next winter? And if I hear one more time how these “lessons” are going to prepare him for the less-than-perfect life that awaits him, I’m going to throw up my Greek yogurt.
In some sports, such as soccer, 9- and 10-year-olds are trying out for the honor of being called elite. And if they are cut, they are not elite. This is usually decided by a group of parents with stakes in the decisions. And as a result we are turning these “special” kids into brats who won’t know how to handle the “failure” of not being elite at 11, 12, or 16. But the reality is that once you get a group of players together at such a young age, they end up staying together.
So even if Jack (Fred, Harry, or Steve) wanted to join the team at such a late stage of their careers, they’d have to displace some of the lifers. That would surely screw up the team chemistry. Then there’s the group of parents who have been sipping lattes together for three years. Do you dare break that up?
I believe adults create these teams out of a fear that their “talented” child is going to get smothered beneath the crush of the average player. If they travel, then the competition must be tougher. If they travel they must be getting better coaching. If they travel they will shine brighter and win championships and scholarships.
OK, I can imagine how radical this is all sounding right about now. Put your kid in the pool with all those average kids? My goodness, he or she will waste away and eventually disappear in a cloud of obscurity!
If you’ve been reading since Day One, you know my views on youth sports. I need parents, coaches, and league administrators interested in forming a coalition (if you will) to take back youth sports for our children. (I’ll think of a clever name.)
You know where I am so zip me an email and we’ll go from there (I’ll try to keep traveling down to a minimum.).