We don’t even keep score but our U8 girls soccer team coach mostly plays those girls who he says give the team the "best chance to win". Is it unreasonable for me to be getting irritated about this?
My daughter is a first time player on a U8 team. There is only one strong player on the team. The rest fall between unskilled and somewhat skilled. My daughter is probably the weakest player, but it's a close call compared to her teammates. The coach has been keeping her out two quarters each game, while a couple of girls never sit out. None of the other players has sat out more than one quarter per game. There are 8 girls on the team, so each kid should be out for one quarter. The coach told me he's playing the girls who give the team the "best chance to win". They don't even keep score in our U8, but essentially we've lost every game anyway. Is it unreasonable for me to be getting irritated about this? How are these kids supposed to get better at the game if they're always on the sidelines? I thought this was supposed to be fun.
Dear concerned mom,
Your frustration with the coach’s approach to game management at a U8 recreational league (no score keeping) is a very reasonable reaction to the situation you described. I am not familiar with your league’s charter, but based on leagues that I am familiar with, the coach is clearly in violation of the rules. Unless a child misses many practices, is late, exhausted, or injured he or she is entitled to play an equal amount of time as any other child on the team. On your child’s U8 team the coach is required to assign every child to play a minimum of three of four quarters on any given game day. The rules about these matters are very clear in most leagues and I urge you to talk to league officials and have someone inform the coach about his duties.
The approach of "playing the girls who give the team the best chance to win" would also imply that some players may eventually become "bench players" and never compete as is the case in club, varsity and professional sports. The coach’s statement suggests that he may define "winning" very narrowly. Also, the coach seems to have little knowledge of children’s motivations to participate in youth sports.
Below, I have attached two paragraphs that I have copied from the "Coaching Philosophy" article found in the "Kids First Soccer" website. Numerous similar studies (including one I conducted in 1998) reach similar conclusions.
In 1987 the Athletic Footwear Association in America sponsored a study of 10,000 students ages 10-18 regarding their feelings about sport. The students reacted to questions such as why they participate, why they quit, and what changes they would make in order to get involved again in a sport they dropped.
The most important finding of the study was that winning, which is the most publicized and pursued goal of sports, never ranked higher than seventh even among the most competitive athletes. "To have fun" and "to improve my skills" were consistently the first two choices why the students chose to play sports. When asked why they dropped from sports three of the first five reasons were "I was not having fun," "coach was a poor teacher," and "too much pressure." How many coaches you know would have predicted this outcome?
In a related study, kids were asked whether they would rather play on a losing team or sit on the bench of a winning team. The overwhelming majority of kids would rather play on a losing team. This may be a surprising finding to some adults, but the kids have spoken in a very clear and loud voice.
The coach should be informed about his duties and the league’s charter, and he should be made aware of the flaws in his "best chance to win" argument. The league experience is about "the best chance for each child to fully participate" and not about "the best chance to win." The coach’s and any player’s strive to win is a legitimate aspiration as is playing with heart and soul to hopefully become the winner. A willingness to manipulate the rules and compromise a child’s right to fully participate in order to enhance the team’s chances to win, on the other hand, is not an acceptable nor is it a morally justifiable approach to coaching little league. Little league is not a professional sport franchise and the coach is not expected to build a sport dynasty. Some coaches take the little league experience too personally and they act as if their reputation is on the line each time they get out on the field. Unfortunately, they fail to recognize the simple fact that the league experience is exclusively for and about the kids. Adults are expected to do the driving, coaching, cheering, etc..., and through it all keep a low profile.
Armed with the above argument, your next move would be to take the necessary steps to remedy the current "player game-time" situation on your U8 team. Since you may be very upset (and rightfully so), I would strongly recommend that you seek a third party to deal with the coach. In order to help the coach feel better about his efforts and hard work, I would suggest that the team parents provide him with positive feedback about issues, such as, improved personal skills, team play, fun, the quality of the league experience, etc.
In some cases, coaches react to pressures from certain team parents. I have coached several teams with a poor win/loss record but managed to maintain a very positive attitude on the team because everybody felt important and everybody improved. Two different sets of parents on two different teams I coached, whose kids were among my best performers, left for other teams because they felt I was not maximizing their child’s chances to play on a "winning" team. I respectfully disagreed with them but I am well aware of the resentment some parents exhibit toward kids on their team that "deprive" or "hinder" their "star" child from winning. I certainly "know my stuff" and the kids were learning and improving, but alas, dad felt unfulfilled and I made it clear to dad that "his special needs" are not a part of my coaching agenda.
Some parents fail to realize that their skilled child has the opportunity to both shine and learn the true meaning of the word "team," a word that as the cliche goes, does not include an "i" in it. Also, strong performers have an opportunity to develop leadership skills, help their peers, and galvanize their attributes of tolerance and compassion. Children, parents, coaches, and administrators taking part in youth sports must know that the first and foremost principle of any youth league is that "every child counts."
Good luck, and please keep me posted.
Your reaction and comments to this week's question are welcome.
Cal State LA
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Last Modified: July 12, 2003