Eliminating scoring and standings in youth league sports is done to control the parents, not the kids
If you follow sports, you’ve seen firebrand coaches like punch-throwing Woody Hayes, chair-throwing Bobby Knight, and most recently, basketball-chucking Mike Rice Jr., all whose competitive spirit turns to aggression and even violence against their players.
It’s something we, as sensible adults, call a shame or call for termination. Yet, as in the case of the Paterno blind-eye legacy, our response is often diminished if the coach is a proven winner. The need to win has blinded us to so many abuses, and pushed coaches over the edge.
In high school, I had a coach who would lose his temper and throw footballs at your head, yank you by the facemask, and utter such drill-sergeant classics as, “You could fuck up a one-car funeral!” and “Does your mother know where you are?” It was OK because the other coaches would let us rattle the port-a-potty whenever he used it (which was once), but this old school tactic is becoming unacceptable, not just because of big brother’s omniscience, but because of its efficacy. Not in winning, but in teaching.
I just finished my first season coaching my son’s first grade basketball team, and trust me, there were times when I had impulses that needed to be checked. During games, donning a suit to keep in mind that I looked and sounded ridiculous if I got too invested, I still ended up hoarse. This is the fun of competition, the full engagement in the moment, but there is also the danger of losing perspective on why we’re there: to encourage activity, team play, improvement–bigger life lessons.
As parents, we entrust coaches to take charge of our kids for an hour a week, not unlike teachers, except without all the layers of oversight. The oversight has to come from the sidelines.
And the sidelines at the youth level have been put on notice.
The emphasis on winning, from pee-wee sports to major sports organizations, is changing. The sea change in early athletics from my generation to this one—the lack of score keeping—has been supplanted of late by the elimination of standings.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Soccer Association, the official governing body for the sport in the country, implemented its Wellness to World Cup Long-Term Player Development model, which eliminates standings in youth groups under age 12 and is “not intended to reduce the intensity of competition among players.”
Instead it “diminishes the incentive for coaches at these levels to play to “win the league” because they are chasing a trophy and a league title at the end of the season. It also reduces pressure from parents to win, to perform, and to avoid mistakes.”
We’re changing the nature of sports because the parents—not the kids—are acting like assholes.
As a teenager, I refereed park district leagues for 3-6graders, and I would have nightmares of getting berated by coaches and parents, my whistle broken, unable to stop the angry, enveloping mob. This nightmare was based in reality: coaches kicking chairs, slamming clipboards, foaming at the mouth as they yelled at their kids to not double dribble. The kids could barely single dribble. A dear friend who coaches a traveling hyper-competitive fourth-grade league, was threatened by the losing coach, saying “you’ll get yours.” These leagues are volunteer-based, mind you.
The worst example of parents losing it was at pre-school soccer last summer, where the kids are just two years removed from crawling. It’s so cute until you hear the parents on the sidelines. Two opposing kids were getting more competitive, more aggressive, and a dad on the sideline encouraged more of it, even after the opponent got knocked down. The other dad, opposite sideline, said that was enough, they exchanged words and met in the middle of the field, chest bumping like something out of the Berenstein Bears. It was brutal.
As the uproar at viral outbursts by petulant power-hungry men, continue, we must look at our own sidelines. We, as parents, have to be receptive to what our kids are getting out of the sport, and mindful of how they are getting it. There’s no tolerance for abuse, which is why we’re seeing the changes to the level of competition.
As parent coaches, such as myself, we’ve got to pay attention to our effect on the kids, same as when we are parents. Midseason, my son and his friend requested I wear something else cause we always lose when I wear suits, even though we didn’t keep score or standings. I obliged, not just to save on dry cleaning, but because it was their team.
—parts of this essay appeared in different form on HLNtv’s Raising America