Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Let Them Play, But Play to Win

You may have seen this article in The Plain Dealer last weekend. To make a long story short, the Cleveland Diocese is adopting mandatory participation rules for its CYO programs. These are intended to make sure that kids get a chance for meaningful playing time in basketball, football and other youth sports offered through the CYO program. I agree completely with this idea, but I also think it's important to distinguish between making sure kids get into the game, and buying into the idea that participation is all that youth sports should be about.

Listen, I've coached everything from tee ball for four year-olds (talk about herding cats!) to junior high football, and I've never once coached a game where the kids didn't know who won and who lost. New age parents and psychologists might claim that youth sports should just be about getting exercise and having fun, but any kid who ever picked up a ball can tell you it's no fun to lose. They keep score for a reason, and the kids know it, even if the adults like to pretend that winning doesn't matter.

I'll go even further. As far as I'm concerned, coaches who just want to cheerlead instead of teaching kids the fundamentals of their sport and challenging them to excel as part of a team have no business coaching anyone. Coach Lollipop, who doesn't teach anybody how to hold a bat or hit the cutoff man, but buys everybody ice cream, win or lose, is every bit as pernicious as Coach Mussolini, the nutcase who shrieks at everyone and thinks the other kids on the team are just there to provide a supporting cast for his kid, the budding superstar.

I've read that coaches are the most important role models for children aside from parents--even more influential than teachers. I once heard an insight as to why this may be the case: for most young athletes, their team represents the first time they've ever worked jointly with an adult to accomplish a common goal. In other words, it's the first time that many kids have had an adult take them seriously. Coach Mussolini doesn't fit this model, but Coach Lollipop sure doesn't either.

Kids who are told "it's just for fun" and "the score doesn't matter" are cheated out of some of the most important lessons that team sports have to offer. By all means, let 'em all play, but play to win, and coach them like the game matters to you because they matter to you -- all of them, not just the ones gifted with natural talent or your DNA.


Ms. Anotop said...

The underlying theme of your post is typical of volunteers whom I categorize as "Coaches Gone Mad" I think back on my CYO days, the most valuable lessons I gained were learned without respect to whether our teams won or lost...indeed, it wasn't about "just having fun" it was about mutual respect, trust, courage, sacrifice, encouragement, and physical development...I truly believe that kids care less than the parents do and coach does about who won.

Anonymous said...

Spoken like someone who lost a lot...

Ms. Anotop said...

yep...but we did go to DQ anyways.

Mike said...

Missed that article in the PD.

I wrote an article about the CYO basketball changes for the Catholic Universe Bulletin at the beginning of the hoops season last fall. Wish it were archived online so I could link it!

You wouldn't believe the outrage many of these coaches felt for these changes (which had already been instituted in football -- volleyball, I believe, they were unable to come to an agreement on at that point).

One of the biggest parts is that some view the CYO teams as feeder programs for the Catholic high school squads, while others see it as an unfair advantage.

I wonder how the coaches feel now that the season has played out and the gymnasium walls did not tumble down.