Tips for Parents
Why All Kids Should Play Sports
Sports provide lessons in discipline, teamwork, and resilience—the very qualities that most parents want for their children.
Early sports participation matters because the advantages that come with it can serve as an inoculation against some of life’s unhappier outcomes. Compared to those who don’t play sports, students on high-school teams graduate at higher rates, perform better on tests, secure higher grades, and are more apt to aim for college. Sports participation is also correlated with happier families, better physical and emotional health, and an overall higher quality of life, including less drug and tobacco use in high school.
Girls, in particular, seem to benefit from athletics: Participation reduces the chances of developing heart disease and breast cancer, cuts rates of unplanned pregnancies, lessens obesity, and boosts body self-esteem. And the advantages extend into adulthood: Four out of five female business executives played sports as kids, and women who go on to play sports in college are 25 percent more likely than those who don’t to develop political aspirations.
Sports would help kids develop more fully as people.
The Best Advice to Give Your Young Athlete
Before your child leaves to practice, a game or a tournament, give them these two little bits of advice:
“Be the hardest worker and the one having the most fun.”
The Power of Willingness
Willingness means: done, given, or accepted voluntarily or ungrudgingly.
Why is willingness so powerful? Because it means somebody does something without expecting personal gain, notoriety, or anything in return for their action or sacrifice. To illustrate willingness in sports terms, let’s look at what it can mean on your child's team:
For parents, willingness might mean:
- Willingness to put the team above yourself or your child
- Willingness to coach a team if needed
- Willingness to get your child to practices and games on time
- Willingness to take a teammate home from practice
- Willingness to work in the concession
- Willingness to drive the team to games and tournaments
- Willingness to help clean up the school after games and tournaments
- Willingness to step in and referee a game when needed
- Willingness to stay positive in the bleachers
- Willingness to tell your child that they don’t deserve to start
- Willingness to stay after practice and work on your child's game with them
- Willingness to pull another parent aside and ask what’s bothering them
- Willingness to encourage your child to keep their grades up
- Willingness to pay your child's athletic fees in a timely manor
If parents can buy into this, it can literally be program-changing for Barnwell School.
Why I Pay Money for Sports
All 3 of my kids are doing a spring sport. Luke is taking boxing lessons and Jack & Lyla are playing basketball. They’ve previously done karate, soccer, basketball, baseball, swimming, tennis and gymnastics. Why do I invest in my kids playing sports? I’ll give you a hint - it is NOT for the trophies, equipment, uniforms, games or practices.
- I pay for them to learn life lessons they won’t learn anywhere else.
- I pay for them to learn personal & collective accountability and commitment.
- I pay for them to learn how to push through fatigue and adversity.
- I pay for them to learn how to be coachable, disciplined, focused, dedicated and responsible.
- I pay for them to learn how to work with others and how to be a good teammate.
- I pay for them to learn how to lose graciously and win gracefully.
- I pay for them to learn the value of practice, repetition and how to respect the process.
- I pay for them to learn how to work towards personal and team goals.
- I pay for them to learn how to be respectful and compassionate towards their teammates, coaches and officials.
- I pay for them to have the opportunity to make friends, create memories and have fun experiences.
- I pay for them to get off their devices and away from their screens.
- I pay for them to improve their mental, physical and emotional wellness.
Please pay your sports fees and be willing to help out with driving our athletes or working in the concession. We hope that you realize that this is money/time well spent! Thank you!
Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports?
By Dr. Kristin Heredia
I recently attended a sporting event where I witnessed a father talking to his distraught daughter.
The daughter was not currently getting as much playing time as her teammates and she was very visibly upset about this. Instead of going and complaining to all the parents in the bleachers or going to the coach to complain, the father asked his daughter these questions: “When was the last time you have been to the gym to work on your skills? Have you been working in the weight room? Have you had a good attitude? Have you been working like a team player?”
She could not answer these questions for her father. He then responded to her, "This is one person’s problem, yours. You need to make it so they have no choice but to leave you in because you are that good and valuable to the team.” I want to give kudos to this parent for putting the responsibility back on his daughter and making it a life lesson. He did not handle this all-to-common situation by engaging in the whispering bleacher banter or yelling profanities at the coach throughout the game. This father chose to put the responsibility on his daughter to make her realize that she needed to improve her performance and her attitude if she wanted to increase her playing time.
By the time kids reach the junior high level the idea of equal playing time should not be seen as a requirement. Lower level activities require equal playing time, enforce no-cut policies, and do a great job at allowing kids to hone their skills and try new roles, positions, etc. so they can find their strengths. By the time kids reach junior high they are competing for larger goals and they are preparing for high school level competition. Not everyone is going to get equal playing time. Not everyone is going to get an A on his or her test. Not everyone is going to get the same amount of stage time. Not everyone can be first chair in the band. Not everyone is going to be a starter. People earn these things by their performance.
When you are on a competitive team of any kind you have to realize you are competing! You are competing not only as a team, but also you are competing for specific spots and roles. This is not a bad thing. This is a time to find strengths and weaknesses. It is a time to find likes and dislikes. It is a time to learn life lessons.
We cannot expect everyone to have the resilience of Rudy Ruettiger, but an attitude like his paired with hard work, listening to coaches, showing up to perform and displaying good character and teamwork can benefit a player as well as the whole team.
Unfortunately, even with hard work and great attitudes, some kids just aren’t cut out for certain activities. Me, for example, I am never going to be a performance singer. No matter how much I practice or how many voice lessons I pay for I am never going to be a good singer. Even if I got a spot on the choir I would know I would never be a soloist. We all must understand our capabilities.
Parents need to help their children by setting a good example of sportsmanship instead of instilling entitlement. If you join a competitive activity and you are not able to honorably ride the roller coaster of emotions then maybe competitive activities are not one of your strengths.
What Should Parents Say When Their Child Is Frustrated With Playing Time?
By Stuart Singer
One of the hardest things to deal with as an athlete – youth to pro – is not getting playing time. Every athlete wants to contribute, wants to feel like they are a part of the accomplishments of the team, and just simply wants to play because it’s more fun than not playing. But not everyone can play all the time and that is one of the realities that our kids learn in sports.
What Not To Do
So, what can we say as parents, and as importantly what do we NOT want to say that can actually end up making the situation worse even thought we are trying to make it better?
First, lets start with what NOT to do. This is the hardest part. We should not try to “save” them from the discomfort/pain of not playing, by telling them that the coach is stupid, unfair, doesn’t know what they’re doing, playing favorites, etc.
Why not? Maybe one of these is actually true? Regardless of whether true or not it unintentionally sends two messages to the young athlete. The first message is that the real world won’t have these things as well – the truth is that it will. The second message that it sends is that they need you to save them from pain. We don’t. It’s our urge as parents, but the reality is that we don’t need to. They are always more resilient than we actually know and they will survive this.
A Better Approach
A better approach is to acknowledge the pain, let them know that you understand it, and then remind them that they’ll be fine. It may take a little while, but they will survive it – we always do. Teaching them to believe in their inherent strength is a much better lesson
The second step – after they express their anger and disappointment – is to ask one simple question.
"What do you have some control over now?”
Even if not playing in games the player can continue to compete like crazy in practice, give their attention to improving, and to continuing to do the right things as a teammate. There will still be difficult moments, but at least they are approaching from a proactive place of strength – “I still control these things”, “I can still improve”, and “this is a moment in time and not my entire career”.
Your Child's Identity
The last thing that I’ll recommend for this topic is to understand that their sport is not them – it is not their identity. Good or bad performance does not dictate your value. How you respond, how you treat others, and how you value the behaviors you exhibit is your identity and your value. Sport success or challenges are not who you are they are simply something that you do.
I’ll finish this up by framing it the best way I know how which is through an old fable I’ve repeated many times -“Don’t try to remove the obstacle from the path, the obstacle is the path”. Struggle and pain are part of a successful life, and so learning how to NOT fear them is essential. Don’t prevent them from experiencing these valuable lessons.
PARENTS: Stop blaming everybody else for your kid not playing. At some point your athlete has to own it and most importantly as a parent, you’ve got to tell your kid the truth. Playing time is earned through attendance, attitude, and aptitude - NOT aggression by a parent.
Dear Out of Control Sports Parent
Dear Out of Control Sports Parent,
The one shouting “Get the rebound!!!” to your kid. The one with the heart palpitating so loudly that you cannot contain yourself. The one yelling and complaining about the coach. The one hollering at the 13-year-old referee. The one angry at my kid for making a mistake. The one hollering at the kids who made a mistake running the scoreboard in a recreational tournament in a meaningless pool play game.
Yeah, you, the one whose spouse won’t sit next to you during the game. The one who is micromanaging every aspect of the game and turning what would be a pleasant normal Saturday into a heightened state of anxiety for all of us, including your fellow parents stuck next to you for today’s game, this season, and our kids’ childhoods.
PLEASE CALM DOWN!
Do you notice the Normal Sports Parents sitting next to you who are quiet? Did you even look at us? You probably didn’t. Do you know what we are thinking? Well, I’ve listened to you holler in my ear all game, so now it’s my turn.
Your noise pollution is ruining my day and my experience as a parent. You don’t have the right to dominate over all of us sitting here watching and cheering like Normal Sports Parents. You don’t have the right to keep blocking my view as you jump up to contest another call, or express your frustration at another mistake by an 11-year-old.
Have you ever stopped to consider any of the following things:
You are not helping your kid. Did you ever think of that? Did any of your advice, ever, help anyone on the court? Did your kid swing better, make the shot, score the goal, or improve in any way because you yelled? Did a referee ever change his call? Did it have any positive effect on the game whatsoever?
You are embarrassing your kid. Your kid knows he missed the shot. Do you have to criticize him publicly for it? Now your kid is focused on your voice and the coach’s voice and his inner voice and it’s taking away the ability to think and make decisions and play. No kid likes to be yelled at publically, in front of his friends. Do you? When was the last time you were yelled at or shamed by your boss in front of the whole company? Do you know what kids want parents to say on the sidelines? Nothing. No coaching. At most, general cheering.
Don’t yell at my kid. EVER. What makes you think that this is even OK? If you want to screw up your own kid’s journey, that is sad, but it’s your kid. As for the rest of them, zip it.
No one on the sidelines thinks you are a good parent for yelling like this. Not even your friends. We are all kind of embarrassed for you, and your child. We are just afraid to say it because your kid is pretty good, and we are not sure if the club will support us in telling you to be quiet.
You had your turn to play when you were young. Let it go. This will all be over soon, you won’t have anyone to drive to practice anymore, and you will have to ask yourself “what was this all for?”
Before you think I’m going to say the score doesn’t matter, I’m not. The score matters….to our kids, but not as much as it matters to you. In fact, they will be over it by the time they cross the court and ask “what’s for lunch?” Kids are not stupid. They also know the team with the taller, faster, and older kids have a better chance. But you are focusing only on the score, and your kid is learning that mistakes are NOT OK. That perfection is required. That your love is conditional on winning. Don’t turn your kid into an anxious hot mess with stomach pains. Look at the rates of anxiety and depression among kids in high school and college. What is your endgame?
We all screw up, but it’s never too late to change! Last week, I got caught up in it too. In fact, I wanted my kid’s team to beat your kid’s team so I could shove it in your face. Then I remembered your kid is a kid. And it didn’t feel very good to feel good about your 11-year-old feeling lousy. That didn’t seem like an adult thing to do.
I get it. You are stressed. You are scared your kid might miss out on some opportunity. I feel that too. We work hard so our kids can have advantages that we never had. It’s hard to keep up with the Joneses. It’s hard to know who to believe. But we never had this kind of pressure back in the 80s when we were kids. Do you even remember the scores from your THIRD-grade games? I don’t.
Please, for everyone’s sake, but especially your own kids, calm down. Enjoy the moment. Watch them with pride when they succeed, and watch them with pride when they have the courage to fail. If you want to jeer and holler at a game, go to a professional one.
But here, on this sideline, let’s remember these are kids. That it is just a game. That referees are human. That no one is turning pro, and no scholarships are being handed out today.
Let’s model good behavior and put it all in perspective for our children. They are here learning how to play a game with other kids with all of its ups and downs and trials and life lessons and friendships.
They are not here to boost our self-esteem.
They are not there to entertain us.
They have only one childhood.
Please let kids be kids.
Please let them fall in love with the game.
Please let them play.
And please, just let me watch in peace!
A Normal Sports Parent
Types of Parents
When you’re coaching basketball, there’s no telling what types of parents you’ll run into. Somewhere in the last decade or two, youth sports have developed several problems, and often times parents are at the forefront of the issues.
Don’t get me wrong – coaches with improper motives can be just as bad, but there are sometimes parents that will literally drive people out of coaching.
So without further ado – the eight types of parents you’ll encounter as a basketball coach.
Since parents typically get painted in a negative light when it comes to basketball, we’ll start with the positive one. Positive Patty is the parent that will volunteer to help whenever needed. She’s the loudest one in the gym, but it’s always encouragement. She might even bring a pom-pom or a blowhorn to the games.
You don’t have to worry about the positive pattys when you’re a coach. You know that they are a champion of your program and you won’t hear any gripes from them.
This is another parent that coaches love to have as part of their program. Discipline Dan doesn’t let his kid talk bad about the coaches, and he’s usually the first one to ask “well is there a reason the coach is getting on you?” Discipline Dan usually played sports in the past, or has possibly even coached himself, so he typically will take the coach’s word over his own kid’s.
If Discipline Dan’s kid isn’t getting it done in the classroom or is goofing off during school, he’ll be the first one to sit his kid out of games. You won’t even have to do it as the coach, he’s already handling it as a parent.
You’re not going to hear too many gripes from Referee Rick about playing time, but you will ALWAYS hear him during games. Rick has never met an official that he liked, and he lets them know it. Sometimes you get the urge to turn around and ask Rick to pipe down because you think the referees are subconsciously hurting your team because Rick won’t quit griping at them.
Two-Face Tom is the parent that you can have a great conversation with and he’ll let you know that he’s ‘all in’ with your plans, and then will go behind your back and talk bad about you. No matter what you do, you know that Tom will never be happy, but he’ll never say it to you. You may even call Tom or approach him to ask if he has concerns and he’ll always tell you ‘no’, but it always gets back to you that he’s unhappy and has been bad-mouthing you.
Confrontation Carl thrives on being unhappy and he lets everybody in the gym know it. If you don’t play his son the amount he thinks you should, you can guarantee he’ll approach you about it. You’ll try to talk rationally to Carl, but he doesn’t get it. He usually never played sports growing up and is living through his kid.
The sad thing is usually his kid doesn’t want him to be confrontational, so you have to be able to separate the dad and the kid.
Sam is an easy-going guy that you won’t ever hear from. He doesn’t do much cheering at games, he doesn’t say much more than ‘hello’ to you, and you don’t really hear much else from him. These are easy parents to deal with, as they are quiet and mild-mannered.
This is the parent whose kid does no wrong. If you call to talk about problems their child is having in school, Dana usually blames it on the teacher not liking her child. If you sit their kid out a game because of poor conduct, they’ll respond that it’s out of character for their kid to act like that. These are parents that you’ll typically have trouble getting through to because they have delusional visions of their kid.
These are the parents that you’ll encounter and feel bad for the kid. These parents don’t come to many games, and they’re usually late picking their kid up from practices. On the one hand, they’re easy to deal with because you don’t have to worry about them griping, but on the other, you feel bad for their kid for not having a supportive parent.
A Parent's Guide to Raising Champions
by Alan Stein Jr
My #1 priority is to be a present, loving, and supportive father to Luke, Jack, and Lyla. My primary responsibility is to raise well-adjusted, self-aware, and confident children that grow up to have high character and integrity, and who have developed the skill sets necessary to make a positive contribution to the world.
I know that sports are an invaluable tool in accomplishing this. At the most fundamental level, sports should be fun platform to teach children values like teamwork, work ethic, accountability, respect, character, selflessness, loyalty, sportsmanship, leadership, competitiveness, how to deal with adversity, and how to earn success. But the key to doing that is making sure they have fun and enjoy the experience.
At the youth level, which I will define as elementary and middle school age, winning should not be the primary goal and should not be heavily emphasized. The focus should be on having fun, developing movement and technical skills, as well as learning how to be a good teammate, to be coachable, and how to play the game the right way. But you can do all that and still keep score!
It’s okay to have winners and losers. Not keeping score is a futile attempt to coddle our children and keep them insulated in a bubble. This will end up backfiring as we create an epidemic of entitled children whose self-esteem has been built on a house of cards. Kids need to learn how to win graciously and lose gracefully. As someone much wiser than me has said, “We need to prepare our children for the path, not prepare the path for our children.” But just because you keep score, doesn’t mean you have to emphasize winning. They are not the same thing. As adults, we need to praise and reward the process, not the outcome. Praise the effort, not the score. Praise the improvement, not the win/loss record.
At the youth level, everything that is done to increase the chance of winning decreases the overall development and enjoyment of the game for the kids involved.
When you emphasize winning:
- you create an environment where kids fear making mistakes. But mistakes are the primary ingredient of growth and development!
- you reward the more mature and advanced kids and leave the others behind.
- you teach kids that the outcome is more important than the process. That is a very dangerous mindset to instill if your goal is to raise happy and successful children.
I want to respectfully address parents that shout instructions to their child from the sideline. While I know this is well intended, it stunts development and makes the game a lot less fun for the kids. As parents, we should be cheering, encouraging and supporting our little rascals, and offering praise when appropriate. Screaming ‘shoot’ or ‘pass’ at the top of your lungs does not add value nor does it help. In fact, it adds pressure, confusion, and robs the child of arguably the most important skill set in sports – the ability to make decisions. From a fundamental standpoint, shooting the ball should be an action, not a reaction! Lastly, it undermines the coach.
Our children should only receive instruction from one person during a competition – their coach.
As youth parents and coaches we should all be emphasizing fun and development and praising great attitudes and work ethics, not berating referees, anointing National Champions and creating a win-at-all-costs, high-pressure environment. So, how do we do that? What are some tips to doing youth sports right? Research has shown that the best phrase you can say to your child after a practice or game is:
"I love to watch you play!"
That statement has been a game changer for me (pun intended). I have programmed myself to say that to my kids every time. And without fail, their faces light up with a big smile when I do. Please try it.
Another recommendation is for you to offer your kids these 4 reminders before every practice and every game:
- Have fun
- Play hard
- Listen to your coach
- Be a good teammate
If they can do those 4 things every time they take the court or field, then they will be getting the full benefit that sports offer at such an impressionable age. I also want to recommend you encourage your children to stay involved in as many sports as they can for as long as they can. Both individual sports like golf, tennis and martial arts, and team sports like basketball, baseball and soccer, is healthy for them mentally and physically. It will give them time to find what they are good at and what they are most passionate about.
Early sport-specialization is the wrong move. Trust me. Encouraging your children to play multiple sports in elementary and middle school will in no way limit their ability for future success in one particular sport. Believing that a child needs to play one sport, only one sport, year-round beginning at age 8 or 9, is a dangerous trend that is completely misguided. Playing multiple sports throughout the year has numerous benefits. The primary one is it helps alleviate burnout and overuse injuries.
This trend started when parents (unintentionally) began bastardizing the ‘10,000 Rule’ by Malcolm Gladwell (which states it takes approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill). This has two glaring errors. One, the study he referenced was with musicians (pianists), not athletes. There is a huge difference in the physical toll taken on a child’s body between playing the piano and playing competitive basketball (for example). And two, the key is DELIBERATE practice.
“Deliberate practice refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.” – James Clear
So simply having a child ‘play 10,000 hours of basketball from age 8 to 18’ is NOT what Gladwell intended. Logging hours is not the answer. All training needs to be intentional, purposeful, and deliberate. Having been involved in elite basketball my entire life – I can promise you that 95% of what is currently going on at youth practices and training sessions is not deliberate practice.
On an unrelated, but equally important topic, the concept of ‘everyone-gets-a-trophy’ to raise children’s self-esteem does not work. It provides a false sense of accomplishment, entitlement, and creates fragile egos.
By definition, it’s not an accomplishment unless it is earned.
For me personally, as a father, I do not let my children beat me in any games of skill, strength or speed. No, I am not a sociopath. I do this to teach them about life. When I win, I teach them the importance of losing with class and grace. In games of skill, strength or speed, I will often handicap the rules (EX: give them a significant head start in a race) to give them better odds. However, I still do my best to beat them. In many instances, with the right handicap, they will win. When they do, I congratulate them and tell them how proud I am of their effort, I recognize how hard they worked, how much they practiced, and how they never quit. I make sure to acknowledge the process, not the outcome. I don’t make a big deal when they win/lose, but rather highlight the role their effort and attitude played.
Most importantly, I always model the appropriate behavior whether I win or lose. I am confident that my stance will teach my children to respect the process, embrace practice, always give a great effort, earn everything in their life, and handle both winning and losing with class.
And THAT is the key to being happy, fulfilled, and successful!
Let’s work together to protect the sanctity of youth sports and raise our kids to add real value to the world.
Winning Isn't Everything...
...but making the effort to win is!
In Celebration of My Kid Being Athletically Average
By Skye Eddy Bruce
Today is my son’s 13th birthday. Along with celebrating his birthday – I am celebrating his continued participation in sport.
This generation of children is the first generation in over 200 years who have a shorter life expectancy than the adults who are raising them. Yes, you read that right. My son, who turns 13 today, has the potential for a shorter life expectancy than me.
We know that children who participate in sport are establishing the foundation for a healthy adulthood, are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and are more likely to go to and graduate from college.
However, by the age of 13, seventy five percent (75%!) of children drop out of organized sport.
Thankfully, my son is not one of them.
But he almost was.
I write a lot about my daughter on SoccerParenting.com as she is a top-level player participating in the ECNL. My son also plays soccer. The athletic genes didn’t find their way to him as they did his sister and, while he has played soccer since he was 5 years old, he remains an average player based on his average athleticism and his mentality towards sport.
Of course, my son is above average in many ways – but when it comes to soccer, he falls on the average scale (and what’s wrong with average, anyway?).
As my son got older, I am shockingly embarrassed to admit that I started to think he should quit soccer. I wasn’t embracing his averageness and made the mistake of thinking because he wasn’t a gifted athlete he should stop playing.
What was wrong with me??
I spend my days writing and talking about the benefits of sport for our children, and yet I started to think that my own child should stop playing.
1) My son was not a highly engaged soccer player.
My son would not go outside and practice on his own. He couldn’t juggle the ball more than a handful of times. If it wasn’t a practice or game, he wasn’t interested in playing and he certainly wasn’t one to watch soccer on TV.
Seeing that he didn’t engage in soccer as his high performing, more athletic sister did – I started to think he should stop playing.
Was it important or necessary for him to practice extra, watch the Man United vs. Man City Derby with anticipation or set a new juggling record?
Given his level of play and his mentality towards soccer, all that was important was that he participate. As a parent, I needed to allow him to have fun by not expecting him to do more than he wanted.
So why did I surmise his lack of engagement was reason for him to hang up his boots?
Simply put: I wasn’t embracing his averageness.
2) The culture on the sidelines – parents took it too seriously
I will never, ever forget standing on the sidelines coaching the team and hearing a parent on the other side of the field say “Come On!” in a frustrated voice when my son couldn’t get his feet positioned properly to shoot on net and instead played the ball well wide of the goal.
I wonder if other parents of average athletes also hear these grumbles of frustration from other parents?
If they do, could they subtly encourage their average children to stop playing sports – as a means of protecting them?
I think that is what I was attempting to do.
Thankfully my son ended up attending Seven Hills School in Richmond, VA a small, private middle school for boys beginning in fifth grade. If it weren’t for Seven Hills School making organized sports available for all their students, my son most likely would not have continued playing sports.
The school fields 2 soccer teams in both the fall and spring, 2 basketball teams in the winter, a running club and tennis program – all for 84 boys.
At Seven Hills School they more-often lose than win – however, they almost always have huge smiles on their faces. They enthusiastically shake hands after games and they can’t wait to get out there and play again. Why? Because the focus of the games is on having fun, teamwork, development, being your personal best – not on winning. Of course, they love to win, but more than that, they love to play.
The culture on the sidelines with the parents is one of respect. We respect our opponents, we respect the coaches and we respect the athletic traits of our sons and all the boys.
When I watch my son’s games now, I don’t find myself thinking about what position people should play in, the substitutions the coach is making, the performance of my son, if we scored or missed.
There is no stress.
Instead, I find myself smiling. Yes, that’s right. I sit on the sidelines with a smile on my face watching my son and his teammates become healthier right before my eyes. I smile as I watch them experience the pure joy that is uniquely found on a playing field with friends as they independently and collectively compete.
So – to the father who was frustrated with my son because he was too concerned with winning, I say: “Get over it. These are kids, this is recreational level soccer, and MY SON IS AVERAGE.”
To my son on his 13th birthday I say, “Don’t stop! Keep playing!”
I am grateful for many things on this special day, my son’s 13th birthday. Learning to embrace and celebrate him being athletically average is certainly one of them.
Why 'Shortening the Bench' in Competitive Youth Sports Can Be a Good Thing
By Jamie Strashin
The conflict between development and results can be tricky for coaches to navigate.
It was the playoffs. The game was tight and the clock was winding down.
A player on the other team was just about to step on the ice when one of the coaches grabbed his jersey and held him back. Another player quickly manoeuvred around him and stepped out on to the ice.
It was clear to everyone in the arena what was happening: as they say in sports, the coach was shortening the bench. He was choosing to reduce the ice time of some players in order to put out what he thought were his best players.
But this wasn't an NHL game — it was a competitive youth hockey game. I felt bad for the young players who were being held back. I could see their parents barely able to contain their disappointment.
I was glad it wasn't my son, I thought to myself.
Development vs. Results
My son is a 10-year-old goaltender on a competitive hockey team. There are two goalies who usually rotate game by game. Except for this key playoff game, the other goalie would start in his place.
I immediately thought of my son and how upset he would be. Never mind how angry I was. Was shortening the bench necessary in a hockey game being played by 10-year-olds? Whatever happened to all of that talk about development over results? And then I cooled down and thought about it. I also spoke to some fellow hockey dads.
And then it was.
'A Better Chance to Win'
Aaron Rosenthal has two young sons who play hockey. He says when parents sign their children up for competitive sports, it should come with certain expectations.
"I think if you're playing competitive hockey then at times it's okay to shorten the bench. I don't think shortening the bench for the whole game is appropriate but certainly in tight games and third period," Rosenthal says. "I have no problem if we shorten the bench to give the kids a better chance to win and move on to play more games."
Jeremy Mandell Is a hockey coach and a dad. His son, on occasion, has been the victim of a bench shortening. As rule, he doesn't think it's a good idea but acknowledges it does have a place on occasion.
Mandell says shortening the bench should be used as a disciplinary tool or to get a player's attention.
"If a player isn't listening or screwing around, that might be the time to miss a shift but I don't think players should miss shifts based on perceived skill," Mandell says. "I am the coach. I chose them to be on the team because I thought they were good enough. If they aren't in a position to succeed, that's my fault."
I know what many people will say. It's not only about winning. But as Rosenthal points out, there are lots of place to be play where winning isn't as central. There are hundreds of house league programs where shortening the bench isn't an option for the coach. Everybody plays no matter what.
Would my son be permanently scarred by being sidelined for one February game when he was 10 years-old? Unlikely. But maybe he could learn something. Life isn't always fair and sometimes you have to earn things you may think are rightfully yours.
"If you're playing competitive sports at some point, it's OK to tell your kid you know do you need to work harder. You need to continue to grow as a player and cheer on your teammates as well. That's all part of the game."
He also might learn that it is important to strive for something, that it's okay to not always be the best. And that sometimes making sacrifices isn't a bad thing.
"I don't think it has stunted kids' growth. You're talking about one or two shifts at most," Rosenthal points out.
"It doesn't have a huge overall impact. And I think it builds team camaraderie. I think winning those games allowed us to make it to the finals and all the kids I think enjoyed the joy that experience overall."
The obvious villain in all of this for parents is the coach. But, for me, that wasn't the case. For one, he communicated his plans throughout the season and this was always a possibility.
I also didn't envy his position. It's a hard job at the best of times. I give him full credit for the time and dedication he's devoted to developing my son as a goaltender and a person. As a fellow coach, I also know the pressure – both spoken and unspoken – he is under.
I know the temptation is great to put out your best team in the most important circumstances.
I also understand the pressure to win. For the coach (who isn't a parent), winning can justify to parents that the hundreds of hours of time and thousands of dollars that have been invested in the season have all been worth it.
Will my son play the next game?
I don't know. Would I like him to? Of course.
But if he doesn't, it won't be the end of the world.