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Point to Ponder #2

September 26, 2012
By Tony Uggen of Northfield High School

Point to Ponder 2

One of the more frustrating things to deal with as a coach is kids missing practice.  There are certainly many instances when a student should miss practice but it gets tough when it becomes habitual for some.  There are always those few who seem to miss at least one day a week consistently.  Others make it a habit of missing the same day of the week (because practice is tougher on those days) more often than others.  It doesn’t take long for coaches to realize who they can and cannot rely upon.  I guarantee you that this is critical to me because you cannot build a successful program around kids you can’t trust or who find ways to get out of practice.  If that’s the case, they really don’t care that much about their team, coaches or teammates. 

If an athlete is legitimately ill I doubt there are many coaches who want him or her around to practice due to the likelihood of spreading the illness to others.  If injured and a doctor’s note confirms this….no problem.  That is certainly understandable and you are doing the right thing by staying home or not participating.  In general, the rule should be “if you don’t go to school, you should not be going to practice or a game.”  Not to say that some kids can’t get better as the day goes on, but if you did a study of this I would venture to bet (no, I don’t condone gambling!) that kids seem to recover much quicker on game days than on practice days.  That could be a whole story in itself.

Missing practice without a valid reason puts the coach in a difficult spot especially if that kid is a starter.  In fact, the county football coaches talked about this briefly tonight when one of them asked “how do you handle missed practices?”  Some penalize their kids immediately and heavily.  Others play it by ear and I am sure some (but not in the county), depending on the kid, may not penalize them at all.  Who is right?  What is fair?  It is up to the individual coach but is it really fair to penalize a kid who was legitimately sick?  It isn’t his fault he got sick.  Is it fair to overlook one player’s reason for missing over another’s?  Probably depends on their reliability and whether or not a coach feels he or she can trust the athlete or not.  You’d be surprised to hear some of the stories we hear from coaches about kids trying to pull a fast one!  The ones who try think they are getting away with something when in reality they are only putting up walls of distrust and that can destroy a team as quick as anything.

Sorting through individual situations such as these weigh heavily on the mind of a coach because you better believe others are watching closely as to how you handle it.  Worse, it is unfair to your teammates when you find ways to skip practice because working together for the common good is critical to any team’s success.  Imagine how the kid feels who has to replace you in practice thinking “this could be my chance” only to find himself back on the scout team when the missing athlete reappears.  How does that kid handle the emotional roller coaster?  It is more than just you “taking a night off.”

The best thing an athlete can do is determine if they should go to practice.  A good rule of thumb, if unsure, is “what if today was game day?”  If it was, and they would go, then they should probably go to school and practice (my thought has always been “if you go to school, you should go to practice”).  If they have the potential to infect someone else then they should stay home.  Don’t get me wrong though. Some kids can deteriorate during a school day. In that case, they shouldn’t go either but….if it was game day would you stay?  An athlete certainly should not choose to stay home because “I just don’t feel like practicing today.”  That is not fair to anyone. 

These are decisions that you are going to have to make in the real world someday.  Depending on our employer, excessive absences could cost you your job or certainly affect your take home pay.  Sometimes you have to do things you don’t really want to but, again, you ultimately have to make the decision as to what is best for you and whomever else that could be affected by your decision.

Everyone gets sick at one time or another.  Just don’t try to miss practices when unnecessary because sooner or later you will get the reputation of being unreliable and that won’t help your cause with your coach or your teammates.  Be reliable. Use common sense and, certainly, be honest!  Get there as much as you can and help you and your team get better every day.

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