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Editoral: Let The Other Kids Play?

October 9, 2014
Purnell Swett High School

Coaching sports to me is a very important aspect of a person's life.  It teaches them values and lessons that you can apply to everyday life.  With that being said, I would like to speak on the level of coaching and how it has taken a downward spiral.  Recreation, middle and high school coaches these days have somehow lost what is truly special about the game. Teaching the game.  Seeing the look in a kid's eyes when he or she has mastered a play or technique. That sense of accomplishment should be worth every ounce of time sent coaching kids. But like I mentioned, that has somehow been lost. Let's start with the recreation level and work up.  Young kids playing football, basketball and baseball come out for the first time to achieve greatness, fulfill a dream or just to be one of the guys.  At this stage coaches can take the time to teach these kids the game and not really worry so much about the wins and losses.  Most leagues require each member of a team to at least play one inning, one quarter or one play during competition.  Some coaches like to wait until the game is well in hand or totally out of hand before they decide to use their subs.  I really do not have a problem with that theory because some kids at that age aren't really focused enough to be put in those situations. But at the same time, some kids are and deserve to start a game or two just to experience being a "starter".  Like I said, at that age it should really be about teaching the nature of the game, and hopefully the true athleticism of a child will come out as the season moves on.  Now on to the middle school level.  These kids have advanced to the next level now where the game is taken up a notch.  Coaches expect most of their kids to already know the game and now it's about showing off whatever talents they may have or not have.  Take football for example, if you have 30 kids on a team, that's 30 different young minds you have to keep focused on learning plays and schemes each day.  A coach takes his best eleven players for offense and defense and works with them the majority of practice time.  All the while, you have 19 other kids who you lose mentally because all your attention has been directed toward your "starters".  A "good" coach would apply this strategy if he or she truly is about developing a TEAM.  He or she would conduct drills that involves the entire 30 man roster.  Once he or she decides on his or her starters, he would develop a 2nd string team and have them shadow the 1st team in drills, and rotate every so often to keep them from drifting off into Never Neverland.  A coach still has 8 other kids who he or she hasn't quite designated a position for as of yet.  For those 8 you could smartly utilize them on special teams, like kick-offs, kick-off returns, punt teams or punt return teams.  This way each kid is engaged and involved and you have their minds on learning the game.  This makes for happy practices and happy kids, which in turn makes the parents happy.  When actual game time comes you utilize every kid you have during the game.  There is no good reason why a team can consist of 30 kids but you only play 15 or 20 of them?  What are the other 10 kids being used for?  A kid who a coach feels is not capable of being 1st team could easily be inserted with the "starters" from time to time just to see what it's like to be in there and what is expected.  He learns completely nothing by standing on the sidelines passing out water bottles to the starters.  And what about the parents who sacrifice everyday to pick this kid up from practice everyday and makes all the games?  Like I said, when everyone contributes, it makes for a happy team.  But of course you have those "bad" coaches that only see success by winning by large margins, their star players scoring numerous touchdowns or making countless tackles.  Now what happens when this star player gets injured or can't play for a game or two?  Is his back-up capable and prepared to play in a big game?  Did that coach devote equal amount of time to make sure that this kid can succeed as well?  See, when coaches put all their eggs in a basket, and then the basket drops, the whole world comes crashing down around them.  They begin to yell and show disgust at the back-up player who up until then has ridden the bench all season.  Then you have the after shocks associated with a coaches frustration.  He or she gets upset, yells at the kid, who doesn't quite understand where to line up or who to guard or who to pass the ball to? The kids' parents take exception and either sit quietly and wait until the end of the game to discuss it with the coach or decides right then to address the issue.  Some kids feel embarrassed and decide that sport isn't for them and quits, which leads us to our next level, the high school level.  Here you have a budding young man or lady, whom you would love to come out for the high school team.  But as fate would have it, they experienced the worst time of their school years while playing on another sports team in middle school.  So guess what?  Your invitation is rejected and this kid decides to spend his or her time doing other things, whether it's good or bad.  At the high school level, one would assume that each kid has at least been introduced to the game at some point in their lives, so half your teaching has been taken care of.  Now a good coach, again with these 30 odd players, would do his or her best to utilize those 30 players to the very best of their abilities, not to fit what the coach has in his or her mind.  Take basketball for example, if you have a team loaded with smaller guys or girls, it wouldn't make much sense to try and develop a low post game.  In football if you have a team dominated by short, slim and quick guys, a running dominate offense is not the way to go either.  A good coach adapts and adjusts to his or her personnel and uses them to the best of their abilities.  Some bad coaches are so stubborn that their way is the only way because it worked 20 years ago. And sadly they are the ones that either get run out of town or experiences losing seasons when they shouldn't have to.  So in the beginning, it's not really about wins and losses, but in the end it will be and it all ties in together.  If our youth league coaches turn out to be bad coaches, it discourages kids from continuing to grow, learn the game and compete.  Good coaches bring out the best in kids, teaches them the game at an early age and gives them the confidence to go out there and compete at a high level.  On every level, I have seen coaches leave their star players in a game when the game is a total blowout, chalking up some impressive stats along the way.  But while they were blowing those other teams out and gaining the love from their star players, they were losing the other 2/3rds of their team and angering some parents in the process.  Very rarely in this day and age have I witnessed a coach sub all his players in and out of contests during the early stages of a game. when it was still meaningful.  This disturbs me to the point where I often wish I could donate the time to get out there and be a coach on the grade school level.  I have coached on the recreation level, and I have taken on kids that other coaches cast aside for some reason or another. My method worked well, we shared plenty of W's in the win column and plenty of diamonds in the rough so to speak were discovered, and they went on to compete in the grade school and collegiate levels.  But this is just my way of thinking and it may not sit well with most coaches.  But look at it this way, if a kid is gifted enough to play he or she will be out there in most cases.  Now what about the ones you never knew had that ability? The ones that never received the same level of coaching in practice as a starter? The ones who only touch the field, court or diamond in the waning seconds or last inning of a contest. How else will you, as a coach, find that diamond in the rough?

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