Benched by the Coach in Youth Sports
What's in a Mission or Vision Statement and What's Not
At the beginning of a season for most sports, young athletes receive a mission or vision statement, which lists what the organization aspires for the team as a whole and for each individual team member. The goals envisioned in these statements never mention anything about making it to the championships or producing future famed athletes. The objectives appear to be more noble, more about building character rather than trophy walls, and more about integrity. The hope is that the team learns valuable life lessons and skills while having fun working together toward a common goal.
Should Young Athletes Learn Hard Life Lessons
Many coaches and parents have differing opinions on what life lessons children should learn through competitive sports. One group of coaches and parents focus on children learning to compete. Their main focus is on the kids doing well enough to be the champions at the end of the season or to come as close as possible. However, the only children they believe should learn to compete through participation are the highest performers required to make up the roster. The remaining children don't need to learn how to be competitors. They need to learn how to be spectators.
These coaches and parents think that the team of players should be made up of only the players who have demonstrated stellar performance. It doesn't matter to them how hard the others try, if they have performed poorly in whatever menial time they have had to participate in the past, they shouldn't be allowed to be in the game as much as the others. In defending their position, many claim children need to learn the cold, hard facts of life. Afterall, when they're adults and they're out in the real world, people will beat them out of things and shouldn't they start learning how to handle that now?
Should Equal Playing Time be Based on Effort or Performance
Children in middle school and high school sports often learn if they are as equally committed to the game as someone else that doesn’t entitle them to equal practice or playing time. No matter how hard they try, If their performance doesn’t measure up to their teammates, they have to sit in the sidelines. No matter how good the rest of the players perform, the team would surely lose the game if these underperformers were allowed equal playing time. Wouldn’t they? Children learn people are rewarded for their performance, not their effort. They learn that winning is the most important aspect of being on the team. Interestingly, the mission statement never mentioned it. Maybe, it was implied.
Sometimes the best performers have bad seasons. Sometimes, they strike out or fumble the ball. There are no guarantees so why not give everyone the same chance.
A Winning Attitude Improves Performance
What happened to having fun and working together? Was that meant only for the children who perform well? The coaches and parents in the other group don’t think so. They want the team to win the game; however, their main objective is not winning at the expense of hurting or excluding other team members. They want the kids to learn that although they may or may not reap the same rewards as people who perform well, their effort is more important than their performance. Their ability to work and play well with others is more important. Their laughter is more important. When people feel good, they often perform better. This is a strategy that not only enforces a winning attitude in all members of the team but it also creates a winning atmosphere possibly increasing the chances that they will average more wins throughout the season.
How can Parents help their Athletes?
For many parents, it's heartbreaking to see their child being excluded from participation over and over again. Most parents are almost as excited for the season to begin as their child and they may have devoted time and money helping their athlete prepare. If a parent believes their child is being treated unfairly, they might want to explain to him or her how to be assertive and then show the child through example by confronting the coach to inquire as to what reasoning is behind the choice to bench the child and to request equal practice and playing time.
If the child does not appear to be giving their all to the game, they need to step up their effort before they are allowed equal playing time. However, the parent needs to find out from their athlete what makes them hold back and inform them how signing up to be on the team was like signing a contract stating that he or she would do their best to help the team succeed. In return, the team would include him or her and do their best to work together toward improvement. Unfortunately, some coaches and parents don't agree with the contract analogy. They believe that allowing the lowest performers playing time takes the thrill and purpose away from the team; however, they forget that the players sitting out are part of the team too and excluding the deserving players is what takes away from the experience. Children who don't perform well might lose interest when they are repeatedly benched or rarely get help from the coach or teammates to improve.
Questions Good Coaches Ask
Coaches in this group don’t immediately ask whether or not a child has reached their limitations. First, they ask whether or not they have reached their own limitations with the child. Have they taken into consideration the learning style best fit for the child? Have they spent a reasonable amount of their own time teaching the child different aspects of the sport? Have they enlisted any teammates to practice specific positions with the child? Have they done everything they can to make sure every member of the team (unless being reprimanded for absenteeism or poor behavior) is an equally active participant in the outcome of every game? These coaches and parents want children to learn that when they commit to something, they’re expected to give it their all for the entire duration. They recognize that a child will never persevere and overcome if they are not given the opportunity to put forth the effort. To them, this is a perfect opportunity to teach kids to recognize the potential in their peers and in their own ability to make a positive difference in someone's life by working with them toward improvement. It's a perfect time to teach them that hard working people of all abilities deserve respect and opportunities to advance and improve.
What Message does an Excluded Member of a Team Get
According to stopbullying.gov, Social Bullying includes leaving someone out on purpose. Isn't that what a coach does when he or she spends less time training poor performers so they can devote more time training the teammates they allow more playing time to? Do children who are excluded from participating in the game or whose participation is unequal to their teammates feel the effects of being bullied? Most kids try their best and when they are not treated equally, they feel humiliated in front of their teammates and others. They wonder why their best isn't good enough. They feel intimidated by a person of authority who won't give them a chance. They may start to think that they suck and that there is no hope for them ever improving. They are disappointed because the sport they thought would build them up instead sends a major blow to their self-esteem.
Should Coaches be Required to Show Sportsmanship to all Athletes?
Sportsmanship is about fairness, yet children who work as hard as others, sit on the bench more often. Some coaches favor certain kids for reasons other than their performance. For example, a child whose older sibling was a star athlete might get preferential treatment or if the coach has a personal relationship with a child's parents. All athletes on the team should be treated fairly. They should suffer the same consequences for misconduct of effort or attitude. The children who perform better than most shouldn't be allowed a different set of rules. Sportsmanship is about courage, yet coaches show no courage when they put only their best performers in the game. Perhaps, they fear the backlash they will receive from the parents who believe poor performers should stay on the bench. However, an ongoing leap of faith in a player helps build their self-esteem which will likely improve their performance. Sportsmanship is about persistence, yet benchwarmers have no opportunity to be persistent as an active player trying to improve their game.
Athletes are taught to high five their opponents after a game. This courtesy teaches them to be respectful and considerate to the feelings of others and to refrain from being a braggart because the win is less important than the character of the person who won. That’s sportsmanship.
For many kids, joining a sports team is a place where they expect to make friends and bond with their peers. It's a place they hope to be accepted and to be a contributing member toward a common goal.
Most young athletes won't grow up to be professional sports players. They won't be in the Olympics. Athletes who perform exceptionally well might have a better chance than most ,but they will be looked at for their skills, not the skills—or lack thereof—of their teammates. Therefore, do the right thing and give them all the opportunity to shine. Win or lose, this style of coaching will shine a light on the team.
Is What's Fair for Players, Fair for Coaches
Many people claim that if children put in their best efforts but still don't perform well they should be benched. However, who should suffer consequences if a child who shows up and works hard still doesn't perform well? Is that a reflection on the child's inability to play ball well or the coaches inability to train the player well? Perhaps, it's both. Therefore, if children who perform under par should be benched, it stands to reason that coaches who perform under par with those children should be canned. Therefore, it serves everybody best if the opportunity to participate is based on their effort, not their performance.