Volleyball camps, baseball, soccer and swimming are among the activities that vie for the attention of youth sports participants and their parents during the summer, creating an abundance of opportunity that can sometimes cause complications for the athlete and the sports parent.
One such problem occurs when parents overcommit their children, with too many scheduled activities, or place priority on family vacations, religious or other non-school related activities. Inevitably the child misses numerous practices and even games — a nagging issue that plagues youth sports.
As a sports director, I am committed to making sure the children participating in my sports leagues, are constantly learning, developing or improving, not only their athletic abilities, but valuable life skills like good sportsmanship, teamwork and responsibility.
But how can a coach develop these skills in a player or a team when players regularly miss practice and games due to other commitments? The short answer is — they cannot.
For coaches, it’s often a frustrating time, as this issue stymies their ability to help develop a child’s understanding of team play, and how to integrate his or her individual abilities together into a larger team experience.
Two of the most satisfying challenges that draws volunteer coaches to coaching, is developing individual players and the rewards that come from developing players and a team throughout the course of a season.
In order to accomplish that goal, some coaches will often tell players that if they miss a practice or games, they will be penalized, sometimes reducing playing time, or in some extreme cases, benching kids for an entire game.
But should kids be penalized for missing practices or games?
If you ask, most parents the will say no, and I personally agree, but not necessarily for the same reasons.
Having been a coach myself, I would never punish a child who cannot control whether or not they arrive as expected to games and practices. However, allowing players to miss practices and games without consequence often creates a ripple effect, and by the end of the season, the entire team is missing practices and in extreme cases — multiple games.
During this past season, this occurred with one my soccer teams, which after taking first place in their respective division during the regular season, forfeited the championship, because not one single player showed up for the biggest game of the year.
Being involved in youth sports for a good portion of my life I have heard it all, from parents saying that vacations are meant to be about family time, and that “family comes first,” to it’s about having their child involved in numerous activities to make them more rounded.
So, is there a solution besides punishing a kid for missing a game because they are on a family vacation, or have a Cub Scout or church function? Honestly, I’m not sure. There are good arguments on both sides, and some good-hearted attempts to provide some relief from this issue.
One is for coaches to hold optional practices during the week. But is that fair to the kids who made it to the regularly scheduled practice?
A second solution is for the league to try to reschedule games. But again, is that fair to the kids and their parents who competed while their teammates went off to the beach?
Bottom line, this issue is a question of dedication. What are we teaching our children if we don’t expect them to finish what they started, or how important the concept of team play and being a team player is?
For that other soccer team that came in second place this past season, they learned both of these lessons, as they were crowned division champions, based not only on their athletic abilities, but their resolve to complete what they had begun.
Raising sports kids is difficult, as parents feel pressure to help their kids succeed. They want to keep up with other parents in an increasingly competitive society.
But parents need to pay special attention to the potential impact of their child's participation on any of his or her teams. Although a child may want to play or participate in numerous activities or sports leagues at the same time, sometimes parents may need to limit participation to single activity.
In the end, it is possible to create balance within a family's everyday life, even with children who participate in sports.
However, it is up to parents to make certain that their children are not over scheduled and that they establish priorities and understand that their child’s participation in practice and games can directly impact a team’s play.
MATTHEW MARTZ, is a Certified Youth Sports Administrator through the National Alliance of Youth Sports, and the Sports Director for the Bear Valley Springs Association.