The current culture of youth sports is one that aims to funnel athletes at an early age to the biggest and best club programs with the ultimate goal of both the athlete and the parent being a college scholarship, or at least a spot on a roster. These families spend gobs of money for personal training sessions, extra team practices, dozens of weekend tournaments, hotel rooms, gas, and fast food with the expectation that because their child is doing all this they will get the exposure they need to reach their goal of playing at the next level. Where these best-laid plans can sometimes fall apart, however, is at the High School Varsity level and that is where things can get a little messy.

Forbes youth sports columnist Bob Cook published an article in July that references survey results published by writer Paul Beaudry wherein he collected feedback from more than 300 school coaches in Alabama. Here are some interesting stats/quotes from the survey.

  • 29% of respondents indicated parents raising the issue of playing time this past season (multiple answer question)
  • “Another parent wanted written weekly updates on his daughter and reasons justifying her team placement and playing time.”
  • “Always a parent that thinks their child is a star when that player is merely a role player.”
  • 62% of respondents reported that the growth of AAU/Travel teams has strained their relationship with parents.
  • “Travel teams sometimes only carry enough to field a team with a sub or two. This leads to false expectations from players and parents about playing time.
  • “This is the center of the problem. A cancer.”

A cancer. That last quote is perhaps the most telling about where things stand between high school sports coaches and parents in this culture of pay-to-play club sports – even the elite clubs players tryout and are selected for. Parents have been led to believe that their child is getting everything they need to get on the field, but when the high school season comes around things don’t go exactly to their plans there is a completely understandable level of frustration on the part of the parents.

Where is my return on investment? All of those hours and dollars should have him ready to be in the starting lineup as a sophomore. What is wrong with this coach? What is he missing? Can’t he see he should be starting?

These are not the questions parents should be asking themselves. Instead, they should be looking towards their child and their club coach for answers instead of placing the onus on the high school coach.

Are you practicing hard enough? Is the guy ahead of you out-playing you? Have you spoken to the coach about what you can do to get on the floor? What role does the coach want you to play and are you filling that role? Have you talked to your club coach about how you can get better? Let’s take things in stride and once the season is over we can make a plan for the spring. Are you having fun?

Youth sports has become a big business, but at the core of it all is the mission of helping young athletes enjoy sports and take in all of the lessons that their respective sports have to impart. If we as coaches and parents place too much emphasis on playing time, exposure, and getting to the next level we will only burn out this generation of athletes and keep them from giving back to the games they love.

Respect the coaches, honor the game, enjoy the experience. That is what will truly give us the return on investment our society needs.

Jimmy Kelley is a coach and communications professional at The Rivers School in Weston. He is also a program coordinator and coach with the Mass Mavericks Basketball Club and member of the Positive Coaching Alliance New England Associate Board. You can find him on Twitter at @JimmyKelley_



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