On winning: Rec councils need to be on same field

ASK CAL

December 25, 2005

I coach an 11-and-under travel baseball team. I feel that it is important that every kid plays the same amount of time and learns different positions, even if it costs us some games. I feel most of the other coaches want to win at all costs, and will have a weaker player sit out the entire game. At what age should it become all about winning?

Bryan Wilson, Westlake, Ohio

DEAR BRYAN / / The issue of substitutions and equal playing time should be brought up and decided at the league level. The rec council as a group should decide what the philosophy of the league is.

Are we trying to develop young people and their skills or are we a competitive league that values winning? The age is really irrelevant here. I think that it is a bit silly to emphasize the winning before the kids have built their skills. You must first learn to execute the many parts of a game before you can truly compete. Once a player develops his or her skills, the competitive choices become more obvious. Travel teams and school teams are probably next, but keep in mind that sports can continue to be played recreationally just for the fun of it all the way through your life.

It really is your choice. What do you value for your child? Decide the answer to that question and then find the right placement.

If you are naturally a competitive person, you'll find it a struggle to totally ignore the outcome of a game. Try to keep your own competitiveness in check when teaching kids. Everyone loves the feeling of winning, but let the kids experience it in their own way. It's much easier for all involved when you know that the whole league is on the same page.

I coach my 7- and 9-year-old granddaughters' basketball teams. The 7-year-olds' goals are set at eight feet. The 9-year-olds' goals are set at the standard height of 10 feet. I believe the 10-foot baskets are too high. The shooter has to contort her body in order to reach the basket, whereas, I believe proper form should be emphasized. It seems the league feels the sooner the child begins to shoot on a regulation basket, the more proficient she'll be in high school and college. Do you have an opinion on this?

Jon Stuart, Ellicott City

DEAR JON / / I agree that the increases should be gradual. The jump from 8-foot rims to 10-foot rims is a huge one for young girls.

This reminds me of the debate raging in youth baseball now about the size of the diamonds. As it stands now, young kids in most leagues are forced to make the jump from 60-foot base paths to 90-foot base paths when they go from 12 to 13 years old.

This is an enormous jump and it ends up discouraging many kids from playing beyond the age of 12.

I think that, in baseball and basketball, if you could introduce the more challenging distances more slowly, it wouldn't be as intimidating for the kids and would ultimately enhance their enjoyment of sports.

The problem here, of course, is the availability of fields and courts. Most basketball goals are built to a standard 10-foot dimension so in many cases the recreation departments are just dealing with what they have. As new gyms and fields are built, I'd like to see them have the flexibility to accommodate the different ages more appropriately.

I read your response to a reader's question about making sure you understand why your son wants to quit a sport. My son quit basketball in his junior year because his baseball coach "suggested" he do so. This was partly due to basketball season ending during baseball practice. Is it right for a coach to influence an athlete like this?

Chris Bonner, Ormond Beach, Fla.

DEAR CHRIS / / As I mentioned in the column a couple of weeks ago, I gave up basketball partially for winter soccer and I regret it to this day.

Those coaches do exist but, in my view, they are short-sighted. All sports enhance your overall athleticism. If it doesn't infringe on the game schedule and just cuts into a few early practices, I would encourage young athletes to play several sports if they want to.

Short-term thinking dictates that coaches worry only about their team and their sport. But if the athlete wants to play additional sports and it can work in the context of the calendars and the seasons, I would encourage more coaches to look at the big picture and the overall value.

Coaches can be valuable advisers to our kids, but as a parent, I would help examine the issues with my son or daughter (and with the coach if necessary).

These are tough decisions and there are no general rules that apply. Your life experience as a parent is a value that should be added to this process.

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Have a question or issue arising from your involvement in youth sports? Send it by e-mail to askcal@baltimore.sun.

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