Developing, not winning, mean most


August 13, 2006|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

I COACH FOOTBALL FOR AN organization that believes in a no-play rule, meaning a kid can come to practice and work hard, but if he's not as good as the person in front of him in the depth chart the coach has a right not to play him. Pretty much, it's all about winning at all age levels. I've been coaching for about six years and a head coach for three. I believe all players should play and if you don't win it's not the end of the world. Our organization chooses its coaches through a voting system, and I wasn't chosen to keep my team because we had a losing record. How do you feel about leagues that choose coaches based on their records of wins and losses?

George Roycroft, Baltimore

DEAR GEORGE / / Unfortunately, the approach that you speak of is not limited to your organization or to the sport of football. Certainly as kids get older, developing strategies for winning and losing and allotting playing time more based on merit are facts of life. To some extent, that's the way it should be. When kids approach high school age, they begin to develop emotionally to the point that they can handle not making a team or not playing as much as other kids.

Two things trouble me about your situation. First, you say that this is happening at all ages, so I assume that means even at the very youngest levels. Second, kids develop at different rates physically, and youth sports are supposed to be developmental in nature. If every kid who wants to participate in a sport doesn't have an opportunity to do so because teams are created with an eye toward winning, that particular sport might be losing out on a young person who some day might develop into an outstanding athlete. If a kid wants to play a sport and gets cut or put on the bench, chances are that he or she is going to try something else.

At the youngest levels of youth sports, all kids who want to play should be able to participate. They should get to try every position and receive equal playing time. Later, kids will naturally gravitate toward the positions in which they excel and the games will become more serious. However, at all times, it is important to keep in mind that we are providing an opportunity for kids to develop. Hiring and firing coaches based on wins and losses, and cutting kids who have a real interest in a particular sport, doesn't sound like much of a developmental atmosphere to me.

I have two granddaughters who are almost old enough to start playing some organized sports. What's the best way to encourage their interest in participating in some sort of league?

Alfred Zacharias, Bothell, Wash.

DEAR ALFRED / / I guess your question comes down to encouraging someone to do something versus forcing them to do it. Your best bet is to expose your granddaughters to various activities that you think might interest them. Take them to a one-day or half-day clinic or drive them to the nearby park and let them watch the older kids play sports. See if something sparks an interest. If an activity seems to catch their eyes, see if you can find it on television. Watch it with them. Explain it to them and get excited about it. Buy them some inexpensive equipment and let them play or play with them in the backyard. Exposure and an opportunity to try something might be all they need to develop an interest in sports.

If this is impossible or doesn't seem to work, your best bet is to enroll them in an instructional program and let them try an activity out for a few weeks. Tell them you found something that you think will be fun for them and let them give it a try. Be honest with them, however, and make a promise that you will be willing to let them give it up if they don't like it after two or three weeks. Set a deadline and stick to it. If they don't like the first sport, give another a try. Eventually you are likely to find something that makes them happy, and as a grandparent, that should make you just as happy.

I have been coaching my son for eight years now and I think I've exhausted whatever it is I can remember as a former high-school catcher. He has recently gone from a 60-foot diamond in his intramural season to a 75-foot diamond during tournament play. Are there are any drills or exercises that can help strengthen my son's arm throwing from home to second, as well as work on his footwork and blocking skills?

Tom Licata, New York City

DEAR TOM / / There always seem to be a lot of questions when it comes to catching. It's one of the most technical positions on the baseball field, and there doesn't seem to be many resources out there to help young questions master the proper fundamentals.

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