When coaching puts stress on kids, parents must decide what's best


Youth Sports

January 21, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- My son has been playing on a select basketball team for five years. We have seen all types of coaches, with three boys who all play sports, but this one is the toughest. If a player makes one mistake, he immediately pulls him out of the game. He has told them that he hates to lose. Most of the boys are too nervous to even shoot the ball, taking two or three shots per game. My son is usually a very outgoing, happy, confident kid who loves sports. Now he is nervous and worried before his games. My son will be a freshman next year and is concerned that if we complain it will hurt his chances of making the team next year. But I wonder if he will even want to play after this year. Any suggestions?

Sharon Collier, Houston

DEAR SHARON -- I think as a parent you have no choice but to speak to the coach or to remove your son from the program. If you approach the situation in a respectful manner, the coach owes it to you to answer your questions the same way. If he doesn't, I'd say you seriously have to consider other options your son might have for basketball.

You have to make the decision that is best for your son without worrying what might happen a year from now with a different coach. Since you probably are close to halfway into the season, going elsewhere to play probably isn't an option. If the coach treats you fairly in your meeting and explains his point of view in a courteous manner, your best course of action would be to explain to your son that everything in life isn't the way we want it to be. Sometimes the best path is to continue working hard to improve and to impress those who might be watching while showing respect to the people in positions of authority.

When it comes to the varsity coach, I've never known a coach at that level who didn't want to put the best team that he could on the floor. So, unless you've been completely out of line in how you've handled yourself or your son has been a troublemaker, if your son does what he is supposed to do and is one of the 10 or 12 best players in the school, my bet is that he will make the team. If both you and your son take the high road, I think that everything probably will turn out fine.

DEAR CAL -- In youth baseball, it seems there should be an introductory division for rec leagues with broader age groupings so that boys and girls could spend a season or two getting to know how to play the game, whether they decide to try baseball at the age of 5 or at the age of 10. Once they've had that chance, they could then bid up to their age-grouped levels. So many kids need to join "in progress" because of maturity or moving or just changing interests. Can you offer any other suggestions?

A.M. Borenstein, Kensington

DEAR A.M. -- In theory, recreational programs are designed to provide opportunity for players of all ability and knowledge levels to have a place to play. Most recreational programs are designed to accept anyone who registers before a specified date.

I believe that all rec programs should hold clinics to teach kids the basics of the game and to evaluate their ability levels in a low-pressure environment. Teams should be grouped appropriately by interest and skill level.

With that in mind, we have developed a tiered camp program that is being implemented for the first time in 2007 (information is available at ripkencamps.com).

Recreational leagues could take the same approach, with players of equal interest and ability levels being grouped together, taking everyone's needs into account.

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

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