Playing-time question a legitimate concern

ASK CAL

Youth sports

May 13, 2007|By CAL RIPKEN JR.

DEAR CAL -- A few years ago, my son's high school coach told parents that he would discuss anything with us except playing time. I honored his wishes that season as my child sat mostly on the bench, while other less-talented children played. I later discovered that the parents of the children who got to play the most had made significant contributions to the school, materially and monetarily. Did I hurt my son's chances of being recognized as a talented player by not "buying" his way onto the team?

Carol Zarbos, Bel Air.

DEAR CAROL -- I believe when you have a point to make or a question for a coach, it doesn't have to be confrontational - even when ground rules have been established about not talking about playing time.

Your question is about more than just playing time. I would interpret the coach's comments as meaning that he doesn't want parents coming to him and whining about their kids not playing. If that's our assumption, maybe that's just a management tool on the coach's part.

The issue you raise is significant. You want to know what criteria the coach uses for playing time. If it were me, I'd want to have some sort of a basis to understand how he operates his team. So during the preseason meeting, it is OK to ask him how he determines playing time and about his philosophy of coaching.

The more that you learn about the coach's philosophy, the easier it will become to determine whether you want to keep your child in that program. You have every right to ask those questions - before or during the season.

You are not whining about playing time; you are trying to understand whether his philosophy is based on winning, merit or developing the kids.

DEAR CAL -- Youth baseball leagues are trying to reduce injuries for pitchers by placing a limit on innings that can be pitched in a game and in a week. I think the league guidelines are not enough to provide proper protection for developing players. Some leagues also allow a child to return to the game as a pitcher after he has already pitched, warmed up, etc., putting more strain on a child's arm. Are the league rules enough to protect young pitchers?

Steve Koch, California, Md.

DEAR STEVE -- Rules don't protect pitchers' arms; it's coaches and parents who protect them. Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis, understanding the pitcher you are dealing with.

Sometimes you might have a larger, stronger kid who seems to have a rubber arm. Another kid might come down with a sore arm quite often, so you have to be careful about that. Too often we live religiously by these guidelines and leagues' rules and forget about the logic of looking at the kids.

The coach and parents should look at an individual pitcher. Common sense should always prevail over these rules.

There were games when I was younger in which I pitched, was moved to shortstop and then came back in to pitch. I guess you can make a case that something like that is harder on one's arm, but I think it's more of an individual issue. The coach and parents should pay attention to the symptoms and soreness and listen to the child, using normal guidelines that they always would use.

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

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