Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Put Me in Coach"

Following on the heels of my recent post on participation trophies comes this news from some of the fine folks at the Kanawha County Board of Education: it is considering a policy that would mandate playing time for middle school athletes.

Presumably suggested with the best of intentions by Board member Becky Jordon, the as-yet (and hopefully to remain) unspecific policy would apparently require all middle school athletes to receive at least some playing time in every game.

After receiving initial, and almost completely unanimous, opposition to the idea, Ms. Jordon attempted to explain the "thought" process behind the proposed policy but just dug herself a deeper hole. The explanation is so inexplicable that it deserves ample re-quoting.

"Jordon says the sixth- through eighth-grade is a fragile time for students, and some coaches are too hard on young athletes. That can be detrimental to their future success, she said.

'I think this has been misunderstood. Yes, there are a lot of young athletes that work really hard, and they deserve the right to play more. I just feel like it needs to be fair. I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game, but you know what? Give everyone a chance,' she said. 'We have some coaches that don't always treat everyone fair, . . . and often times there are hurt feelings.

I can promise that, if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school. We know the kids that are most involved are the most successful,' she said. 'It's not just about bullying. It's an awkward age. There isn't a person that can say middle school was a great time. If we can make a minimal step to make kids feel better about themselves, we should.'"

While, at least as it was initially reported, it appeared the proposal would require equal playing time for athletes, Ms. Jordon either never made that part of her proposal or abandoned it. But the idea that a Board of Education (particularly one faced with budgetary difficulties following the recent resounding defeat of an excess levy) should be looking over the shoulder of every middle school coach in the county to "give everyone a chance" is almost as absurd.

Heaven forbid that 12, 13, and 14 year-olds learn that everything isn't "fair" or that everyone doesn't get "a chance." We should make them feel "better about themselves" even if it is at the expense of more talented, or, even worse, more dedicated teammates. 

Not to mention the aside that "I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game" raises two serious questions: (1) why not? If participation, not excellence, is the mandated goal of Kanawha County now, why should the gifted get special treatment?; and (2) who exactly is going to determine which players are the "superstars"? Surely not the coaches, Ms. Jordon doesn't trust them enough to make decisions about playing time. 

Perhaps the Board should spend its time, energy, and precious little funding to set up a blue ribbon panel to decide, on a school-by-school and team-by-team basis, exactly who the superstars are that are entitled to Board-sanctioned special treatment. And while they're at it, I guess they need to set up a second panel to determine which of the athletes has "worked really hard" enough to warrant playing time.

It also says something about Ms. Jordon's view of athletics and the school system when she asserts that "if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school." Maybe they shouldn't be "engaged" in sports in the first place. Or, how 'bout they decide to be engaged in something they have an aptitude for, say debate, or chorus, or robotics, or a mathematics competition, or theater, or wood shop or metal shop (I'm probably showing my age here -- do they have wood shop or metal shop in middle school these days?), or even a job after school? 

Of course, Ms. Jordon's proposal also completely disregards the value of Team and being a member of a team (even if you don't play much or aren't particularly good) about which I have written before. As I always told my players, there are six or seven McDonald's all-Americans sitting on the Duke basketball bench every year, but they practice every day and they're as much a part of the team as anyone.

CCHS team at the State Finals in 2008. Many of the players
shown had worked for three months to get there,  froze their butts
off for two hours, and never got in the game. Ask them if they
think their State Championship plaques were worth it. 

But there is no capital "T" in team if everyone gets to play and only the "superstars" play more than the rest. Just show up and play, lest your feelings get hurt and you come to realize at 14, rather than at 18 or 19, that we are not all the same and that life doesn't hand out either participation trophies or playing time. 

"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play." 

Takes on a whole new meaning when followed with "no, I mean you have to put me in. It's my turn. Ms. Jordon says so."

It's only fair, right?

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