I have found myself in more and more discussions lately about how early
kids need to get involved in sports, and I find myself becoming more
and more confused. First, let me start by saying that I am not a
parent, so I realize my objective opinion does not carry the same
subjective, passionate opinion that parents may possess. I am simply
looking at this topic though the eyes of a teacher and coach. And what I see is disturbing…
I have found myself in more and more discussions lately about how early kids need to get involved in sports, and I find myself becoming more and more confused. First, let me start by saying that I am not a parent, so I realize my objective opinion does not carry the same subjective, passionate opinion that parents may possess. I am simply looking at this topic though the eyes of a teacher and coach.
I personally think our sports society is starting to get in a big hurry. I don’t understand why our society is so anxious to ask kids to do things that they simply are not ready to do. It appears the days of the little league programs are over and the top athletes in the elementary schools (whatever that means) are selected at an early age and they are being put into more and more game situations and less and less practice situations. These players are being forced to try and run an offense in basketball when they can’t even dribble or catch. They are being asked to run the spread when they don’t even know the definition of formation or how to line up in one. I think baseball at least offers some better opportunities. The diamond is smaller, and coaches can pitch until kids are old enough to do so; however, you still get kids throwing curveballs before they are ready, or developing big, long swings so they can lead their little league in homeruns.
Overall, I don’t know that this is a huge problem in baseball because little leagues are a part of the community, whereas, other sports are expected to be provided through the schools. In today’s time, you can’t talk about schools without mentioning money. Many varsity coaches are being scrutinized for being paid to have little league programs, but not offering a strenuous enough program in terms of game opportunities. Many coaches have responded by letting outside people take over little league. This means a strain on facilities, because as any small-school coach knows, it is hard enough to get practice times for grades seven through twelve (both boys and girls), and now you are trying to add another seven or eight little league teams to the mix. This also means less coaches coaching and more parents coaching. Parents please do not take this the wrong way. I know several parents who have great knowledge of the game; however, I believe more times than not, varsity coaches teach little league with big picture in mind, whereas, little league coaches coach what’s needed to win that week’s fourth-grade game.
All of this simply multiplies as kids get older. Junior high coaches want to win, so they just try to work around the missed fundamentals. They do not have time to work on ball handling or man-to-man defensive principles, so they just run more and more quick-hitters to keep the ball in the hands of one or two players and a bunch of zone defense. High school coaches have even more pressure to win. Sure all coaches try to stress fundamentals, but the varsity level is way too late for Basketball 101. Varsity coaches just have to go with whatever, and try to strategically find a way to compete on the scoreboard the best they can.
I think a lot of times the problem is that people do not know the root of the problem. They think getting their kids started early means getting them in games as soon as possible. The problem of kids not being exposed to it early enough has nothing to do with game experience; it simply has to do with exposure to the fundamentals of the game. I realize there are certain kids that are advanced and ready for this, but most are not. When schools put together travel teams, they are banking at a really young age that those eight kids are going to be the best players six years later. This develops a few really good players, but very few complete teams. This is why this is a bigger issue at small schools. If you are picking from a Division II or a Division I school, you can probably get away with this. If you are at a school where your latest enrollment count read 100 or 150, you better be a great eye for talent when evaluating the third-grade tryout.
I see the same thing in education. The problem isn’t testing. The problem is the curriculum. There is nothing wrong with having tests to evaluate kids at a certain age. The problem is what we are asking them to know at certain ages. The pressure is on teachers to produce certain test scores, so they do what they have to do. We are in such a hurry for today’s kids to do higher level math that we never really look to see if they can add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Like sports, many of the advanced kids “get it” and they go through school just fine; however, many students continue through years of frustration because they hit a point where they can no longer perform. This is why subjects like science and social studies suffer the most. The top students are at least exposed to math and language arts enough to get through it, but only a small percentage can even remotely handle the concepts that kids are asked to study in the younger grades.
This concept in sports is the same. The advanced can at least get through it, but even they have noticeable flaws in their games. The other kids just continue to play and will eventually reach a level that is over their head.
Like many problems, there is no one, perfect solution. You are going to have examples of all kinds that contradict one another. I just feel in a day where athletes continue to be judged on becoming bigger, faster, stronger, people need to slow down and learn.