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Playing time at the High School Level

April 21, 2011

My oldest son, a 16 year old High School junior, is a part of one of, if not the, best athletic programs in our state.  Our High School athletic teams have overall winning records that cannot be denied.  We are fortunate to have extremely talented athletes, dedicated coaches and involved families.  My family has had the privilege of watching our oldest son be a valued contributor on the varsity football, basketball and JV baseball teams at this school.  We feel it is a privilege and an honor to be involved in these athletic programs.

I write today in an effort to foster a more positive attitude and atmosphere among my fellow sports parents.  I think the topic of playing time and position is by far, the most talked about topic in high school sports.  I haven’t done actual research on this.  It’s just my feeling.

I’d like to encourage everyone to maybe, take a step back and enjoy these years.  We all know how quickly the time goes by.  So here are some of my random thoughts.

We, as a family, understand that being on the High School team does not mean our athlete will be guaranteed to play the position he wants to play or get the amount of minutes he would like, out on the field or on the court.  Keep in mind that I am referring to competitive High School sports, not recreation teams or little leagues.  Does that mean that we are never frustrated or upset about playing time or position?  Of course not.  We are human.  It really does happen to everyone…even the best of athletes.

I truly believe our high school coaches are working to WIN championships.  That’s how it should be.  Winning isn’t everything, it’s the ONLY thing at this level.  I want to believe…and I really do believe, that they are fielding the best team possible and there are no politics involved.  I constantly hear this word, politics, and I’m just not buying it.  Being on the Booster Club Board does NOT get my kid more playing time.  Volunteering endless hours does NOT get my kid more playing time.  (Although, volunteering and being involved to help the team as a whole is greatly appreciated, needed and valued by all.)  Complaining to other parents, the coaches or the Athletic Director will NOT and SHOULD NOT get my kid more playing time.  Only the best players…the ones who are most likely to help the team win games are getting the playing time.  A kid gets the starting position and playing time because he or she deserves it, not because the parent did or didn’t do something.  I don’t want to appear naive, but really… how long would a coach last if he or she were giving less talented players preferential playing time for some reason other than their ability?  Maybe there are some of you out there who disagree with me.  Let me know what you think.  Maybe upper classmen should get first chance at a spot.  But then, they have to work to keep that spot.  And it should be up for grabs all season.  If someone beats them out, they will have to work harder to get it back.

Now, I have seen talented players cut from teams….only to find out that they are trouble makers or bullies, don’t keep up their grades or don’t work hard in practice.  This, I agree with, and wish coaches took these things into account more often.

It is my belief and understanding that each athlete soon knows his role on the team.  He knows how much playing time he will get or not get.  He knows which position he will play or not play.  The athletes have been informed.  Everyone has his role.

Some athletes’ roles are to be the Scout players:  the ones in practice who play hard against the first string.  The ones who make the starters BETTER.  Without the Scout team, the team would not succeed.  They are an important and integral part of the team.  The team cannot WIN without them.  Our athletes are truly looking to us, their parents, to support them in their role on the team.  They are usually fine with their role.  What scares them, is worrying how we, their  parents, will handle their role on the team.  We need to encourage and support them always.

Honestly, we understand that it can be frustrating to think your kid should be playing when he is not. Everyone wants to see their kid get to play.  It’s way more fun when your kid is on the field.  And it’s even harder to get playing time when your athlete attends the largest school in the state with extremely talented athletes everywhere.  When it happened to our son, we resisted the urge to call the coaches ourselves.  I did find myself, however, complaining to a few parents and I regret that now.  I’m only human and I did do it.  I will say that my tiny bit of blabbering only occured when I was approached by others who noticed that my son wasn’t playing like they thought he should be.  There is something to be said about that mob or “group think” mentality.  When others are complaining, it becomes a bit contagious.  We must RESIST this.  It only hurts the program. Several  parents asked us if we were going to call and complain.  Our high school athletes are 15, 16, 17 and 18 years old.  They are old enough to handle this type of thing on their own.  We have never called a coach to complain about playing time.  We did, however, encourage our son to respectfully ask the coaches (at the appropriate time) how he could improve enough to get a chance to play.  I’m not exactly sure how the conversations went and my son is on the quiet side, so this was big for him.  He must have shown something in practice and he was given his chance.  He made the most of it and soon he was a starting player and contributor on the team.  It is extremely satisfying as a parent, to know that my son did it on his own with absolutely no help from me.

Being a superstar at the age of 9 or even 13 or 14, does not always transfer to the varsity level.  Sometimes athletes continue to develop, grow and improve as they enter high school and sometimes they do not.  Believe me, I know how important sports are in some families.  I’m a mom of three boys who all play sports.  We love competition.  We believe in it so much that we never even let our kids win at Candyland when they were toddlers!  Our lives revolve around our kids sports.  I get it.  We don’t go on vacations because of our kids practice schedules.  We’ve traveled on weekends and holidays for tournaments.  We eat in our car and go from one thing to the next.  You name it, we’ve done it.

I’m so thankful to have met so many great sports families.  I, along with my husband… we love to talk about strategy, players and opponents.  That is great fun, when kept respectful and humble and in perspective, people!

We must remember that our coaches (especially high school coaches) are dedicating a very large part of their lives to our athletes.  They sacrifice time with their families to be with our kids.  They do it because they love the game and they love our kids.  They are good people.  Is it possible that they make mistakes?  I’m sure any of them would tell you that they do.  Encourage your athlete to talk to his coaches.  “How can I improve?”, “What do I need to do?”.  “Can I get a tryout at ______ position?”.  “Can I challenge ______for his position?” These are respectful, good questions for your ATHLETE to ask his coach.

I think it’s also good to be reminded to act with integrity and class during all sporting events.  Please represent your school well by not degrading, jeering or yelling at opposing players, coaches and officials.  Trust me, it is embarrassing to both your child, their coaches and other parents.  Even if you are right, take a moment and think.  Just don’t do it.  Plus, it is my belief that championships are not won because of poor or biased officiating.  They are won by hardworking teams with a common goal.  Our kids learn from what they see us do and say.  Let your actions speak volumes by being a class act in the stands.

Many of you know our story and how we almost lost our middle son to a devastating stroke when he was 2.  It was touch and go for many days on life support and the ICU.  It was the darkest time of our lives.  Once we knew he was out of the woods, it wasn’t long before we wondered if he’d play sports.  There are a lot of serious things to consider when a child has a stroke.  We thought of all those things.  But, we soon thought about sports for our son.  Well, he is 14 now.  He has played and succeeded at every sport under the sun.  He played on the 7th and 8th grade school football and basketball teams.

Our son plays completely one handed and with a brace on his leg because the stroke left him paralyzed.  His smile when he is playing on the team is better than any MVP award or college sports scholarship.  Our son’s life helps us to keep it all in perspective.  We are over the moon that he is good enough to make the team.  We even pray for blowouts so he’ll get more playing time.  It’s more fun for us when our kid is on the court.  We get it!

Lastly, I know that we all know parents who would give anything….give it all up….they’d give up all the wins, all the awards, all the scholarships…if only they could.

A football star, who lost his legs in the war and then his life…taken too soon.

A team Captain…fighting brain cancer until he could fight no more.

A basketball superstar and the County Player of the year….who’s life came to a tragic end in his senior year of college.

Yes, I think their parents would probably give up all of those high school sports moments….every single bit of it to have… just one….just one more day with their child.

I encourage you to keep things in perspective.  Not every athlete is a superstar, a college prospect or a future professional athlete.  Enjoy their time on the team.  Do not have regrets about your own behavior.  Be positive, encouraging and supportive.

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My sports journey…the early years.

April 21, 2011

I grew up loving sports.  My earliest memories are of wanting to be an athlete.  I have always been a tomboy, never wanting to wear dresses or pretty shoes.  Eventually, I did come around to enjoying fashion. 

I used to love that I was the only girl on the street playing ball with all the boys.  I only had 3 barbie dolls and I loved getting dirty.  Back then, it was still amazing that a girl could hit a baseball or (kindof) throw a spiral. 

Organized sports were not as prevalent back then, especially for girls.  I grew up watching my brother play hockey and baseball while I watched on the sidelines.  We tried to start a girls hockey team when I was nine, but we only found about 8 girls who wanted to play.  We’d need at least 12 to have a game so that didn’t work out.  I refused to wear figure skates.  Only hockey skates would do.  I skated during the boys practices and during open skate.  I’d soon put down my skates for good.

Finally, in the 5th grade, I played on my first softball team.  The coach didn’t care if I could play.  His eyes lit up when he saw how tall I was.  You will play first base, he said.  OK, I just wanted to play.  I used to play catch with my dad on the front lawn.  Sometimes, we would play a game of “pickle” with my bother and the neighbor kids.  I could throw hard, but not always very accurate.  So, first base was perfect for me.

The years marched on and I played softball in the Parks and Rec league every summer from then on.  I would swim in our backyard pool all day and play my games in the evenings.  I could even ride my bike to practices.  In those days, we actually played in the summer instead of the early, frigid, spring. 

We had a basketball net attached to our garage.  I would watch my little brother dribble and shoot all day long.  He played so much that he wore off the grip on the ball.  It was as smooth as glass.  I was about a foot taller than my brother, but he could dribble right past me and score every time. I wasn’t too great at basketball, but I would play sometimes.

For some reason, I decided to try out for our eighth grade basketball team at school. 

I was so terrible.  But, again with the height.  I was tall and I guess that was all that mattered.  I didn’t even know how to make a layup.  I was one of two who never got in the games early in the season. I remember Jennifer and I crying in the locker room after those games.  I knew I was pretty bad, but I still wanted to play.  I’m not sure how I did it, but by the end of the season, I had worked my way into the starting lineup.  I figured out how to steal the ball from the opposing point guard.  I would get fast breaks, run down the court alone and…slam it off the backboard.  Still couldn’t make a layup.  We had one play.  I thought it was pretty cool.  I finally started to shoot…and miss a lot.  The highlight of my 8th grade basketball season was hearing my name on the morning announcements once for being the team high scorer…with 6 points.  I’ll never forget it. 

OK, fine, that’s me on the far right in the middle row.  I am still good friends with Vicki, Kara and Laurie.  I am cracking up at our hair and tube socks.  I don’t think any of us had high tops.  I have no idea how many games we won that year. 

I went to tryouts for the High School basketball team that next summer.  It was a bit more serious than the 8th grade team.  I think I had to have more talent than just height.  OK, I know height is not a talent.  I lasted one day.  The coach asked us to run the mile.  I had never run a mile in my life.  I had no idea that I should have been conditioning and practicing.  I could barely finish the run.  I decided that I never wanted to do that again and never went back to tryouts.  I wish I would have stuck it out.  I’m thinking I might have been cut anyway, but at least I wouldn’t have been a quitter. 

I did try out for, and make, the varsity softball team in 11th grade.  I think I must have barely made it.  I was okay, but not great.  That team was really good.

I hurt my thumb playing first base and it didn’t heal until years later.  So, I warmed the bench on this team, too.  I was just happy to be there and be part of this Conference Champion team.  As I look at this photograph, I am really enjoying the skinny arms and totally flat stomach.  I can’t help it.  Ah, to be 16 again.

I was cut the next year.  It was a true disappointment to me.  But, looking back, it was probably the right decision by the coach.  I was good enough to play in the rec leagues, but I was a borderline varsity player….in any sport.  I went to one day of volleyball tryouts.  Again with the running.  I hated it.  I loved swimming class.  I was pretty good.  Maybe I should have tried out for the swim team.  There were not a lot of female athletes in my family.  My cousin played some.  She was really good.  But, other than that, I had no real role models in the form of female athletes at home.  I wish I was encouraged to work harder and practice more. 

I continued to play for fun and played intramural sports in college.  I played softball, volleyball and basketball.  I began playing co-ed sports in the local city league with my friends from high school.  It is then that I was reconnected with some great friends and a passionate athlete and sports fanatic named Mike.  Mike and I would start dating, fall in love and get married. Our love story began on the co-ed softball field.  It sounds so romantic when I say it that way.  Mike was impressed with my love of sports and I reeled him in.  And that is a story for another day. 

Thank you for reading my first blog entry.  I have lots of ideas and look forward to hearing from you! 

I look forward to blogging about my experience raising three athletic sons.  We have enjoyed watching all three of them play for the past 13 years or so.  My love for sports has reached an all time high as I have cheered for my sons these last 13 years.  My greatest joy is sitting in the bleachers (or one of those fold up bag chairs) watching them play.  We’ve watched them play every sport known to man.  OK, not every sport.  There has to be a ball involved.  No pucks, skis or skates.  So my stint with that non existent girls hockey team might be the only hockey post you will see from me. 

I’ll talk about little league, high school sports, disability sports, the paralympics, serious competition, crazy parents, playing time, coaching, living vicariously through our kids and much more.  I hope you will subscribe today.