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Youth Sports Participation To Decimation, Is There No In Between?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


It’s a slow time in sports.  Football’s in its preparatory stage.  Baseball’s yet to hit the home stretch.  And basketball … well, it’s not even on the radar.  So in lieu of what matters to sports fans everywhere, this week produced a couple major league issues, in a couple of minor league sports.

And kids lie smack-dab in the middle of both.

Sports, at the youth level, are meant to provide an arena for exercise and competition, teach a life lesson or two, and simply be fun.  But thanks to the “mature” side of youth sports today, kids are falling victim to the best intentions of adults gone wild.

Participation trophies and tanking.  That’s what we’re talking about.

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison made news earlier this week for sending back the participation trophies awarded his young sons, due to the message sent he’d prefer they not receive.  Harrison wrote on his Instagram account that he is taking away participation trophies awarded to his two sons until they EARN a real trophy.  The sentiment was received with both positive and negative responses.  With some appreciating the lessons of motivation and hard work, while others more concerned with the long-term return on a positive feedback investment.

In other news, the South Snohomish Little League softball team, representing the West Region, was forced into a playoff game due to deliberately losing a preceding game in an attempt to eliminate a stronger team from Iowa.  Snohomish Little League president Jeff Taylor defended coach Fred Miller, but expressed regret in a statement.

“Our coach was faced with a decision that, in the bubble of intense competition, appeared to him to be in the best interest of our team,” he said.  “In hindsight, it is very likely he would have made a different choice.  Though the decision that Coach Miller made did not violate the letter of the rules, I can see abundant evidence that it was not in line with the spirit of the game.”

“We hope that everyone remembers that the decisions that have placed our team under scrutiny were decisions made by the coach.  Our young ladies had no role in that.  In fact, they have fought their hearts out to be in the World Series and nothing should take away from that accomplishment.”

Problem being, something was taken from them, and it was the opportunity to chase the dream they’d worked so hard to make reality. And it was taken by their coach.  An adult who was suppose to know better.

Somewhere between Ned Flanders and Marv Marinovich lies a rational parent interested in their children’s lives, while simultaneously disinterested in living through them.  Winning is important, but losing serves an equally valuable purpose.  Affirmation of participation is fine, but motivation via an award – or lack thereof - for excellence is as well.  And parents and coaches can act responsibly, opposed to the mindless buffoonery all too commonly seen and spoken of in and around youth sports today.
An “atta-boy” can do the job of such, while at the same time developing a hunger in an athlete coming up short.

At the same time, Pre-teens should never step between the lines without winning in mind, and any alternative to the contrary misses the boat regarding the teaching aspect of a coach assigned to do just that.

This isn’t, nor should it be brain surgery.  Adults should understand the responsibilities of a coach, and should equally understand their roles as parents.  But all too frequently the “mature” half of the parent/coach-child relationship is clouded by a mindset not between the two extremes of coddling and poor sportsmanship, but rather rooted at one end or another.  Ultimately it’s “our” job to mentor kids to be good sports, and more importantly people down the road.  But for reasons ranging from past insecurities to potential scholarship opportunities, and simply a temporary lack of understanding of one’s role in relation to kids, society has dropped the ball. 


Related Slideshow: 5 Sports Teams With Offensive Mascots

Native American activists see the logo of the Portland Winterhawks as offensive and are demanding the team make a change. Here a some other mascots certain people find offensive. 

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