Archive for October, 2011

How Coaches Can Hold the Players’ Attention When They Talk to the Team During Practice (Part II)

By Doug Abrams

At any age level, the players’ attention span is usually much longer than it appears. This two-part column discusses seven techniques that can help coaches hold their players’ attention in a group during practice sessions. Part I presented four techniques last week; Part II now concludes with the final three.

5)   Use voice control

I have watched too many youth-league and high school coaches spend entire practice sessions shouting and barking like General George S. Patton did when he addressed his troops in World War II. No young athlete likes to be shouted at or barked at incessantly. Players in the youngest age groups may feel especially intimidated, but most youngsters at any age learn much more from adults they respect than from ones they fear.

Experienced coaches who feel secure about their leadership position can win respect with the same measured, yet firm tone of voice that they would use on Main Street. Talented coaches can teach, motivate their teams and maintain discipline without strutting or barking. When raising the voice is the isolated exception rather than the rule, raising the voice has special effect when it might be useful.

Dave Snyder, my hockey coach at Wesleyan University, calls it “voice control.” Rick Wolff even tells of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and other leading coaches who sometimes intentionally spoke softly so that the players would have to lean forward (and thus pay special attention) to hear. One way or the other, coaches who think that teaching, motivation or discipline depend on theatrics are probably not very good at teaching, motivation or discipline. 

Kids are smart enough to sense when their coaches are putting on an act by trying to be something they are not. What should a player think about a coach who appears firm but approachable off the field, only to resort to non-stop bluster during practices and games? A coach’s mind games and Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde routine wear thin before too long.

6)   Stand still and let a player demonstrate

When the coach instructs, players can learn only from what they actually hear. Too often, the coach begins explaining a technique or drill while standing directly in front of the players who are on their knees, but continues talking while demonstrating the drill himself. While the coach demonstrates, the coach moves further and further away from the players, sometimes turning his back while continuing to talk.

As the coach’s voice tails off in the distance, the players hear less and less, and eventually hear little or nothing, particularly if the coach competes with background noise outdoors, or with poor acoustics in a gym or other building. The explanation and demonstration have both failed because the coach is talking away from the players, not to them.

Demonstrating a technique or drill can be helpful because many children, like many adults, learn better when they see what they also hear. But sometimes the most effective demonstrator is a player selected by the coach. While talking the player through the demonstration, the coach stands still in a position that enables the rest of the team to watch both the coach and the demonstration. By selecting a volunteer who can likely perform the skill correctly, the coach diminishes the need for do-overs or the likelihood of snickering as the demonstrator returns to the group.

7)   Consider using the Socratic Method

Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher and teacher, had a particularly effective way to reach his students and hold their attention. Centuries later, perceptive educators still use the “Socratic method.”

Rather than lecturing for an hour or more, Socrates would ask the students a series of carefully crafted questions designed to elicit their responses. He would call on selected students, or students would volunteer their answers. The teacher would summarize the players’ answers or fill in the gaps where necessary, but the students remained engaged and involved.

Socrates’ class sessions became interactive, today’s term for a teaching technique that actually is centuries old. By the end of a class session, the “Socratic dialog” had taught the students as much as the teacher’s monolog would have taught (and sometimes even more, because dialogs stimulate students to participate rather than merely sit back and listen passively).

By creatively using the Socratic method at appropriate times during practice, coaches at all age levels can hold the players’ attention, encourage them to think, and make them feel like active participants in the team. It can work with six-year-olds and high schoolers alike.

Assume, for example, that a baseball coach gathers the team together on their knees for hitting instruction. The coach can get the message across by letting the players do much of the talking (“Where should the batter stand in the batter’s box?”; “What should the batter be watching before the pitcher releases the ball?”; “How should the batter hold his hands?”; “Why does the batter want to eliminate a hitch in the swing?”). The coach’s first question and answer may lead to follow-up questions.

Besides being a great way to teach particular skills, the Q & A technique can also encourage players to talk in a group about the last game. (“What should we have learned from winning Saturday’s game?”; “Now that we’ve had some time think about yesterday’s loss, what do we need to work on today?”) Some players might have reactions that did not occur to the staff, and the players’ reactions are the ones that count. 

For coaches and classroom teachers alike, the Socratic method is not as easy as it looks. Players are not mind readers, so ask each question precisely and clearly so they will understand the answers you seek. Make sure the questions will elicit answers that make the desired points. Make sure the questions seek answers that the kids can provide at their age and experience level. Keep the dialog on track because Q & A can eat up time, which may be expensive at many youth sports venues nowadays. Usually seek volunteer responders so no player feels embarrassed; students may have to endure some embarrassment in the classroom, but they do not have to continue playing sports. Try not to let a few players monopolize the dialog. Watch the players’ reactions, and be flexible enough to return to lecture if the Q & A is not working.         


Soon after winning an Academy Award in 1952, actress Shirley Booth revealed the secret of her success. The secret is central to any communication between speaker and listener. “The audience,” she said, “is 50 percent of the performance.”

Public speaking is indeed a two-way street, with the speaker on one side and the listeners on the other. As public speakers leading a collaborative effort, coaches teach best when they tailor their messages to the needs and capacities of their young audience.


College recruiting: Be forewarned and do your homework first!

If the ultimate payoff for a young, talented, and dedicated athlete is to someday play at the collegiate level, you would think that parents would be better informed. The sad reality is that too many moms and dads sit up and fully expect scholarship offers to roll in during their kid’s senior year.

Or that the parents just assume their kid’s travel team coach or HS coach will let colleges know about their son’s or daughter’s abilities. Or that mailing out a DVD to college coaches is the key. Or that a showcase is the easy answer. Even worse, some parents just assume that a young athlete can simply walk-on and try out once they are on campus as a freshman.

This is precisely why I have Wayne Mazzoni (check out come on the show every year. As a current college baseball coach and expert on the recruiting process, Wayne makes it clear that this process is full of detours, disappointments, and dead ends, and that it’s up to the parents to help do their homework before the kid applies to school.

First and foremost, the youngster needs to have solid grades and SAT and ACT scores. Don’t assume that athletic ability is all that matters. Secondly, understand that very, very few kids are good enough to play at any level of college ball – and especially at the Div I level. HS athletes need to understand that it’s always a lot more fun to play in the games than to merely practice all week and never get in. That’s why playing at the D-III or D-II level should be a real consideration.

Think D-III is beneath you? I strongly urge you to go and watch some D-III games and practices, and then see just how “easy” the competition is.

The bottom line is that thousands of talented HS athletes are misled each year when they enroll in college, fully expecting to play. Then, once disappointed, they become disgruntled and want to transfer. Sure, you can always do that. But why go through all of that hassle? Do your homework BEFORE you go to college, and make sure you have found the college program for you.

How Coaches Can Hold the Players’ Attention When Talking to the Team During Practice (Part I)

By Doug Abrams

When they talk to the team as a group during practice, coaches sometimes grow frustrated that players seem not to be paying attention. The coaches cannot understand why youngsters stir, stare down at their feet, or begin daydreaming about other things.

Blaming the disconnect to the players’ short attention span, some coaches may try to compensate by simply talking louder, even shouting. Decibels, however, convey no useful message.

Frustrated coaches might be better off if they improved their own delivery because at any age level, the players’ attention span is actually much longer than it sometimes appears. Like other public speakers, coaches reach the audience best when they dismantle barriers to communication.

This two-part column discusses seven techniques – four this week and three next week — that help coaches communicate with their teams during practice sessions. Some of these techniques might seem like “tricks of the coach’s trade,” but most simply apply the basics of successful public speaking generally. The coach is the speaker, and the players are the “public.”  

1)   Assemble the players on their knees

It is almost impossible to hold the players’ attention for very long while they are standing together in a group. Too many distractions. If taller teammates are near the front, kids in the back might even be unable to see the coach or the demonstration.

In my sport of hockey, young kids can barely stand still on their skates for very long without falling down; and when one player stumbles into a teammate, half the group ends up sprawled on the ice. Even in sports played on dry land, coaches can hold the team’s attention best by having the players “take a knee” before beginning to talk to the group. The players will welcome the brief respite, and the coach might also take a knee to communicate more directly and intimately.     

2)   Avoid background distractions

Did you ever notice that when a political leader speaks on television, the podium is normally in front of a one-colored wall that is blank, except perhaps for a slogan directly related to the talk, or for flags that present a familiar backdrop that Americans have seen for years? Effective speakers want every eye in the audience focused on them; a plain background free from distractions makes the speaker the center of attention.

A plain background is similarly important when the coach has each player take a knee. Assume a position that leaves nothing in the background to divert the players’ attention. No moving cars on the street; no siblings romping in an adjacent playground; no parents or other family members in the stands; and no gaudy billboards. (One more thing — On an outdoor field, do not force the players to squint into the sun while they keep their eyes on you.)     

3)   Be as brief as possible

If the coach can make a point in one minute, the coach risks losing the players’ attention by speaking for two or three. In Hamlet, William Shakespeare was right that “brevity is the soul of wit.” Effective public speakers strive to finish before their listeners do.

Recall President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address which helped dedicate a national cemetery to fallen Civil War soldiers in 1863. Preceding the President to the podium that cold November day was Edward Everett, the greatest orator of the age. After Everett spoke for more than two hours, Lincoln rose and delivered a speech that consisted of less than 300 words and lasted less than two minutes.

We all know which speech has remained on the lips of schoolchildren ever since. The leather-lunged Everett knew he had been outdone. “I should be glad,” he wrote the President the next day, “if . . . I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Everett’s admission reminds coaches to resist the urge to deliver orations that are longer than they need to be.

4)   Be precise, simple and clear

The coach may understand the message perfectly, but the key is whether the players will also understand. Use words that the kids can grasp because the youngsters bring no dictionaries to the field. Maintain eye contact with the players; just as the coach does not want the players’ attention to wander, the players should not get the idea that the coach’s attention is wandering.


Coaching resembles theater, with the coach on stage performing before the audience of players. Director-producer Viola Spolin is right that at any age, “[t]he audience is the most revered member of the theater.” “They are our . . . evaluators, and the last spoke in the wheel which can then begin to roll.”


Next week: How Coaches Can Hold the Players’ Attention When Talking to the Team During Practice (Part II)      


A question of propriety? Should HS coaches be allowed to run travel programs for their players?

Rarely has a topic generated more comments on my show than this one – and understandably so. In short, as travel teams inexorably begin to dominate the HS landscape, more and more HS varsity coaches are beginning to see a potential payday by running their own travel programs for their players in the off-season. The question is – is this fair?

Let’s say you’re a HS varsity baseball in a good program. Typically, most coaches earn between $3,000 to $4,000 for a 10-week season. But during the off-season (meaning summers), more and more baseball coaches are now setting up travel teams in which their players (or younger players in the school) are heartily encouraged to play on the coach’s travel team. Does playing on the team cost money? Yes. Does the money go to the coach? Yes, although the amount can vary, and the travel team cost covers insurance, umps, fields, etc. But make no mistake – the coach does make money from their travel teams.

But more than that, there’s lingering perception that if you’re a kid who wants to have a chance to start, or even to make the team next spring, it’s very much in your best interests to play on that baseball coach’s travel team. Why? Because other kids who you are competing against will be doing that…the coach will have a chance to see those kids all summer…and of course, the coach is financially benefitting from those kids who opt to play for him on the coach’s travel team.

The whole system is fraught with all sorts of potential conflicts of interests. Lots of kids these days either have to work all summer to make some money for school, or they’re playing on another travel team in another sport. No matter what the reasons may be, the HS baseball/travel coach is not going to be happy with that youngster not playing ball for him all summer.

Some states have woken up to this situation, and have tried to come up with ways to minimize these kinds of potential conflicts. But the truth is, nobody really seems to have a good handle on how to prevent this. Even worse, more and more talented HS varsity coaches are simply walking away from their HS programs, and becoming full-time travel coaches, so there’s no possible conflict of interest.

Again, this is a real hot-button topic that needs to be addressed now. I’m curious as to your suggestions.

What Can Happen When Youth Coaches Use Pep Talks from the Movies

By Doug Abrams

Three weeks ago, on Saturday afternoon, September 24, the Marcellus (N.Y.) High School Mustangs junior varsity football team was returning home after losing to nearby Skaneateles High. A few miles from Marcellus, Mustangs head coach Jim Marsh had the bus driver stop at the rural St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. With his two dozen players still in their uniforms, the coach instructed the boys to lie down between the headstones and look toward the sky as he delivered an inspirational pep talk about dedication and desire.

Sound familiar? Marsh acknowledged that he sought to re-create a memorable scene from Remember the Titans, the 2000 movie starring two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington as Herman Boone, the first-year varsity football coach at the newly integrated T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Virginia in 1971. As coach Boone grappled with racial tensions that divided the city and his players, the team traveled to Pennsylvania for its annual weeklong summer training camp at Gettysburg College. Movie fans will recall that Washington led the squad on a pre-dawn cross-country run to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, where he delivered an inspirational pep talk about mutual respect in the mist near the resting place of fallen Civil War soldiers.

After a few Marcellus parents complained about the stop at the rural cemetery last month, school superintendent Craig Tice rejected Marsh’s offer to resign but suspended him without pay from coaching for two weeks. Marsh apologized to the JV parents and players, and he announced that he would donate his post-suspension football coaching stipend (about $750) to the cemetery to help maintain the grounds.

“Willing Suspension of Disbelief”

Nearly 200 years ago, British Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote that readers can truly enjoy literature only when they follow the story with a “willing suspension of disbelief.” Coleridge meant that readers must understand, and must tacitly agree to overlook, that fiction takes license with reality. Readers who react skeptically that “things could never happen that way” sacrifice their own enjoyment from page to page because quality literature depends on literary license.

As Rick Wolff suggested on his WFAN show last Sunday morning when he discussed the new movie “Moneyball,” a willing suspension of disbelief also helps make movies and television worth watching today. But whether people watch a film, or whether they read Shakespeare or Harry Potter, their willingness to believe that fiction reflects reality should end when the screen grows dark or the book closes.

This ending does not necessarily mean that the film or book should be thoroughly forgotten. Like everyone else, high school and youth-league coaches are products of their own life experiences, including the movies and television they watch, the books they read, and the values they learned at home. We expect and indeed want today’s coaches to summon these life experiences when they teach their players fundamentals, skills, sportsmanship and respect. We even expect and want coaches to recall their own respected coaches’ pep talks and lessons from years past.

Wholesome visual or written entertainment frequently leaves enduring lessons that can influence what today’s coaches teach. Remember the Titans, for example, left powerful lessons about empathy, racial tolerance and individual respect. High school and youth-league coaches run risks, however, when they try to imitate a Hollywood scriptwriter’s pep talk, even from a movie that (like Remember the Titans) is “based on a real-life drama.”

When I read about the Marcellus JV football incident, I immediately wondered how many high school and youth-league football coaches have tried to re-create the memorable fist-pumping Notre Dame locker room pep talk that Pat O’Brien delivered in the 1940 classic, Knute Rockne, All American (another thoroughly enjoyable movie well worth watching). I suspect that some high school coaches have tried, but that few have succeeded.

A Reasonable Resolution

Marcellus school superintendent Craig Tice said he recognized that his decision about Jim Marsh’s coaching future would satisfy some parents and dissatisfy others. From my vantage nearly 900 miles away in Missouri, the newspaper accounts suggest that the superintendent got it right after listening to players, the coaches, parents who supported the coach’s pep talk, and parents who criticized it.

Tice concluded that Marsh, who is also an English teacher and varsity basketball coach at the high school, “used poor judgment in making this spur of the moment decision” that “caused more confusion than understanding among adolescent players.” But he also commended the coach for holding his students’ respect over time, and for accepting responsibility for his decision at the cemetery. It sounds like the superintendent saw a teacher-coach who, despite this bump in the road, still has much to offer his students.  

The coach’s public apology suggested that, unlike some coaches and teachers whose warped conduct hits the headlines these days, he meant well: “I tried to seize an opportunity to inspire the team with a theme from Remember the Titans. My only thought was to bring them to a realization of what a great thing it is to be able to play football with your friends, and how great it would be to work hard and triumph the following Saturday.” Sometimes good intentions go awry.

Learning from Mistakes

Perhaps the ultimate lesson here is that coaches, like anyone else, sometimes make mistakes or make judgment calls that invite second thoughts. The consequences depend on whether the coach’s conduct has crossed an acceptable line, a decision that necessarily depends on reason and discretion in the particular case. Perfection cannot always be the test because coaches and parents are human, and none of us lives a lifetime free of mistakes. I doubt that parents who expect perfection from their children’s coaches would relish having that test applied to the way they raise their own children.

On matters relating to the players’ physical and emotional well being, parents deserve to have their views heard and carefully considered, as superintendent Tice and coach Marsh recognized. But most veteran high school or youth-league coaches can recall decisions that they regret and would make differently if they could have a do-over. Most of these decisions do not reach the media as the cemetery pep talk did, but many teach the coach important lessons because good coaches frequently second-guess themselves. Sometimes we can all learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others, and it sounds like much learning happened in Marcellus last month.

Something Else to Disbelieve

While we are on the subject of coaches’ decisionmaking, Remember the Titans also features another scene that today’s high school and youth-league coaches should immediately forget they ever watched. With his football players throwing up on the field in the stifling heat during a grueling mid-day August workout in Gettysburg, one player unsnapped his helmet’s chin strap and begged Coach Boone for a water break.

“Water is for cowards,” the coach sneered as he refused. “Water makes you weak.”

I thoroughly enjoy Remember the Titans each time I watch it, but no responsible Hollywood scriptwriter should ever have let these words reach the viewing audience, which included not only coaches who might not recognize the medical dangers of withholding water, but also impressionable youngsters who might hesitate to take water in the hot sun. The first time I watched the overheated, thirsty Titans proceed immediately to full-gear up-downs the name of toughness, my suspension of disbelief momentarily turned unwilling.

Should we keep kids under 14 from playing contact sports?

This is the general direction that Chris Nowinski, the president of the Sports Legacy Institute – the world’s premier research facility regarding the dangers of brain concussions – – feels that we as sports parents ought to be pursuing.

Nowinski, who is the main driving force behind our awareness of the long-range effects of concussions from sports, made this clear on my WFAN show this AM, and in truth it’s something worth taking seriously.

Nowinski is a former All-Ivy football player from Harvard who became a pro wrestler for a few years after college. But after suffering some concusssions from his football wrestling careers, he finally sought medical treatment when he noticed that his mental facilities weren’t bouncing back as quickly as they had in the past.

Thanks to help from Dr. Robert Cantu at Boston University School of Medicine, Nowinski launched a major push to get coaches, athletes, and parents to know more about concussions. Even though concussions have always been a part of contact sports, only in recent years have the NFL, NHL, MLB, and numerous sports organizations start to pick up on Nowinski’s message.

The bottom line is that there is now a massive push towards youth coaches to alert kids that IF they hurt their head in a game OR practice, they must immediately notify their coach or parent. Then, only when the youngster is medically cleared by a physician are they allowed to participate back in games or practices.

This is why there’s a sense that, in order to prevent contact to one’s head, it might be worth pursuing a rule that kids under 14 can play flag football, or not allow any checking in hockey, or be very careful regarding headers in soccer, and so on. From my perspective, this makes a lot of sense. And clearly Chris Nowinski and his associates feel the same way.

Nobody wants to see their youngster end up with serious life-long medical issues that all stem from repeated concussions from playing sports as a kid. I’m glad that Chris has rung the alarm bell. By the way, for more information about concussions, go to

Achieving Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports (Part III) – Reform and Resistance

By Doug Abrams

Part I of this column discussed the “power of the permit,” the recognized authority of government agencies to manage public property, including public youth sports venues. Part II discussed how two agencies — the school district and the parks and recreation department — may allocate fields, gymnasiums and other public property to private youth sports programs in a way that helps assure equal opportunity for children who wish to play organized sports.

Part III now discusses the stiff resistance that proposals for equitable allocation of public youth sports facilities may arouse in the community.

Defending Equal Opportunity

Youth sports reform does not come easily because people with privilege do not normally yield their favored positions without a fight. Travel and select teams have enjoyed favored positions in many communities ever since these teams began proliferating in the past generation or so, and bruising turf battles can become particularly nasty when parents argue as surrogates for their children.

Defenders of the status quo may tar advocates of equity as troublemakers, malcontents, whiners, and the like. Name-calling can make for good press, but can also upset parents who find themselves in the public spotlight for the first time. Parents favoring equity may also hold their tongues because publicly advocating equity might invite retribution against their children.

When communities debate equity in youth sports, the arguments of travel and select team parents normally reduce themselves to four. First, the parents may say that reserving the lion’s share of public facilities for these teams is equitable because fair pre-season tryouts separated travel and select players from house leaguers. Second, these parents typically say that assigning travel and select teams substantially greater access than house leagues to public facilities is equitable because travel and select teams play at a higher level, and thus need more practice and game slots to keep pace with the stronger competition. Third, these parents argue that their sons and daughters have earned extra time in public facilities by working extra hard to achieve top athletic skills; the community, the argument goes, should “reward” and not “penalize” their children’s success. Finally, these parents remind authorities that they are willing to pay for extra use of public facilities necessary to accommodate their children’s travel and select teams.

None of these four arguments provides sound basis for spurning equal opportunity. I will discuss the arguments one by one.


Last week’s column discussed a Minneapolis suburb whose private youth basketball program, granted permits to use public facilities, provided less than 20 percent of its 9- and 10-year-old basketball players more than 1,000 percent more court time than the remaining 80 percent of players in that age group. The program’s board of directors defended its skewed allocation of court time as equitable because select and house teams were created following tryouts that the board said were conducted fairly by impartial evaluators.

As a threshold matter, athletic tryouts for elementary schoolers are inherently unfair because the tryouts seek to evaluate the physical skills of pre-pubescent children. These measures are little more than predictions, and frequently inaccurate ones at that. Time has a way of humbling 9-year-old superstars when other youngsters catch up, as many do by their early teen years unless adults have already stigmatized these other youngsters with premature evaluations that coaches are incapable of making, and that coaches should not be entitled to make. Evaluating other people’s children is serious business.

Not only that, but I have seen few tryouts that were truly conducted fairly from top to bottom at any age level. The first few roster selections may seem relatively clear because some youngsters appear to stand out. The last few slots, however, leave coaches plenty of room to favor some players, such as their own children’s friends, or players whose parents volunteer as assistant coaches, can afford the stiffer travel and select team fees, or hold personal or professional standing in the community.

But even if tryouts could somehow accurately evaluate each child, coaches and league administrators confuse individual fairness with systemic fairness when they invoke tryouts to justify grossly inequitable assignment of fields and other public facilities. The suburban Minneapolis youth basketball program, which assigned about 80 percent of elementary school players a minuscule fraction of practice and game time, remained inequitable regardless of how tryouts were conducted. The gross inequity denied most of the children reasonable opportunity to develop their skills, and likely frustrated and embarrassed many others into joining the 70 percent or so of athletes who quit playing by their early teen years.

Keeping Pace

Parents’ perceptions of their own travel or select team’s level of play provide no warrant for denying equity to house leaguers and other children. Equitable access to public youth sports facilities provides parents not a gratuitous handout, but a return on their taxes that build and maintain the facilities.

A community can provide access only to the athletic facilities it has, which may be less access than some parents would like. If a travel or select team’s parents want an unreasonably large slice of the “pie” at the expense of other taxpayers’ children, the parents may join like-minded adults to build and maintain their own private athletic facilities, as some private youth sports programs have done.

“Reward” and “Penalty”

More than 40 years as a youth hockey coach convince me that no correlation necessarily exists between a young player’s skill level and work ethic. House leaguers can work and compete every bit as hard as their travel and select team counterparts. I have watched many devoted players work their hardest, make necessary personal sacrifices, and yet not reach the travel or select level in a particular year for lack of natural skills. I have also watched many innately gifted players approach the top of the youth sports pyramid without a solid work ethic, and indeed sometimes with laziness that would embarrass a truly serious athlete.

Nowadays money may further erode any correlation between a youngster’s skill and work ethic. Some families may find themselves unable to afford a few thousand dollars yearly for the pro-style uniforms, private tutoring, interstate gas mileage, weekly hotel bills, and other expenses that increasingly accompany participation on travel or select teams. As the “youth sports arms race” continues to produce longer seasons and greater costs, membership on a travel or select team may depend as much on the family’s ability to pay as on the youngster’s athletic prowess.

Willingness to Pay

No self-respecting public school educator would provide extra history or chemistry instruction only to students in the top 20 percent of the class, or only to students whose parents could afford the stiffest fees. No parks department would grant a patron, regardless of wealth or sense of self-importance, permits for a park’s entire picnic grounds during the most convenient hours all season and leave other citizens with little or nothing.

Sports instruction is essential to childhood education, and leisure time at any age is essential to public health and well-being. School districts and parks departments should allocate public youth athletic facilities the same way that they allocate classrooms and picnic grounds — by acting as trustees of scarce yet productive public resources, and not as auctioneers dispensing these resources to the highest bidders.


“All of us do not have equal talent,” said President John F. Kennedy, “but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talent.” The President’s aspiration reaches adults and children alike.


By serving all children who wish to play, equitable community youth sports systems strike a winning formula that serves the public interest. The youngsters win because the challenges, successes, and disappointments of athletic competition help them grow. Parents win because sports provides their children lifelong memories of victory and defeat shared with family and friends. The community wins because values learned in sports help build solid citizens, many of whom remain in the community to raise families years later. America wins because these values help shape the next generation, long after the scores of distant games have faded from memory.




[Source: Douglas E. Abrams, Achieving Equal Opportunity in Youth Sports: Roles for the “Power of the Permit” and the “Child Impact Statement,” in Learning Culture Through Sports: Perspectives on Society and Organized Sports (Sandra Spickard Prettyman & Brian Lampman eds., 2d ed. 2011). Published by Rowman & Littlefield. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. (This book consists of 21 informative essays on important issues in American sports and culture.)]