We all know about the ongoing tug-of-war between HS varsity coaches and travel team coaches, and how all coaches are eager to have their top athletes dedicate the bulk of their practice and game time to each coach’s respective sport.
We know about all of this from the battles between HS varsity coaches who insist that the talented athlete make a commitment just to play on the HS varsity team. But at the same time, the travel coach is pretty much making the same demand of the kid; that is, choose between the elite travel team or your HS team.
But…here’s a new wrinkle that was only recently brought to my attention.
I am hearing about the ongoing and growing rivalry among HS coaches who, in their attempt to build up their own sport’s program, are now asking their players to dedicate a good chunk of the year to that one sport. That is, not only does the kid focus on that one sport during its season, but the head coach is strongly suggesting that the kid practice that sport all-year round — even at the expense of the youngster playing on other HS teams.
SPECIALIZATION….ENCOURAGED BY HIGH SCHOOL COACHES?
Let me explain. Your kid is a real good all-round athlete, and plays a lot of sports. Let’s say he plays football, basketball, and baseball at the HS varsity level.
But the HS football coach tells your son –and his teammates – that if they really want to improve and succeed next year, then they really need to commit to weight training in the off-season, and need to lift and run at least three times a week. Plus they need to find substantial time to get some extra work in on their position. Maybe even watch video tape.
Problem is, your son is also a member of the HS varsity basketball team. And varsity baseball team. And he has homework every night, plus maybe even a part-time job or performs some community service. In other words, he’s busy. And adding more football practice time in the winter and the sprint is going to be a real chore.
So how does he tell the football coach that he’s going to miss those weight-training sessions? And when he does, the football coach isn’t going to be happy to hear this. After all, the coach wants his OWN program to come first – not basketball or baseball.
The truth is, the football coach may not care about the other teams at the school…he only cares about his football program. Especially if he’s not on the HS faculty as a teacher, but has been hired as an outsider. Mind you, it doesn’t have to be football. It could be soccer, lacrosse, ice hockey, field hockey, whatever sport.
Now, a generation or two ago, this kind of thing was never an issue. HS varsity coaches knew that the best all-round athletes in the school routinely played two or three sports, and the coaches didn’t interfere with the other coaches in terms of making demands on the kids out of season.But just as travel teams have interfered with HS teams and have forced kids to choose between a travel team and their HS team, so now the other HS coaches within the same HS are making all-year demands on their athletes.
And the kids are caught in the middle.
DON’T WORRY….IT’S ONLY “OPTIONAL”
I received a ton of calls this morning on my radio show, as apparently this has really become a problem. Some callers said that coaches like to try and tip-toe around the year-round commitment by saying to the kids that “not to worry – these extra sessions are merely optional.” But athletes – especially those who are fighting for a starting position or to just make the team – know full well that these optional practices are hardly that. Yes, the head coach may not be running them officially, but he certainly is getting plenty of feedback from the coaches who do them as to who is there, and who isn’t.
In short, that’s just not fair.
Another caller said that when the HS coaches are members of the school faculty, there is usually less of a problem with this. Why? Because faculty routinely see each other everyday and in order to maintain friendship with their colleagues, they are reluctant to run roughshod over them and their sports teams. But when the coaches are hired as outsiders, they don’t know the other members of the faculty, and are more likely to focus only on their own sport.
The other thought that was mentioned several times was the role of the AD. That is, it’s up to the HS AD to keep an eye on this kind of all-year practice and to emphatically make it clear to all of one’s coaches that this is not acceptable as it places undue time and pressure on the athletes. That, to me, seems like a logical solution, but apparently some AD’s either don’t put the law down as many parents and kids want.
As my colleague Steve Kallas said this morning, and I thought his comments were right on target: “It was very hard to be a sports parent 15 years ago. And these days, it’s only become more difficult.”
Truer words were never spoken.