Allow me to share a secret with you.
As most of you know, I do a number of speaking appearances each year on the topic on the topic of sports parenting. And as part of my preparation, I invariably talk first with the host or organizer who invited me to get a better sense of what their unique concerns are. Over the years, I have found that to be much more effective and thorough in helping sports parents, coaches, and administrators. (I say this, because I know there are other sports parenting programs in existence which have a general cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach, and I know that kind of approach doesn’t always address the key issues).
I find that when the issues touch upon high school athletes, or at the other end, the kids just starting out in sports, there tends to be real answers and solutions. But when the topic begins to focus on the middle school years, those important years of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, that’s when things can get very difficult.
Why? Because the grades of 6th, 7th, and 8th can be tricky. This is the time when kids are often fully exposed to the concept of being cut, or of no longer being the sole star of the team as they were when they were younger.
And then there’s always the issue of whether you allow your son or daughter to play on the middle school modified team, or just let them play on a travel team, or allow them to do both.
Modified sports are those organized and coached sports teams that your local school puts forth, and often include sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball and so on. The coaches are hired by the school district.
DOES YOUR SCHOOL EVEN OFFER MODIFIED SPORTS?
Now, let me first say that I recognize that for a lot of reasons, some being financial restraints, many school districts no longer offer modified sports. Or the school doesn’t have enough field space or court time. Or enough manpower to coach the teams.
And in some districts, it’s not so much that they don’t have the fields or money, it’s because they realize that the serious athletes have already been playing on travel teams for the last few years. And there’s no way that those kids are going to play on a modified team where the competition is seen as a step down.
But for those districts that DO offer modified teams, it gets complicated in other ways. For example,
Do you cut kids? I mean, if you have a 7th modified basketball team and 100 kids try out, you have to have cuts.
So how many do you keep?
And what about playing time? Should it be equal, or do the better kids play? Most coaches, even at the middle school level, want to win. But if your team has 20 kids on it, how do you get them all some playing time?
Would the school be better off just offering intramural sports, and forgetting modified teams?
What does the coach do if a kid misses a practice or game because of an outside conflict, like a travel team? How tough should the coach be in terms of discipline?
How seriously do the varsity and JV coaches look upon modified teams? Do they really “scout” those teams, looking for future stars?
These are just some of the basic questions that face parents when they hear that modified team tryouts are going to take place. For some parents, they don’t even bother with having their athlete try out, because their son or daughter is playing on an outside travel team. And to them, playing on the school team would take a lot of time, especially if they’re playing elsewhere.
But for other kids, playing on a school team is a big, big deal, and they can’t wait to try out. Of course, with try outs also come the prospects of being cut. If your child doesn’t make the team, that’s a time to support them, and to let them know that if they want to still play that sport, there’s most likely a rec program in town where they can play.
It’s not always an ideal situation, but at least if they want to continue to play that sport, it’s worthwhile.
But above all, understand that modified teams rarely have much impact when the kids reach 9th grade and start to try out for the freshman or JV team. By that point, many kids will have started to benefit from an adolescent growth spurt, which can propel their sports career in a lot of positive ways. They will also have a much keener sense of where they stand in comparison to their athletic peers.
So the jury with middle school programs is still out. Each school district makes its own decision, and as a sports parent, you too have to make the call based upon what you think is right for your child. As far as I can tell, there is no definitive research regarding the positives or negatives of playing modified sports.