Why is unequal playing time the norm in youth sport?

I have written previously about my thoughts on playing time, click here to read them (scroll down to see them all).

When I tell coaches and parents that I believe all youth sports should have equal playing up until age 12, regardless of competitive level, it is not a popular idea. Especially when I say I really think the age should be 14! I thought  of a few more facets of this complex and contested idea in youth sports that are worth discussing.

As adults who play recreational, but competitive sports, equal playing time is almost always the norm. If playing time isn’t equal, problems, resentments, and hard feelings arise. For example, I play on a recreational women’s ice hockey team. We have 10 skaters, which means 2 lines. We all pay the same fee to play. Everyone plays equal ice  time. When one line takes a long shift and the other line gets shorted, people get upset because it is supposed to be equal. We don’t put special lines out on the power play or penaltly kill, whomever is up or feels like she has legs, they go. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, which we work with together. We try (and like to) to win, are competitive, and strive to win every game (which we don’t). We enjoy being active, doing something we love, battling to win, hanging with friends and enjoy camaraderie with other teams.

Do we think this is different for kids?

So why is it that as adults in our own sport endeavors we structure equal playing time, but when adults run and control youth sport recreational, competitive programs….we justify unequal playing time. (NOTE: recreational teams are just as competitive and want to win just as much as travel teams, the skill level is just different). As adults we don’t like sitting on the bench, we want to play, think unequal time is unfair, unjust and annoying, makes us feel poorly about ourselves, and is not fun or enjoyable.

Do we think this is different for kids? What is the rational for unequal playing time in youth sports before age 12? I’d like to hear it…seriously…I want to hear from you. I think this conversation is worth having.

I say equal playing time at ALL competitive levels because if you have a kid on a team where he/she doesn’t play much, if at all, then he/she shouldn’t be ON that team. Move that kid down a team so they DO play and have the opportunity to play, learn, and develop skills in competitive contexts. No kid should be on an elite travel team, pay high fees to play and then not play equally…that seems wrong. As adults we’d NEVER put up with that policy would we? (I understand parents and kids “choose” to be on that team, I also understand that some kids want to play with their friends even if it means not playing, but those are different blogs on the broken system of youth sports).

If equal playing time is what we prefer and what we like and enjoy as adults why should it be different for kids?

Reasons for Bad Sportsmanship in Adult Recreational Leagues?

I have been a competitive athlete my entire life. I have seen my fair share of bad sportsmanship in all the sports I’ve played and coached. I am hoping that you, the readers, can help explain why adult women playing in recreational leagues demonstrate some of the worst sportsmanship I have encountered (I’m sure it happens in men’s leagues as well, but I can’t speak to that).

Over the weekend I played in the Stick It To Cancer hockey tournament up at the National Sports Center Center in Blaine, MN. I have played in this tournament for a number of years as it is for a good cause and you get to play some fun, relaxed hockey. This weekend however, two of the three teams we played has such bad sportsmanship that it took all the fun out of it. It was so bad I wanted to just skate the bench and not play the rest of the game for fear of being injured. Examples of what I saw and heard:

1. multiple cross checking penalties (which in my opinion are the worst, because you can really get injured)

2. hits after the whistle

3. trash talking such as “Get up you wimp” after a player had been clipped from behind and landed awkwardly on her shoulder

4. hits in open ice away from the puck

Why do people behave this way in a recreational tournament that is FOR CHARITY? We weren’t playing in league play. We weren’t trying out for the Olympics. We were playing for anything but a place in a charity tournament. In fact the WORST behavior I witnessed was in the game my team played for who would be 7th and 8th place out of 8 teams (yes, the toilet bowl game….we lost BTW).  We played hard, but no one really cared if we won or lost. IT WAS FOR FUN. Well that is what I thought anyway.

Possible reasons why this type of behavior persists:

  • people take themselves too seriously
  • the person is just obnoxious on a everyday basis, on and off the ice
  • the person enjoys trying to injure others on purpose
  • the person wants to win at the expense of acting like a gracious and sportsmanlike human being
  • the person’s identity is tied up with the sport, and therefore winning and losing is perceived to be a reflection of themselves
  • Immaturity

Do you have other explanations for this type of behavior? Has this been your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What everyone should be striving for is more of the attitude of Team Orange, an idea created by a woman I got to play with this weekend Lora Wilkinson. As she writes on the team website, Team Orange is a state of mind. It’s as simple as that. It’s about being a good team player, having a good attitude, supporting others whether they are “on your team” or not. Assuming the best out of folks, being encouraging, positive and constructive. Being benevolent. It is a good intention. It is kindness. Human kindness. Being human, being kind. It’s a life motto.”

Some of the women we played AGAINST this weekend, could learn a lot from the philosophy behind Team Orange. Anyone can be on Team Orange….just adopt the state of mind.