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When Numbers Block the Path from Point B to Point A

The Sporting Dad tries to understand priorities in a less-than-perfect situation.

Note: The Following Situation Took Place in a Small Town in Central Iowa. Any Resemblance to Youth Leagues in the Listening Area is Purely Coincidental.

Here is a scenario being played out all over the country, hundreds if not thousands of times a year. So try and envision this on your own little patch of Anytown, USA. And then let me know what you think.

We have 50 seventh and eighth grade players. It’s a large enough group to support three teams. However, not enough volunteers have stepped forward (an issue discussed in past columns) and as a result, there can only be two teams. That’s a cold, hard fact and shame on parents who are able but not willing to take on the responsibility of volunteering their time. Believe me, the guy out there coaching is just as busy as you are.

So it’s decided that the group will be divided into an A-team and a B-team. The A-team will only have eighth graders on the roster. There are plenty to choose from so no problem with that decision. Let’s say there are 28 eighth graders with a few first-timers among them.

The league announces that it will have tryouts for the A-team, and it does. When the teams are announced, 18 make the A-team and 32 are placed on the B-team. Almost the entire A-team is holdovers from last year’s squad.

Also assume that the sport being played calls for between nine and 11 players being on the field at any given time.

Before I move on, be careful not to get too caught up in the mindset that all A-team players are better than the kids on the B-team and are in the fast lane to stardom. The reality is this, many B-team players are either better than, will become better than as the season progresses, or will surpass their A-team counterparts by the time they all reach high school.

So this is not about being labeled A or B. This is about numbers; how many go with A and how many go with B.

Let’s discuss the outside factors that may or may not be issues in deciding the composition of these teams.

I’ll start:

  1. To compete with some of the opposing towns, the roster needs to be as tight as possible with players already familiar with the coach’s system.
  2. The new players that make the team, ideally, should have attended outside clinics for that sport throughout the “off-season”.
  3. Too many unproven players can affect the team chemistry.

Let’s stop right here. This is the perfect example of what usually happens by keeping a select group of players together year after year.

What is the purpose of creating these super teams? Is it to win the Eighth Grade World (insert sport) Championship? If so, it’s a terrible excuse for not putting the “last” four to six players on the roster.

This is not what I envision as a system that has the total sum of its parts as the main focus of its mission. Not when those on the outer fringes of the loop are only lacking the cohesiveness that comes from practicing with their teammates.

This mentality, this mindset, this culture is present in so many programs. I’m sure many of them feel forced into it just so they can compete on the same level as the powerhouses in their leagues.

I fail to find anything positive in this. I do not see the benefit to the children or the programs. It’s a win-at-all-costs mentality and when it’s all said and done, what has really been accomplished?

The bowl of alphabet soup will not serve the group well unless it’s stirred properly – proportioned properly – and served properly. It’s a big can. You can’t start and stop with the first bowl!

In high school sports, sacrifices are made so that the needs of the Varsity program are first and foremost. This should never be the case with the 14 and younger crowd.

The dynamics of a league can change yearly and sometimes it calls for a shift in philosophy. Unfortunately, many coaches and the organizations they are driving will most likely stay on the plotted course.

I would ask every youth program in the county to ponder a few things:

  • Who exactly is benefiting and how?
  • Is a smaller group being favored at the expense of others?
  • Are they looking at the entire picture?
  • Do the coach’s egos ever dictate the choices being made?
  • Why does the organization exist – what is their ultimate goal?

So round and round we continue to go… in this vicious cycle. And where it stops, I think we already know.

Judi Houpert April 06, 2012 at 04:53 PM
What are your thoughts about putting high school freshmen on a varsity team when there is not a need for players (upperclass players get cut) and there is a freshmen team?
Ron Goralski April 09, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Judi- This sounds like a loaded question. I'd have to know many more details before giving a fair opinion.
BuckNut April 09, 2012 at 06:22 PM
An A team with only eight graders is not really an "A" team if the league has 7th and 8th graders grouped together. An "A" team selects the best players available during the tryouts regardless of age, time in sport, and some of the other things you have mentioned. When leagues have A and B teams the selection process needs to be fair to provide all players the same chance of making the team. This is regardless of whether or not they made the team the previous year. This story sounds alot like our town, its near that town in Iowa you are writing about, but we fixed that problem this year. The tryout process eliminated the players names and only provided a number. The evaluators were not allowed to see the rosters that matched the players name and grade to a number. Players were assigned numbers based on their arrival to the first day of tryouts. This town also brought in independant evaluators (they were not coaching that age group, did not have a son playing in that group or didn't know the players at all). It worked out very well and the league recieved alot of very postivie feedback on this years tryouts. We also made sure the players did not know where they stood until the teams were announced. There was no seperating by skill only by their number (we switched up how the groups were divided each day to ensure some variety in competition). This resulted in one of the A teams being equally divided among the older and younger players -1st time ever
Ron Goralski April 10, 2012 at 12:06 PM
That town in Iowa - near the big cornfield right? The system you outline sounds like a winner. I'm interested in more details if you don't mind emailing me. I'm still on the fence regarding independent evaluators after listening to a recent Hey Coach Tony show where it was discussed in detail: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaq8HO2ygns
Just Another Guy June 05, 2012 at 08:12 PM
The real reason behind the alphabet soup team concept is supposed to put players of equal skill together, By seperating players this way caoches would be better able to teach players whatever game they are playing. There is nothing worse then having a child who is either new to a sport or just stinks at it (but still loves it) trying to keep up with players who are very good and vice versa. This is why at the youth level games should always be secondary with an emphasis on practices, after all that is what you are really paying for. Having more practices then games allows Coaches to teach the game and for players to grow. Playing time in a game should be a reward for hard work at practices and not based skill level or position. Unfortunately, the reality is that Parents want what they think is best for their child, whether it is or isn't is beside the point and so the system has become more of who do you know rather then how good are you at it

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