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Basketball Coach Won't Let Boy Play

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My son is a freshman, 6'1" tall, and has been involved in basketball since he was six. He has been on two champion teams within the town and on the traveling team that went on to win a championship. He is not an exceptional player, but he can hold his own and loves to play.

When he tried out for the freshmen team at his regional high school, I was surprised he made the team, but was very happy for him. I drop him off at 7:30 in the morning and usually do not pick him up until 7:30 p.m. due to practice and weight-room workouts. Luckily all his games are at 4 p.m. so he is usually home around 7 after a game.

For all this energy and time spent, the coach has only played him for a total of 58 seconds! There are seven others who rarely or never play.

Should I get involved and mention this to the athletic director? Several parents are very annoyed as well, and don't understand why the coach is doing this. It seems to me that sports should provide recreation and athletic competition among students and be played for enjoyment, competition, and exercise, but our kids are not getting this.

Also on a game day they must come fully dressed with a tie. I am all for this, but again, these kids do this and don't get to play. In fact I don't even have to wash his uniforms -- he never breaks a sweat.

My son is getting thoroughly discouraged by this and is thinking of quitting. I have been encouraging him to stay because the exercise has been good, but do you think his time might be spent better elsewhere? Or will he end up just "hanging out on the streets" because some "young" coach thinks he's working for the NBA? What is the philosophy behind this? Is is what coaches are taught?

A: Unfortunately, what is happening to your son happens to many high school athletes. Kids never playing, or playing only during the last few minutes when a game has already been decided, is the result of a coaching philosophy that is based upon one, and only one, goal -- winning.

I have witnessed this philosophy practiced in every girls' and boys' high school sport. Playing only those players whom you think will give you a victory and relegating all other players on the squad to practicing daily but never playing is a coaching philosophy that is probably condoned by schools' athletic directors.

If there are many parents who share your concerns, I suggest that you get together to discuss this and then meet with the athletic director to express your complaints and concerns. Whether it's a town's recreational program or a sports "dynasty" high-school program, adults have too often corrupted the purpose of sport at all age levels and damaged the hearts and minds of children in the process

I would not assume that if your son does not play basketball every weekday after school that he will automatically begin "hanging out on the streets." There are many tales of kids who saw little playing time in their first couple of years in high school, but later blossomed into "starters" on their school teams. There is also the basic philosophy of "paying your dues" and considering yourself an important part of the team whether you see game time or not. While these rationales may be offered to your son and others in his position on the freshman team as reasons to "stick it out," he may just as likely be coached by junior varsity and varsity coaches who also see him only as a practice player, one who seldom, if ever gets real playing time in games. It might help him to talk to players currently playing at the JV and varsity level. Their opinions might be valuable in helping him to make a reasoned decision about choosing to stay with or leave the team.

In my opinion, as someone who has played high school and collegiate sports, who has coached at all age levels, and who has had both of his children play competitive school sports, I believe that the philosophy of kids' recreational and school sports should be to give all players a chance to play their sport and to receive all the physical, social and psychological benefits derived from so doing.

In the end, if your son loves to play basketball, every effort should be made to give him a chance to continue to do so. Where he does it is less important than the fact that he continues to play something he so thoroughly enjoys.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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