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Should youth athletes have any loyalty?

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A sports columnist complains about the ruination of athletics because of rampant free agency destroying loyalty to team. Heard that a million times before, right?

Now, a sports columnist complains about the ruination of youth athletics because of rampant free agency destroying loyalty to team. Hmmmmm, that’s a little more interesting.

From Bill Wells of the Springfield (Mass.) Republican:

In just about every sport, at just about every age, kids are free agents. Growing up and playing for a town, church or neighborhood organization is nearly a thing of the past. Can you imagine such a scenario a generation ago?

I loved playing for my town when I was a kid. I looked forward to it and took pride in it. I wasn’t representing myself – I was representing my town and my team.

Nowadays, if parents don’t want their kid to play for their town, church or neighborhood organization, for whatever reason, they can go someplace else. …

I guess this column comes down to this one question: if free agency creates a “me first” culture at the professional level, and if that’s bad, doesn’t the same rule apply at the youth level?

Yes, Bill Wells, it does.

But as you point out in your own column, every parent would argue his or her first loyalty is to his or her own child. And if that creates “free agents,” so be it.

You might think of the parents and children engaged in “free agency” as the sort trying to game the system to make sure their child has a path toward a college scholarship and a professional career. But it’s also the parent who yanks his or her child off a team for so many other reasons.

For example, in 1980, when I was 10 years old and my brother was nine, my father yanked us off our Little League baseball team because the coach was, to put it mildly, a raving asshole. My dad didn’t like his overemphasis on winning, his outright hatred of having girls on the team (this was only six years after Little League lifted its ban on girls), and his overall demeanor. And, by the way, this was back in the good ol’ days, the pre-free agency era Bill Wells was talking about. The next year, my brother and I tried out for a different team in the same league, and it was a great experience for all concerned. My mother, who knew nothing about baseball, even became our official scorer.

If I’m coaching, and a parent wants to pull a kid off my team, I say this: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re doing this. But I respect your decision, and I wish you good luck.”

It’s what I said to a father a few years ago when I managed my then 8-year-old daughter’s fall softball league team. He had twin girls that were a few years’ older, and who he thought didn’t practice and play enough. I said this was a fall league for younger girls that was designed as a more casual experience than spring ball, and that his girls would benefit even from the relatively short practice and game schedule. But I said it was his decision. He’s the one paying the freight, not me.

At its greediest heart the youth sports/parent relationship is a financial one, with a parent shelling out money, and the youth sports organization providing the service. Like in any customer relationship, if the person shelling out the money doesn’t like the service, he or she is going to take business elsewhere. I would do that, and I’m sure most parents would. They would be fools if they didn’t.

Written by rkcookjr

April 19, 2010 at 2:01 am

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