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Florida officially declares high school football a coed sport

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Florida high school girls, if you’ve ever wondered about whether you should go out for your tackle football team, wonder no more.

You don’t need to be worried that some good-ol’-boy coach is going to point you to the cheerleading tryouts. You don’t have to fret that your classmates will think you’re some sort of lesbian, and not the hot kind who appears on Howard Stern. Most importantly, you do not have to shoulder the burden of being a female breaking into a male sport.

That’s because the Florida High School Athletics Association has declared, in court, in very legal language, that football is a coed sport.

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Likely Seminole High 2009 starting lineup.

If some local version of Gary Barnett tries to pick on you by saying not only are you a girl, but you’re terrible, so what? If you do this right, there are going to at least 50 other girls right there with you on the practice field. After all, the leaders of high school sports in Florida said this is how things are supposed to be.

Well, technically the FHSAA is ass-covering with its Sarah Palin-timed response (right before the July 4th holiday) to a lawsuit against its board’s 9-6 vote in April to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent, and junior varsity, and freshman games by 40 percent, for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years — for everyone sport except football and competitive cheerleading. You can’t cut football, because that’s a moneymaker! And you can’t cut cheerleading, because who the hell is going to yell their pretty little heads off for the football team?

If the FHSAA had just cut everything across the board, as New York has done, it might have been OK. After all, schools are funded by property taxes, and Florida’s are adjusted annually based on the average home sale price in January. As you might expect in a once-hot, cratering real estate market, schools are watching their bottom lines bottom out with every budget cycle.

Alas, by carving out an exception, the FHSAA left itself open to a lawsuit, and indeed a class-action case was filed in June on behalf of six girls, on the basis that the policy disparately treats female athletes under Title IX, the 1972 federal law requiring gender equity in school sports.

So there is where crisis meets opportunity for you football-loving Florida girls. The FHSAA did not say it was good on gender equity because (dragging its feet until the NFL pushed for it, and until someone reminded the association of Title IX) in January it began offering girls’ flag football as a varsity sports. Given that the Indiana High School Athletic Association dropped its own equating of baseball to softball after a girl sued to overturn its no-baseball-for-the-fairer-sex rule, the Florida folks probably figured a court wouldn’t buy that brand of reasoning.

No, the FHSAA says tackle football is a coed sports because three girls play it. Statewide. Along with 36,000 boys.

OK, technically the FHSAA is correct. However, in real life, most football coaches would welcome a girl running on their field as much as they would a case of MRSA running through the locker room.

It’s possible the FHSAA will lose its lawsuit (more like probable, given Title IX’s legal winning streak), or hastily amend its cutback plan in a July 15 meeting, scheduled two days before the next court hearing. At that point, the FHSAA might try to soft-pedal what it said in court.

But the legal rule is, no take-backsies! Girls, through its legal filing, the FHSAA has explicitly endorsed — nay, demanded — your participation.

The principals can’t do anything to stop you. The athletic directors can’t do anything to stop you. The coaches can’t do anything to stop you. And damn well those snot-nosed, stinky boys can’t do anything to stop you.

Get a few friends together. Get a lot of friends together. Get a lot of girls who aren’t even Facebook friends together. Then march down to the football coach’s office, copy of the FHSAA’s filing in hand, and tell that whistle-blowing, big-gutted tough-ass that you’re all playing football this year, and there ain’t a thing he can do about it, so what blocking sled should we hit, dammit?

Minnesota declares a week without sports…

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…and I’m sure it’ll be just as effective as TV Turnoff Week.

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

…[t]he Minnesota State High School League [approved] a no-contact period for coaches and student-athletes effective July 1-7, 2010. The amendment, which the MSHSL representative assembly passed by a 43-2 vote, calls for an Independence Week of sorts, a small piece of summer reserved for athletes and their families.

“The kids need breaks,” MSHSL executive director Dave Stead said. “They are not collegians connected through a scholarship to play a sport. The good coaches know that, and they’ll make the adjustments.”

Metro-area coaches, while acknowledging a seven-day moratorium is not a big deal — Apple Valley wrestling coach Jim Jackson called it “trivial” — question two principal implications. Girls’ basketball coaches Faith Patterson of Minneapolis North and Ray Finley of Providence Academy wondered what message is being sent when only high school coaches — not AAU basketball coaches — are asked to provide time for kids to be kids.

And Blaine boys’ hockey coach Dave Aus and Spring Lake Park boys’ basketball coach Grant Guzy are concerned that the MSHSL might decide to expand the no-contact period. If that happened, Wayzata football coach Brad Anderson worries that athletes choosing to invest in private instruction might not get a worthwhile return.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association established a similar summer no-contact period in 2007. Associate director Tom Rashid said schools can choose their own seven-day break to be completed by Aug. 1, and about 95 percent do so over the Fourth of July. Adjusting to the new rule, Rashid said, took time.

“We probably had 100 phone calls that first summer, maybe more, from coaches asking, ‘I can’t do this? I can’t do that?’ Rashid said. “The amount of agony in the first year of the program to find 168 hours of no high school sports led me to believe that we absolutely needed something to pull the reins back.”

Bless their bleeding hearts and good intentions, but here are the problems for any high school athletic association mandating a week without sports.

The elite athletes, as noted above, are going to keep playing AAU and club sports, so all this rule does is give athletes and their parents one more reason to find school-affiliated sports lacking in comparison.

As for the comments that athletes investing in instruction might not get a worthwhile return — it sounds crazy that one week mandating no practices or games might make that much of a difference. But I’m sure every hockey and basketball coach (and every other coach in every sport but football) in Minnesota (and the nation) sweats whether the best players are going to keep playing high school sports, knowing college recruiters are paying a lot more attention to the more elite club level.

Meanwhile, the middling high school athletes, trying to keep up, will still end up in private sessions, worthwhile return or not. So it’s not like they’re actually taking a week off — nor are their parents.

I know we’re all trying to figure out ways to de-emphasize sports so kids aren’t getting mentally or physically burned out. But Minnesota’s rule rests on an assumption that kids at the high school level are burning out. That’s not necessarily so. Most surveys talk about 75 percent of youth athletes quitting by age 13. However, one Canadian study, looking at registration data, posits the idea that the decline in youth sports participation into the teenage years not a matter of kids quitting en masse in the tween years– it’s that fewer new players join a sport as the years go on. That makes sense, given the early age so many kids start in sports, and the self-selection either in discovering one’s talent or realizing one is a long way back from the kids who have played for a while.

There are players quoted in the Star-Tribune story saying they feel like the week without sports is ridiculous. After all, if you’re dedicated to some activity at the high school level, you’re probably good at it and passionate about it. Heck, my 6-year-old son, whose T-ball closing ceremony is tonight, is upset he can’t start next year’s league tomorrow.

Minnesota’s move for a week without sports comes from lofty ideals, and I’m sure there are parents who hope that really means they’re on break for a week. However, I doubt it’s going to change the athletic landscape in the state, except to tip a few more of the top athletes away from high school sports.

Smoke, drink, gamble and blow stuff up — it's for the children

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Someone’s gonna get a new baseball field out of this.

There is a lot of youth sports fundraising and product-selling going on that makes selling candy or cookie dough look as wholesome as a Little League-sponsored organic farmers’ market.

In Walcott, Iowa, you can buy beer from the concession stands at Little League games.

In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, one dollar from the sale of each carton of cigarettes on the Shubenacadie First Nation community will go toward funding fees for youth sports registration.

In Minnesota, the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission brags that it has distributed $50,000 over the last 18 months from proceeds of charitable gambling.

In California, more than likely the stand where you’re buying your fireworks is partnered with a youth sports league that gets some of the proceeds.

You want marijuana legalized? Find a way to sell the idea you’re using it to give money back to youth sports, or to kids’ programs in general. It worked for state lotteries!

The Sammy Sosa League

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A few days ago, Little League International issued the following statement:

While Little League International has not received any reports of Little League volunteers or players making alterations to bats designed to increase their performance, it has been an issue in some upper levels of play.

In an effort to ensure this does not become a problem in Little League, this policy statement has been prepared and may be distributed to volunteers, parents and players.

No bat, in any level of Little League Baseball or Softball play, is permitted to be altered. This is of particular concern especially when it is clearly done to enhance performance and violate bat standards. Making such alterations to bats is clearly an inappropriate attempt to gain an unfair advantage, and cheating has no place in our program. Umpires, managers and coaches are instructed to inspect bats before games and practices – as they always should – to determine if bats might have been altered.

This includes using the appropriate Little League Bat Ring. If a bat does not clearly pass through the correct size ring, or if it has a flat spot on it, the bat must not be used. (This may simply indicate the bat has become misshapen with use, and does not necessarily indicate it was purposely altered. Still, the bat must be removed.)

Other signs to look for include contorted or mangled end-caps or knobs on non-wood bats. This could indicate that machinery was used to “shave” the inside of the bat to make it lighter. Bats with evidence of this type of tampering also must not be used.

Little League International wishes to make it clear that tampering with bats (or any other piece of equipment) is dangerous, and the equipment must not be used in any Little League game or practice.

349562139_a94a8cd9af_mI’ve tried in vain to find some huge story out there that might have precipitated Little League putting out a statement. The closest thing I could find is something that happened last year — so this could be a warning not to pull the stuff that the Kendall, Fla., Little League team allegedly pulled.

The team was booted out of last year’s Little League World Series after being accused of “using illegal bats, improper diamond dimensions and putting together the all-star team too early.”

OK, that might explain the release of a statement on illegal bats. But there must have been some other reports coming in that the wider world hasn’t heard about. Otherwise, Little League International would have put out concurrent statements about diamond size and all-star team configuration.

UPDATE: Mark Hyman at Youth Sports Parents surmises the LL release was a result of accusations of bat-tampering in the NCAA. Hyman found a story in the Birmingham News that discusses the suspicions that the bats (through not the players) are juiced.

Baring the teeth of the spring sports season

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Blogging has been a little sporadic lately, I know. The danger of posting as a youth sports coach and parent is that sometimes you get crunched by the responsibilities of being a youth sports coach and parent. Particularly when there has been a zillion rainouts, and you have two kids with softball/baseball teams (including the one you manage) playing four games a week (it seems) to make up all the missed games.

Speaking of which, that resulted in a situation on Saturday where I barked like one of my yappy Maltese dogs because an 11- and 12-year-old team refused to get off the field (on orders from its league vp) even though my T-ball team had the field for a regularly scheduled game, and they were there for a rainout. This was on our league’s one major field (we use neighborhood park fields otherwise). What upset me was not that someone made a mistake in scheduling, but that we were brushed aside because we only had little kids. I can’t say I was proud of how snippy I got, but the overall league president stepped in and order the bigger-kids team off the field (rightly so), and we got to play. Plus, some of the parents who got their kids up early (it was a 9 a.m. game) were pretty cranky themselves at the thought they dragged everyone’s butt out of bed only to be told to turn around and go home and get out of the big kids’ way.

I’m over it now. Really!

Mark Abboud paves the road to hell

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A Minnesota soccer coach, on his blog, says he was clear from last fall on: if his 12-and-under girls’ soccer somehow pulled off the miracle of looking like it would beat an affiliated, elite 13-and-under team in tournament competition, he would, in his words, “probably find a way for the 13s to go through over our team.”

And, by god, that’s exactly what happened. And now Mark Abboud, a former pro player, is out of a job as technical director of the elite Minnesota Thunder Academy program and is busy working as the latest youth sports morality play.

The academy, which runs recreational and elite programs, tossed out Abboud, fined him $600 (to be paid to charity) and only kept him on as a 12s coach for the rest of the season by the grace of the girls, for an incident May 17.

Abboud slowly and painfully recounts the day in his season blog, giving both the reader and Abboud himself the imagery of seeing a car wreck before it happens, yet not being able to avoid it.

Abboud’s team of 12s, as he recounts, was basically in a state cup tournament for the experience. In past years, Abboud had seen a predecessor team to the Thunder, a team he coached, lose to a younger squad, then get smacked in the state tournament. He didn’t feel it was valuable to younger girls to get clobbered, nor did he believe it was best for the program for that to happen. No one objected when he put that idea forth — after all, what are the odds?

So game day comes when Abboud’s team faces the Thunder’s elite 13-year-olds, and he tells his girls to go out and play hard. He even switches up his offensive and defensive set to improve his girls’ chances. In a tribute to Abboud’s skills, it works — too well. “My thoughts were a-whirl,” Abboud wrote May 18. “The 13s are a better team overall than we were. They would do our club proud at Regionals if they got past either the White team or EP (game was to be played after ours). It would be better for the club and for MN to have them represent the state at the Midwest Region Championships. We were here for the experience. I was silently cheering for the 13s to score a goal.”

The game is tied at 1 at the end of regulation. And at the end of two overtimes. Time for penalty kicks.

And Abboud makes good on his vow. He instructs his girls to kick slowly to the 13s goalie. Apparently the 12s didn’t get the message, because they reportedly were sobbing at the news. (I understand — I worked at a magazine where we were told by the publisher no matter how well we did, the focus always would be on making the sister magazine we spun out thrive, with us left to die. I found a new job not too long after that inspiring pep talk.)

Abboud, in his own words, immediately regretted his presumably well-reasoned, well-thought out decision.

What did I just do? I took the decision out of the girls’ hands and dictated a controllable ending to a match against the spirit of competition and of the game itself. Albeit I still stand behind the rationale used in this case, I’m thinking again it was not the right way to deal with the situation. It would have been helpful to have a club coach or director around to bounce this idea off of prior to acting it out.

The look of disappointment and betrayal that some of them held in their eyes was crushing to me. I was so frustrated with the whole thing that I accidentally said “Some of you are going to be poutty and b-i-t-c-h-y to me because of this, but I hope you understand my thought process.” I’ve never used that language with a youth team before, though I’m sure they’ve heard far worse. The b-word broke the ice, eliciting chuckles from almost every girl, but I still regretted the slip. And regret was already building about other things.

Though many other MTA coaches and directors were supportive later that afternoon to my face, we’ll see what the next days bring. I thought it was the right decision to make at the time (and for the entire last year), I take full responsibility for any repercussions, and through this writing that is always insightful and constructive to me, I’m starting to regret the choice.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune did a story on Abboud’s Sophie’s Choice that didn’t shy away from what Abboud did, but was pretty sympathetic, though the 132 reader comments (as of this writing) are, uh, not.

I’ll say this first: Abboud must be pretty well-liked for his 12s to accept him after being shafted, so much so that they begged the Thunder to let him stay on as coach. But not to pile on to Abboud’s self-flagellation, that was a dumb decision. Especially dumb because he had so much time to think about it. He decided last fall this would happen? Did he run this by his board of directors? Maybe the parents or others didn’t object, because they probably didn’t think anything of it — until it became reality.

It’s funny that while the usual complaints about youth sports is coach’s win-at-all-costs attitude, Abboud gets slammed for losing on purpose. But the idea is to try. If the 13s can’t beat the 12s, that’s their problem. You can’t decide they would do better later, that they’re having an off day, so you have to game the results for them. Abboud was trying to help, but like my wife says when I throw her delicates in the dryer, you’re not helping.

I know, from reading his blog, that Abboud knows all that. However, I would lose my license as a sports pundit if I didn’t same something. (And Coach Abboud, feel free to contact me if you wish to speak further about this.)

By the way, the Thunder isn’t the only one handing out punishment over this. Inside Minnesota Soccer reported June 1 that the Minnesota Youth Soccer Youth Association not only banned Abboud from coaching in state cup competition through 2010, but they handed the same sanction to the 13s coach, Andy Kassa, as well. (Apparently there was evidence Abboud tipped off Kassa to what he was doing.) The 13s also were booted out of state competition — so much for getting the better team ahead.

Abboud wrote in his blog — not updated since May 21 — that he figured some punishment would be coming down. After all, it doesn’t matter if you’re shaving points because you’re in cahoots with gamblers or shaving points because you think you’re helping your club — even in no-score leagues, people don’t take kindly to coaches who tell their players to stop trying.

Hasta la vista, parks and rec

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California’s budget crisis could take a big chunk out of local parks departments in unique, ugly ways. From the Auburn (Calif.) Journal:

Auburn Area Recreation and Park District officials could be forced to layoff [sic] employees and reduce maintenance at area parks if the state seizes property tax revenue from the already struggling rec district.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed suspending Proposition 1A, the 2004 measure that set up constitutional protections for local revenues. However, a provision allows the state to suspend Prop. 1A and “borrow” up to 8 percent of local government’s property tax revenue. This borrowing could continue for three years, and then must be paid back with interest.

But there is concern by many local agencies that the state will not have the resources available to pay the borrowed money back in three years.

During the district’s board meeting Thursday, directors adopted a resolution finding that a severe fiscal hardship will exist if these additional revenues are seized.

“The board unanimously agrees that through prudent management by the district staff, the residents of the district have continued to receive a sustained level of quality and performance,” said Chairman Curt Smith. “The next ‘cut’ if it occurs will affect the services and facilities we offer.”

The state’s action will cause the district to reopen its approved budget, which was already based on an estimated reduction in revenue due to the current negative economic forecast, to make cuts. These cuts could include layoffs, employee furloughs, decreased maintenance and operations and reductions in direct services to the public.

“While I feel that this (Prop 1A suspension) is an exercise in futility, I am hopeful the state will find other ways to balance their budget besides going after local property tax money,” Director Scott Holbrook said.

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Gov. Schwarzenegger, looking for park district money. And Sarah Conner.

California voters on May 19 rejected a proposition backed by Schwarzenegger that would have raised taxes as a means of closing a $42 billion budget hole — well, at least by $27 billion. Not that parks and recs/youth sports is alone in getting dinged by California’s cratering economy, but this is a pretty stark example of how bad things have gotten/are getting.

Hopefully the youth culture won’t kill their dog

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Most bands that see someone cop their image are immediately on the phone to their attorney to get a lawsuit good and ready. But most bands, as has been abundantly clear through a long, storied and quirk-filled career of college alternative, telephone-based, TV theme and children’s music, are not They Might Be Giants.

Two guys named John (like the two guys who make up They Might Be Giants) named their Seattle T-ball team after the band, using the images from their first children’s album, “No!” (It’s a word you end up saying a lot when you manage T-ball.) The two Johns in TMBG were so excited, they started a contest in which they will sponsor 10 more teams, anywhere across the nation.

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Photo of the Seattle T-ball team comes from a parent who submitted it to the band. I presume if the band is OK with a team using its image, it’ll be OK with me doing the same (fingers crossed).

The band is having you send your pitches (no pun intended) to littleleague@tmbg.com. You need to include your city, state and zip; the name of the local sports organization; the ages of your team members; the size of your team (presumably, number of players, not actual sizes of players, though both might be helpful); and anything else the band should know.

Band member John Flansburgh is quoted on the band’s site saying: “If a pizza parlor or a super market can sponsor a team, why can’t a rock band? We’ve posted a free shirt offer on our web site, and as new teams form we’re going to post their group photo alongside the Seattle team. We only have t-shirts to offer right now, but if we can get hats too, we’re up for that.”

Given the troubles many leagues are having attracting sponsors, this is a great offer, presuming your legal isn’t halfway over already (maybe the offer will be good for next season if it’s too late). I’m amazed more entertainment aimed at children, or even their parents, haven’t turned to youth sports sponsorship. “Night at the Museum 2″ probably could have sponsored every team in every sport in America for what it spent on TV ads, and reached just about as many kids and parents. I’m sure TMBG is doing this sponsorship contest out of the goodness of its heart. But a band that won a Grammy this year for its children’s album is reaching the right market handing out T-shirts to T-ballers.

However, I am emailing the band to find out if they understand what youth sports sponsorship entails. I’m curious how the two Johns (the T-ball coaches) got to pick the shirts. Depending on the league, TMBG is going to have to do more than hand out free T-shirts. Is the band willing to pay $200 to see “Phillies” on the front and “They Might Be Giants” on the back? I’m sure there are a lot of league boards that are going to have conniptions over the thought of the uniforms not being uniform.

Florida uses the nuclear option

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Maine couldn’t bring itself to cut high school sports at a statewide level. But Florida could — and did.

On Monday night, the Florida High School Athletic Association voted 9-6 to chop varsity sports games by 20 percent and JV and freshman games by 40 percent for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. Varsity football, a big moneymaker, is unaffected. Competitive cheerleading is unaffected as well. Wait, is that a big moneymaker, too? New FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing in March put forth this proposal, saying the only other option was eliminating sports.

As you can imagine, this isn’t going over well with athletic directors.

From the Miami Herald, which notes that a lot of high-powered basketball programs who hosted or traveled to tournaments now can’t do so with a 20-game limit:

”I was a student in this county, and now I’ve been coaching in this county for 20-some years,” said Larry Brown, athletic director at Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. “I have never seen anything like this, cuts so drastic.”

Added Roger Harriott, AD at Davie’s University School: “It sends the wrong message to the kids, considering they’re the whole reason we have a job.”

In Miami, these games cuts were made five years ago. But the county school district says it still might have to eliminate multiple conference tournaments.

The problem in Florida is this: the state’s property taxes are refigured on an annual basis, and they’re based on the average sale prices for January, the busiest home-selling month in the state. (In my state, Illinois, your property gets reassessed every three years, based on an average price for the previous three years. So my schools are doing OK, because the last assessment caught the last three years of the real estate peak.)

The Florida system was great during the real estate boom times. Now, it’s sending school budgets cratering. Here was my report from January 2009, when I was visiting mortgage-scarred Bradenton.

Individual schools across the country are cutting sports budgets, but I haven’t heard of another state athletic association putting the hammer down on everyone. Will it be the last? I’m going to go out on a limb and say: probably not.

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A Florida High School Athletic Association board member at work.

EDIT: Boy, I am behind. New York and Mississippi already have enacted similar cuts statewide, with New York (unlike Mississippi) even cutting football. Oklahoma earlier this decade cut sports schedules to save money, though that was before the current recession. Idaho’s state high school athletic association in April voted down an across-the-board 10 percent event cut, but it might revisit the issue in May, as well as looking at other cost-saving moves.

Where the women coaches at?

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One out of my 6-year-old son’s five T-ball coaches is a woman. Various studies say that sounds about right for that level — depressingly so. However, I’m not so sure the researchers are 100 percent right as to why 20 percent would, in most cases, be considered a fairly high ratio of female-to-male coaches.

3154176261_7784ce4c5fA rare sighting.

On Wednesday night (or tonight, if you’re reading this on Wednesday), the University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport is hosting a discussion on why the number of female coaches is so low, especially given we’re almost 40 years into Title IX throwing open the doors of gyms and gates of fields to girls.

Given the guest list, the answer is going to be: because the Man is keeping them down. The guest speaker is University of Southern California sociology and gender studies professor Michael Messner, whose research has purported to show that the lack of female coaches in youth sports has to do with men’s effort to keep old-time gender roles ingrained. This is the abstract from “Separating the men from the moms: The making of adult sex segregation in youth sports,” published in the February edition of Gender & Society:

Based on a multiyear study, this article analyzes the reproduction of adult gender segregation in two youth-sports organizations in which most men volunteers become coaches and most women volunteers become “team moms.” We use interviews and participant observation to explore how these gender divisions are created. While most participants say the divisions result from individual choices, our interviews show how gendered language, essentialist beliefs, and analogies with gendered divisions of labor in families and work-places naturalize this division of labor. Observation reveals how patterned, informal interactions reproduce (and occasionally challenge) it as well. We show how (mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions at the nexus of three gender regimes—youth sports, families, and workplaces—produce a gender formation with two interrelated characteristics: an ascendant professional class gender ideology that we call “soft essentialism” and a “gender category sorting system” that channels most men into coaching and most women into being “team moms.”

If you have absolutely no clue what that means — try dropping a few “(mostly) nonreflexive informal interactions” and “soft essentialisms” at the next soccer board meeting — maybe this excerpt from the first chapter of Messner’s latest book, with the dripping-with-irony title “It’s All for the Kids,” will make things clearer. Like most youth sports books, it wouldn’t exist without the Shocking Moment involving My Own Kid:

Back in 1995, when we arrived at our six-year-old son Miles’s first soccer practice, I was delighted to learn that his coach was a woman. Coach Karen, a mother in her mid-thirties, had grown up playing lots of sports. She was tall, confident, and athletic, and the kids responded well to her leadership. “Great, a woman coach!” I observed cheerily. “It’s a new and different world than the one that I grew up in.” But over the next twelve years, as I traversed with Miles, and eventually with his younger brother Sasha, a few more seasons of AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization), a couple of years of YMCA youth basketball, and over decade of Little League baseball, we never had another woman head coach. It’s not that women weren’t contributing to the kids’ teams. All of the “team parents” (often called “team moms”)—parent volunteers who did the behind-the-scenes work of phone-calling, organizing weekly snack schedules and team parties, collecting money for a gift for the coaches—were women. And occasionally I would notice a team that had a woman assistant coach. But women head coaches were very few and far between.

The research findings stretched me beyond a simple study of sex segregation in youth sports coaching. My observations and interviews led me to explore how youth sports fit into families and communities. I gained insights into how peoples’ beliefs about natural differences between boys and girls (what sociologists call “gender essentialism”) help to shape men’s and women’s apparently “free” choices to volunteer (or not) for their children’s activities. I discovered ways in which gender divisions of labor in families relate to more public displays of masculinity and femininity in activities like youth sports. And the study gave me provocative hints about how gender beliefs, family structure, and youth sports are key elements in constructing symbolic boundaries in a community that is defined (often covertly) as “white” and “upper middle class.”

Not to minimize the problem of a lack of female coaches, but it sounds to me like under academic trappings, Messner has done what just about all of us involved as parents and coaches in youth sports do — take our own experience, combine it with our ingrained biases and determine This Is How the World Works.

Not to say that Messner, or the Tucker Center, is completely off-base in saying there is an old-boys’ network that exists in youth sports. Their first mistake is assuming any boy can get in it — or that a woman cannot. Being involved in youth sports coaching and management is much like getting involved in politics. Those who are involved are really, really involved, and oftentimes make decisions based on their own interests. If they happen to benefit everyone, well, all the better, but that’s not always necessary. I’ll admit, I have no academic basis — that’s just my own observations ladled with my biases, probably.

Nicole LaVoi, the associate director of the Tucker Center, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that leagues tend to ask the dads, while women are saying, “Ask us. Invite us.” From the article:

In her study of mothers, LaVoi discovered that many would like to coach — and they had concrete, workable suggestions that could bring more women into the ranks.

Some said they wanted to feel more competent before taking the responsibility of leading a team. Training clinics expressly for women would help, they said, by providing an unintimidating and welcoming environment in which to develop their skills. They also advocated female mentors and co-coaches as ways to build confidence and make it easier for women to get into coaching.

Others said having fewer games overall and more in their own neighborhoods would ease the time crunch that keeps some off the sidelines.

All of these are wonderful ideas. However, in a youth sports environment that is mostly volunteer-run, the chances of any and all these ideas being put into place is quite slim.

Again, reflecting my own experience, I don’t believe that leagues are intentionally trying to keep women out. Believe me, most leagues are desperate to get anyone who passes the I-didn’t-molest-children background check. Most leagues either don’t have the time, resources, or organizational ability to set up training or mentoring programs for anybody, women or men. I’m fortunate my baseball and softball league hosts one session with the local high school coaches to share their wisdom with us parent coaches.

Plus, forget fewer games or games closer to home. The schedule isn’t going to be rearranged for anyone’s convenience.

And that takes me, finally, to a major reason, one offered by my wife and other women I know, as to why they aren’t coaching: they don’t have time. After all, they’re busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. Not that dads aren’t doing the same, but it ain’t the same. Last year for my daughter’s softball team, I wanted to get for an assistant a mom who had played softball in high school. She sent her husband instead — she said she was busy at work, raising kids and juggling everything at home. If there’s some soft essentialism going on, it’s that these particularly busy women didn’t want one more goddamn thing on their plate, while men were more apt to see coaching as something they could make time for (probably because their wives were doing everything else, but that’s for another gender study.)

Here’s another theory I was given by a female sportswriter friend of mine: As women’s sports have become more popular, more men have found it acceptable to coach them.

I agree with Messner that it’s great to have a female coach. I would agree that perhaps leagues can take steps to attract more female coaches — something, anything to send the signal that they’re not just looking for guys.

Where I split from Messner is that I (and maybe it’s because I’m a man in a War Against Soft Essentialism) don’t see this as an issue of the Man keeping women barefoot and pregnant at home. I also believe that women (in most cases) are indeed making a free choice, not some unconcious decision made because men have somehow brainwashed them, or some such thing. If we are to have more female youth sports coaches, league officials, coaches and parents need to realize that individuals have their reason for not coaching.

I encouraged the mom to coach on my team, mainly by making it clear you didn’t have to be a baseball genius to coach T-ball. (I did the same thing with the dad coaches, too. After all, I am no baseball genius.) All I know is, each woman has her individual reason for not coaching. Assuming there’s only one reason isn’t going to grow the ranks of female coaches.

I encourage women (and men) to comment. Like most, I’m basing my conclusions on what I’ve seen in my own immediate circle. I’m curious to hear what others’ thoughts and experiences might be.

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