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Standing Firm on the Call to End Elite and Travel Teams

The Sporting Dad is both pummeled and defended, often anonymously.

Why is it that over half of you who send in responses need to do so under the cover of a fake name? That’s not meant to be a question as much as it is proof that many coaches and parents are afraid to let their real thoughts be known.

And I know why. I know why, because so many of you have stated it in your emails to me. It’s the fear that there will be some sort of retaliation from leagues/coach/teammates/other parents/etc. I can only assume that it means having a little red X placed near your name for not being a team player — not feeding into the system.

Don’t tell me what I don’t know. I’ve been right there, friend. It’s awful that we have to worry about such things in youth sports of all places. And while so many of you came to my defense last week regarding the elimination of hand-picked travel teams, I have no idea who some of you are.

What’s worse is the abuse I took from the typing fingers that left no prints. But here I am … back again because these fingers don’t hide.

Quick story: Twenty years ago — Downtown Plainville, CT, USA. Thirty members of the KKK marching in front of the town hall. I took my framed MLK poster from my wall and drove there. I parked far away and walked to a spot directly across the street from them. I was scared to death. No hood — no mask — just me, my big head, my bigger mouth, and my poster. I was taunted (I taunted back). I was yelled at (I yelled back). My beliefs were questioned (I spit questions right back at them). Even passersby in cars were calling me names. I stayed until I was the only one left.

Like I said months ago when this column first ran, I don’t mind being the punching bag when it comes to my beliefs regarding youth sports. But now I’m happy to say that I’m being joined by a group of open-minded, experienced, knowledgeable, and just plain lovable moms and dads who also feel as though some things are not quite right in their local leagues.

Clever name and website are still pending, and we are still looking for more outstanding individuals who are not worried about any repercussions for speaking their minds.

OK, so back to last week and a few emails from individuals who’d rather stay anonymous to the rest of the world.

Email #1: “After performing significant research into childhood and adolescent development, it became apparent that mental and physical changes in the pre-adolescent years of 7-11 make it very difficult to judge future performance (academic or athletic) since there is so much variability and change at these ages. This is why schools no longer “hold back” children in these age groups and why I believe it is wrong to segregate kids according to athletic ability in this age range (assuming teams are made up by age – as most are). The outcome of segregation is to create a small group of higher performing kids, and segregating the rest. Once physical and mental development is more normalized (in the 12/13 and up age groups, according to most experts I’ve referenced), I’m OK with segregation by physical ability.”

Email #2: “I've got another radical idea: No-cut teams in the taxpayer-funded schools. I'm not saying that everyone can play varsity games. I just think that everyone who would like to try should be allowed to. For instance, there is almost no pre-high school volleyball, so it's a great opportunity for girls who want to start in an environment not already contaminated by the select and elites who are treated like pros from age 8. My kid did, was lucky enough to get in as a frosh, and had a great experience. But it pained her and I to see others not even get a chance to try. (It) seems like all who are willing to put in the effort should be able to get training and coaching for at least frosh year. But no, not enough room. What a waste of potential talent and education, let alone a backup to the senior bench. Like all other sports parents, I prefer not to be quoted by name so it doesn't reflect on my kids. But think about it. Are our schools only for winning, or for all to get a chance to learn? What are we buying with our taxpayer money?”

Email #3: “Ron, I enjoyed your article and I think you are on the mark. I officiate youth sports, however not basketball, but I believe the same issues exist. My kids also played sports, my son played hockey, where big bucks are at stake. I have another thought in addition to yours. Professional and college sports have become all about the money, and it is getting down to the youth level. One of the reasons for the upsurge of elite and travel teams in recent years is that someone is making money on it. It has become "for profit" sports. Parents are enticed to have their kids try out and play on one of these teams with the promise of exposure to college coaches and potential scholarships, the dream of being on an Olympic team, or better yet, your kid might be good enough to "go pro" someday. Check out a web site for a place called Fast Pitch Nation and see what they are offering girls who play softball. A lot of money is being made in all of these sports and that is what is driving these teams. I'm not sure we'll ever get back to a time when kids played sports for the fun of it.”

Yup … punch all you want to — as hard as you can. I’m not standing alone on this one.

 

Ron Goralski February 25, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Emails such as this one makes everything worth it! And notice the writer did not indicate the path they decided to take. Please read the book mentioned below. It's worth every minute of your time. "I've been reading your column for a couple of months now and wanted to say that I watched last week's comments with interest. We had recently talked about supporting our soccer son if he wanted to do a premier team because the politics of his town travel team and school team. Because of reading your articles, I have taken the Bob Bigelow book from our local library, had great sports conversations with both my husband and son and really thought about what is it that I want my son to take from his soccer experience. So thank you. And please keep your articles coming."
Ron Goralski February 26, 2012 at 05:29 AM
Here's another good article: http://espn.go.com/espn/commentary/story/_/page/keown-110823/elite-travel-baseball-basketball-teams-make-youth-sports-industrial-complex 
Ron Goralski February 26, 2012 at 08:37 PM
This is the book that will enlighten you on the negative effects of elite/select teams on youth sports. It is a MUST READ! Just Let the Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child's Fun and Success in Youth Sports by Bob Bigalow
bob yaps February 27, 2012 at 01:28 AM
i was co-coach in bolton for boys & girls travel basketball teams in the early-mid '90's for my son & later my daughter, grades 6, 7, &8. we had open tryouts. charged a modest fee that covered a jersey & participation in the league. the rec league was pleased because even though we had the 8 or 9 most skilled players, it opened up that number of starting slots in each grade. so, kids who wouldn't have started, got to start. also, it leveled the playing field on the rec teams, created more equal distribution of the talent. and the travel team kids raised the level of their game too. by the way, our starting five boys, from tiny bolton, more than held their own against the likes of avon, w. htfd., glastonbury & farmington teams. also----all 5 of our starters played college basketball, from D-1, D-3, to european collegegiate hoops. so what;s wrong with travel teams??????
Ron Goralski March 05, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Mr. Yaps, The best of the best will make it to higher levels regardless of the competition. Elite teams are fine the year before high school. But the concept at younger ages robs the entire system and depletes it of kids that are not all necessarily better than the others. It's explained better at http://farmington.patch.com/articles/xx-a7a265e4. Go to the end of the comment section and look for my last 4 posts (in a row).

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