I have recently read two articles about requiring coaches of middle school sports to play all student athletes in each and every game. I have also heard that it has been mandated that some middle school coaches give each student athlete equal playing time. As a former athlete of the Bladen County School System, I view this mandate as being ridiculous and should be rescinded.
Not all student athletes have the same ability. Some students may excel in one sport and may just be average in another. So, in the sport in which he/she excels, the athlete has to split time with a teammate of lesser ability. In the sport in which an athlete does not excel, he/she takes playing time away from a teammate that does excel. This seems to be an attempt to breed mediocrity in the sporting programs at the middle school level.
Age does play a factor as far as ability with most middle school athletes in the middle school level. There is a different level of maturity, both physically and mentally, between seventh- and eighth-grade students, male and female. Plus, eighth-grade students have the advantage of acquiring a year of experience that a seventh-grade student has not gained in order to be competitive at that level. Most of the time, a seventh-grade student uses this year to learn and get better in order to excel. Although I do agree that there are exceptions to the rule, more times than not, this is the case.
This should be a time when a student athlete should begin to realize that good sportsmanship is the most important thing that should be learned. Trying to win the contest should also be something that is taught by coaches at the middle school level. Kids should play sports because it is fun, but a child should also make the team and acquire playing time because he is good enough and works hard in practice. This new policy does not allow middle school coaches the opportunity to evaluate talent and/or reward a student athlete for their hard work in practice. Why practice hard and work to improve if everyone is going to get the same amount of playing time? This recreation-league approach does not prepare a student athlete for sports at the high level, where winning not only produces team and community pride, but also provide revenue for the winning school.
Lastly, I do not think that the opinion of parents of student athletes who do not get to play often as they would like should influence the local school board. My parents probably felt that I should have played every minute of every game in which I participated. While I appreciate how parents feel, coaches are in their position for a reason and they generally know what is best for their respective teams. Don’t knock coaches for wanting to win every game. If they are winning on a regular basis, it is probably because they are doping something right and are training their student athletes to be better in their respective sport, but also to be better human beings as they enter high school.
(Editor’s Note: The Bladen County School Board did not discuss equal time for all middle school athletes at their most recent meeting; they discussed giving all middle school athletes SOME playing time.)