Sports Column by Andy Kirkaldy: All young kids deserve to play

A couple of points to make this week.
One is specific to sports. But first, as always, anonymous letters stink.
Anyone who has something to say in a letter to this or any media outlet should attach his or her name to it, just as we do when we write something. Not doing so can be simply cowardly.
There are exceptions, of course. Anonymous sources can help break news, although almost all of the time they should really trust journalists to protect their identities, as I and countless others have. Only once have I used a source (an e-mailer with whom I could interact) whose identity I have not known, and only then when the information provided essentially confirmed the source’s reliability.
But anonymous letters can be problematic for a number of other reasons. Clearly, we cannot publish them, that goes without saying.
But also sometimes letters make valuable points that need verifying, or sometimes we need to learn more about something that might be a news story. In both those cases, our hands are tied if we cannot contact the author of a letter sent to us even if we don’t publish it.
Other times, an anonymous letter can even make a perfectly good point about something. Maybe even about a situation we could expose and possibly improve if we could learn more.
Yes, we got one of those in mid-April, plus a follow-up on it on April 30. And the issue is one about which I harbor strong beliefs, and I do wish we could have contacted the author.
The follow-up, not exactly grammatically perfect, is brief:
“Please print the letter from: Elementary Coaching before another child gets left on the bench this season. Thank you.”
Now, I have no idea where this is allegedly happening and what the sport is, never mind who the coach is that is allegedly failing to give fair playing time to his or her athletes.
But if true, it should stop, and I urge local coaching supervisors to double-check.
I cannot state strongly enough that all children right up through middle school deserve at the very least something close to equal playing time.
Never mind that it is the right thing to do, even though that should be enough. Even if the goal of youth sports is to produce athletes, everyone should play, because no one can predict which pre-pubescent athlete will excel, which will develop athletic ability or which will develop those abilities to his or her fullest.
Never mind the well-documented fact that as a sophomore Michael Jordan (among other NBA players, who include Bob Bigelow, author of “Just Let the Kids Play”) was cut from his high school basketball team, it’s hard to spot talent.
When my older daughter told me as a sixth-grader she was going to be an athlete, I made sure to tell her not to put down the saxophone yet. At that point she had been playing basketball for three years without ever scoring a basket.
She has now been a three-year starter for college field hockey and lacrosse teams, and only an injury prevented her form starting for her high school basketball team.
And if she had started for that high school team, she would have played for the same coach who put her on the floor for a total of 20 minutes during four AAU games in a weekend tournament, after which we had a conversation during which I made the same points I am putting in print here.
Again, who knows?
So, youth coaches out there, the wins and losses really don’t matter. It’s about instilling the love of sports in every kid who plays, giving them a chance to make healthy choices not just during their pre-teen and teen years, but possibly the rest of their lives. And that approach will develop athletes.
I well remember the elementary basketball kids I and several others co-coached. Some of them are still playing basketball. One was a sub for the Mount Abe girls’ championship team. At one point, five of them took the floor for the Tigers at the same time this winter.
Many no longer play hoop. Two of them are gymnasts, and one of them also plays soccer, and the other is on the tennis team. Another is on the dance team and runs track. Another plays field hockey and lacrosse. Another plays soccer and lacrosse. Some of the basketball players play two or three sports, field hockey, Nordic skiing, track, softball, soccer.
Whether they remember us coaches, I can’t say. I hope they remember they all played the same amount of time, and they had fun. Maybe that’s a small part of why so many are still playing sports.
That’s how youth coaches should measure success, how many of their kids are still active.
I hope all the youth coaches out there can look back someday and say they did all they could to have that kind of good winning percentage.

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