The Gap In Athletes

The middle school girls’ basketball team that I coach began on Monday. Three days of tryouts will be followed by the posting of an 8th-grade team roster. The team that I have this year has the potential to be very good.

That’s the upside. The downside is the gap that has appeared this school year amongst athletes. Since there was a minimal amount of middle school sports in our area last year, many of our participants lost a year of skill development and game understanding. It showed during the recent 7th-grade boys’ basketball season (We play it early in our area!). In our first game three different players ran right onto the court when I told them to go into the game. They didn’t realize that you needed to go to the scorer’s table first. It looked more like a line change in hockey!

The athletes that were a part of a club basketball team last year are now a year ahead in game understanding, skills, and maturity. Sure, there are other factors like some kids are naturally more athletic and others have growth spurts or develop coordination later on. Those have always been uncontrollable factors. When Jimmy is beginning to have a five o’clock shadow in seventh grade, it usually means two things: he’s physically and athletically more developed than the others and…he ain’t getting much bigger!

However, this year’s gap made more evident by last year’s lack of opportunities has amplified the gap between those who have the resources to pay fees for their child to be on a club team and those who can’t afford such an expense. Club team fees can range from several hundred (Cheap!) to several thousand. A family with more than one child playing club ball incurs incredible expenses. In most situations the coaches of club teams are able to bring the athlete to a higher level of performance and understanding of the game.

Thus the gap!

What I’ve also noticed is a hint of arrogance that has seeped into some of the club players attitudes. It comes out as they play alongside of participants who missed that year of development. They know they’re better. Sometimes their frustration is evident as they are told to play on the same court or field as lesser-talented teammates. In some cases, their parents have told them how much better they are than the others. The child is encouraged to shoot and dribble the ball more and pass it less.

Thus, a significant challenge for me as a coach this year is helping my players understand what it means to be a team, develop the concept of teamwork, and value each of their teammates. The challenge, more evident than usual, is creating an equality among players who are unequally talented. It’s not a new situation, just one that, like a picture hanging crooked on the wall, needs to be straightened out.

And maybe, just maybe, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will be narrowed a little bit, and things more important than statistics and the won-lost record will be learned and taken to heart.

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