By In Stuff

Winning and Losing

The other day, I saw a coach in a sixth-grade girls interfaith basketball league pull his point guard out to halfcourt and have her stand there dribbling the ball for four minutes. His team had the lead. His team was also better. His opponent (the team my daughter Katie was on) was beat up and in foul trouble and in no position to go chasing. Katie’s team had needed something of a miracle performance to even get to the championship game. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Anyway, this coach had his guard dribble out the last four minutes of the third quarter. It was uncomfortable to watch; four minutes is a LONG TIME to watch someone just dribble a basketball. The parents on the other team were not sure exactly how to react. The parents on my daughter’s team were screaming “Come on, this is ridiculous, play basketball!” The clock just ticked down and ticked down and ticked down.

I must admit that I watched this with a certain amount of awe.

And I thought to myself: What must it be like to be an adult and want to win a basketball game with 11 and 12-year-olds that badly?

And then I thought: Wait a minute. I KNOW what it is like. Every sports fan does.

Please understand, I wasn’t angry at the coach. The thing he was doing was perfectly within the rules. There’s no shot-clock in sixth-grade girls recreation basketball, at least where we play it, and to be honest there is almost never any need for it. Usually, the girls chase each other like crazy people. These were very particular and unusual circumstances. One team, my daughter’s team, had lost two of its best players and was in foul trouble. The other had an intense coach who so badly wants to win that for a couple of years now, going back to fourth grade, he has been known to scream at officials and even opposing players. It was a perfect storm.

As the clock ticked away, as the point guard stood at halfcourt sheepishly dribbling away while my daughter’s team stayed back in a zone, I started to think again about my favorite topic: What do sports mean anyway?

One night earlier, in the semifinal, Katie’s team had played against the other team from their school. It was an odd game; they all practice together and are great friends and so are the parents. The other team had beaten my Katie’s by 20 or so in the regular season … they’re a fantastic team and a great bunch of kids and it seemed likely that they would win again, especially after one of Katie’s teammates, one of the team’s stars, twisted her ankle and couldn’t play.

Katie, my daughter, is a fine player. And I say modestly but certainly: Everybody loves her. She’s small, but she plays her heart out. She plays basketball like she acts in the school play like she serves on student council like she does her schoolwork, with this overpowering joy that just seems to burst out. She’s almost dancing on the court. Parents constantly come up to us to say how much they love watching Katie play, even though she rarely scores and has this habit of holding on to the basketball until she gets double-teamed and the ball is ripped from her hands.

Anyway, before the semifinal game, Katie asked me for advice. I don’t like giving sports advice other than “Just have fun.” But she was insistent and so I told her (as her coach has told her) that she should be more aggressive on the offensive end. “Shoot the ball,” I told her. “You have a good shot, if you’re open, don’t hesitate. Just shoot.”

Eh, why not? They were likely to lose the game anyway.

About a minute into the game, Katie fired up a 16-footer. It was the longest shot she had attempted in an actual basketball game by, I would say, 14 feet. It swished.

A few minutes later, Katie got the ball around the free-throw line again. She turned and fired a shot. It hit the backboard and went in.

A couple of minutes after that, Katie was open from 17 feet. She did not hesitate. The ball swished through.

This from a girl who, just three or four years ago, could not get the ball to the rim.

“Baby girl!” her coach told her after the game, “they’re going to have to stop leaving you open!”

It was, of course, thrilling for us … but it was also thrilling for parents of the other team who, as mentioned, love Katie. We were all cheering for everybody. The game felt like a party. As it turns out, Katie has a teammate who is a sensational player, the sort of player you will probably hear about in college in a few years and, freed up by Katie’s stunning display of outside shooting, she took over the game. But the other team had a girl, also a terrific player, hit a halfcourt shot at the buzzer, which for a sixth-grade girls team is the equivalent of winning. Everything about it felt perfect — everyone felt like winners.

The very next day, well, this coach had his guard dribble out the clock on most of the third quarter because, well, because he could.

So … which one better represents what sports are all about? Was it this semifinal love-fest, two teams playing their hearts out for the joy of basketball and friendship? Or was it the tense final, with a coach having his team do anything and everything to win, even if it meant taking all of the fun and all the energy out of the game?

Of course, I want to believe that the first one is what sports are REALLY about — the games are about competition and fun and grace and surprise and all that good stuff. Sports are about watching Mike Trout hit and run, about watching Julio Jones pull in that catch on the sideline, about watching LeBron in flight. Sports are about hitting one good golf shot, about unleashing a forehand passing shot, about picking up the 7-10 split. Sports are about relationships and inspiration and joy and pushing yourself harder than you thought possible and winning with grace and losing with dignity.

Anyway, that’s what I want to think.

But there’s no doubt: That’s not ALL sports are about. Sports are also about cheating to win. Sports are also about being sore losers. Sports are about intentional walks and kneeling to run out the clock and flopping and coughing on the backswing and doing whatever else, within the rules, barely outside of the rules, WAY outside of the rules, to win. Sports, many will tell you, are simply about winners and losers. Heck, I just wrote about how Bill Belichick’s greatness is his insistence on always doing what will give his team a better chance of winning.

“Right now,” Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz ranted a few weeks ago, “the generation of kids that are coming through, everybody gets a damn trophy, OK? You finish last, you come home with a trophy. You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s OK to lose. And unfortunately, it’s our society.”

I imagine Jeff Walz (who I first met 25 years ago when I was writing about his sister Jamie, a dominant high school basketball) would have nodded as he watched that sixth-grade recreation coach run out the clock. Make no mistake: That guy’s team was going to win the game. They were the better team. To be honest, I’m not even sure that running out the clock was, strategically, the right play.

But it was what the coach believed would guarantee victory, and he did not hesitate. Jeff Walz would tell you — lots of people would tell you — that the coach was right, that he was teaching his kids a valuable lesson, that you do what you need to do to win, even in a sixth-grade girls recreation basketball league.

During those uncomfortable few minutes, I watched that girl at halfcourt sadly dribbling the ball and looking to her coach to see when she would be allowed to play again. She was definitely learning a lesson about winning and losing. I’m just not sure what it was.






Print Friendly, PDF & Email

134 Responses to Winning and Losing

  1. Sean T says:

    To quote one of the angriest men in the history of sports: “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

    You can still manipulate the game, especially at the youth level (and yes, there’s a time limit in Little League). But as Earl said, you still gotta put the ball over the damn plate.

  2. Pete says:

    “As the clock ticked away, as the point guard stood at halfcourt sheepishly dribbling away while my daughter’s team stayed back in a zone, I started to think again about my favorite topic: What do sports mean anyway?”

    Why in the world did your daughter’s coach leave the team in a zone? I agree that sports about competition, but if the defense stayed back waiting for the offense to attack, they ALSO chose to not compete. I find THAT choice far odder than the choice to have someone dribble out the clock, which you could at least argue was in the service of improving the offense’s chance to win the game.

    • Ben wildner says:

      Indeed. It is ludicrously easy to activate the 5 seconds closely guarded count I’ve probably seen this tried 10 times and no one has ever accepted it for more than 30 seconds.

    • frightwig says:

      Yeah, when a team plays the old Four Corners or keeps the ball at midcourt, part of the strategy is to draw out the defense. And usually the opposing team realizes that it’s better to come out and force ball movement or foul rather than helplessly watching the clock tick down. Maybe Katie’s team couldn’t afford to give up cheap fouls, but choosing not to press the ball for four minutes sounds strange. What kind of lesson did Katie learn from that?

  3. AJ says:


    I appreciate and enjoyed this story. I am entering my 20th season as a baseball umpire and currently in my 12th or so season as a basketball referee. I have seen so many different type of ‘Parent’ coaches from awful, bad, good, and great. Seeing these types of coaching is probably the main reason I volunteer coach youth baseball teams that do not have a coach. After reading your story, you would have had every right to join the parents (assuming you didn’t) on your team showing your displeasure at the other coach’s strategy.

    It reminded me of a time I was coaching a 5th grade baseball team in the fall. Fall baseball is a time to give other players a chance to work on different positions. I put a pitcher in that was struggling to throw strikes and the other team just kept on stealing bases and scoring on passed balls (they were up A LOT). I asked the coach, ‘what are you trying to teach the boys by continuing to steal?’ and he responded with ‘Maybe if your pitcher would throw a strike, we would hit the ball.’ As you can imagine, I lost my cool a little bit during the post-game handshake. I shared my thoughts on the right way to ‘Win and Lose’ with my team. Needless to say, we faced the same team multiple times the next few seasons, we NEVER lost to them again.

    • SDG says:

      Hasn’t that always been a part of youth sports, except in the elite teams? Like, it’s not the NBA. Anyone can sign up their kids. And all the kids get playing time even if they’re bad? Like, hasn’t that always been a thing?

      Also, when did older people get together and decide that the current generation grew up always getting a trophy? I’m 34 and when I was growing up that’s all we heard. We’re spoiled, we’re lazy, we’re entitled. But every team from middle school onwards, that wasn’t the case. There were tryouts and tournaments and only the winners advanced. I was never an athlete but I did competitive debate back then (yeah, I was real popular) and same thing. No participation trophies. The winner moves on, the loser gets nothing.

      Sure, there have always been little intramural leagues where no one has to try out and you just play games for fun, but no one confuses that with real teams. And now they have instructional leagues for kids who aren’t good enough to make the real teams, because that’s how competitive everything is now. And it’s still not everyone gets a trophy, because that doesn’t happen. It just means the games aren’t as competitive and no one cuts you if you suck.

      In conclusion, my generation was the one that started SAT prep in elementary school, were always painfully aware that e had to get into an elite college and make contacts and have internships and join all the clubs and be recognized as the best in something and we were competing against the most talented people in the world for medical or law school or grad school and we better start our own business on the sidand have a curated perfect social media profile because one photo from 5 years ago where we were drunk at a party WILL DOOM OUR CHANCES OF EMPLOYMENT FOREVER and there are no secure jobs any more so enjoy jumping from short-term contract to short-term contract and hopefully you know someone and take college classes on our own dime because you always need to network and degree creep is insane and jobs that 30 years ago you needed community college now require a Ph.D because you’re never off the treadmill and we will never have the security our parents did unless we become doctors or lawyers, but yes. We don’t know how to lose. We’re all lazy and spoiled and entitled because of participation trophies. Screw you, Jeff Walz.

      That got away from me a bit. For the record, I think that running out the clock is the proper strategic play and the team was right to do it.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        SDG, I’m much older than you but I agree. I was on lousy teams when I was a kid, but we had fun and I never saw an opposing coach try to run up the score. There were always bad parents, but this generation (probably about my generation of parents) has created the idea that “excellence”, ie, winning is the most important thing. I’ve seen it even as an adult. I used to play in a synogogue’s men’s basketball league. We were bad. There was supposed to be an age limit so that you had to be at least 18 to play so that teams couldn’t sneak in point guards on the high school team. But one team did that; they had a high school point guard playing. Now, what does it say that someone wants to win a recreational league so badly that he would cheat like that? People talk about Belichick cheating and so on, but Belichick is paid to win. The fans want him to win. That’s completely different than berating children or forcing them in to travel teams so they can play competitive sports.

        I find this idea that kids have to be hyper-competitive to deal with “life” ludicrous and obnoxious. Not everything in life is a competition.

        • DSE4AU says:

          I also think the idea that children think that getting a trophy for being on a losing team makes losing OK don’t give children enough credit. I have played on winning and losing teams, and I promise, even at a young age you KNEW the difference. I really don’t think most children are so naive to think getting a trophy for playing on a last place team is the same as getting one for playing on the first place team. It just recognizes that they played, and tried. Just a thought!

      • Dave says:

        This is exactly right. First, the trophy thing. I hear this way too often, as if (a) it’s a new phenomenon and (b) it’s somehow a disincentive. Both ludicrous. I played youth soccer in the late 1970s – forty years ago – and every player on every team got a trophy. And every year, none of us gave a damn about the cheap trophy. We played to compete, to have fun, and have a chance of winning. The trophy meant nothing to us, and I guarantee you the trophy means nothing to the kids today either.

        As for what we’re teaching our kids, everything about childhood today is insanely competitive. Much, much, much, much moreso than when I was growing up. Our kids play sports year-round now. When I was a kid you played seasons…little league baseball season was 2 months long. Kids play at least six months out of the year now, more in warmer climates, and have travel teams and local teams and play many more games against much tougher competition.

        Pick a sport and there are special coaches who work with kids who have even a modicum of talent from the time they are even 6 or 7 years old. Where I live, every community has a swim team, and it’s insanely competitive, not just in your league, but across the whole region, as everyone is trying to move up to the next division (there are like 20 divisions).

        This generation of kids is not soft, and they are not learning un-competitive behavior. They are learning competition at a very young age, and I am far from convinced that as a soceity we are better off for that.

        • invitro says:

          I think all you guys are doing some of the ol’ hasty generalization. I’m sure there are some pockets of over-competitiveness and under-competitiveness everywhere and in every time period. I’m younger than Dave, I played youth for many years, and I never got a participation trophy, and I never got one in any other sport either. I started SAT preparation when I was 12, a year before I took the SAT for the first time, and no one else I knew did SAT prep. I was probably the #1 academic student in the state of TN; I objectively was in math, and won competitions in some other subjects too, but I never felt any pressure to go to an elite school or have a goal of being any particular profession. In fact, I wish now, and did then, that someone had given me a little pressure to set my sights higher, or even mention that going to an elite school was an opportunity. As it was, I went to my state college, where I finally got an advisor who helped me get a fellowship to MIT, but it was too late by then. Anyway… don’t assume that the entire USA is just like your handful of peers, because it’s not.

          • Tepposdad says:

            I guess we all had different childhoods, different times, same times, different pressures, same pressures. The trophy uproar has always bothered me though, isn’t it the older generation giving it to the newer generation. Aren’t they always the ones choosing the generation that those lazy, entitled kids get to live in? I don’t know people should just worry about improving their little corner of the world and not telling us how great they are/were. Sorry for the rant.

        • Squawks McGrew says:

          Kids know the score even if nobody’s keeping score. Back in the early ’80s, we each got a trophy for finishing second. Those trophies never made it out of the parking lot.

      • bookbook says:

        “Also, when did older people get together and decide that the current generation grew up always getting a trophy? I’m 34 and when I was growing up that’s all we heard. We’re spoiled, we’re lazy, we’re entitled.”

        I’m pretty sure it started with Pliny the Younger.

  4. ernest says:

    Agree with Pete – Why stay in a zone? I also wonder if the opposing coach with the better team and the lead (your words) wasn’t just applying a mercy rule. How bad was it gonna get if he went for the throat? Don’t have enough information to know that but wondered.

    • Rob Smith says:

      Yeah… why not take the time why they’re dribbling to instruct your two guards to attack and trap the ball? More than once I’ve seen the momentum switch on such aggressiveness. But why not give it a shot? I assume it was a Dad coach that really didn’t know what he was doing, but still, the counter was pretty obvious.

    • Marc Schneider says:

      I was thinking that too, that maybe the coach was really just trying to take it easy on the other team.

  5. Matthew Clark says:

    What the girl dribbling the ball learned is that the game wasn’t for her, it was for her coach, the grown-up. Grown-ups who don’t get that children PLAY sports need to be encouraged to find other things to do with their time. There are one or two 11-year old girls playing in an interfaith rec league who have talent that needs to be developed and there is plenty of time for their parents to find a high-school coach who can work with them.

    • SDG says:

      Since it’s a local rec league, wouldn’t the solution be to have some kind of rule that, say, mandates every team member has to be on the court for a certain amount of time?

      I agree with your general point. There are so many youth sports options that the people who want to take it seriously and play year-round can do that and the kids that don’t want to take as seriously can play in a neighbourhood interfaith league. But it is a competition and people are always going to try to win.

      • Marc Schneider says:

        SDG, it’s harder than you think to find casual sports options. My daughter played in a local Boys and Girls Club softball league for several years. At the time she started, they had in-house leagues and travel leagues and the rule was that to be in a travel league, you also had to be on an in-house team. Later, they eliminated the requirement that you had to be on an in-house team. My daughter was probably good enough to be on a travel team but, frankly, we didn’t want to spend the time and money involved in schlepping around to tournaments every weekend and Molly wasn’t THAT interested. This sounds like a good solution; separate travel and in-house leagues, but what happened is that most of the good players opted out of the in-house teams so that the quality of play in the in-house league was lousy. It was much more fun, even for the lesser players, when there was a mix of good and not-so-good players. It also, I think, taught the talented players to be more tolerant of those that were not as good or not as driven as they were. But, increasingly, you are seeing this divide, where you either have to be completely serious or completely unserious; there’s no in-between.

  6. No one understands “Why sports?” like Joe. I’ll never understand why the more direct ‘Sports’ stuff sells, but Joe posts this stuff here. For free.

  7. Ian says:

    Our high school varsity team did that against Hinkley, one of the best teams in the state at the time. We had a couple good guards and they would run the clock down until something came open, often holding the ball up top for a minute or longer, waiting for a big to get open. It was pretty boring and the Hinkley crowd was absolutely going nuts (they were really good, advanced to state). So, not only did we end up getting killed, we looked pathetic.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree. The hold the ball tactic never works at the high school level against a superior opponent. It might hold the score down for a little while, but eventually the talent wins out and the hold the ball tactic looks very sad. If you’re going to get killed, try a tactic that allows for some good plays. We played a really good team and, down 30, and focusing on ball movement, went on a 10-0 run causing the other team to take a timeout to regroup. That was a really nice moment, even though it didn’t last.

  8. Ross H. says:

    This struck a cord with me. I have a 5-year-old so she’s reaching that age where she can be in more sports leagues. One of the league options literally says “everyone gets a trophy” and talks about how everyone gets to play and it’s all about being positive. Others are more competitive. I really don’t know what is best for my kid. Most of us want our kids to have the balance between giving them confidence (true confidence from doing well) and playing the game right and being a good sport and the joy of just playing and also understanding that winning feels better than losing and so it’s important to try your best to win. Regardless of what roads we take, I’m sure my kids will learn many lessons like Katie is learning them.

    • Rob Smith says:

      At 5 years old, the everyone gets a trophy thing is fine. Most 5 year olds don’t care about winning that much and love the trophies. I think, for boys anyway, at about 7 or 8 years old everyone still playing is playing to win. I get amused by people who are all upset about the everyone gets a trophy thing. By 7 or 8, the kids don’t even care about the trophy. My kids threw them in the trash. So, I think we’re fooling ourselves that this is some kind of moral decay. It might be dumb thinking by parents and coaches, but I really don’t think kids think it’s some big deal for them. I think the vast majority couldn’t care less.

      Our High School teams made a big deal about not having the trophies for everyone. But they gave the Varsity players each a medal for being on the team. Funny. It’s the same thing as a participation trophy! My kids threw those in the trash too. But they kept their MVP or Offensive Player of the Year awards. They kept their region championship trophies and other significant individual/team awards. Kids know what’s really valuable.

      So don’t get all twisted up with what league your 5 year old plays in. If your kid is more competitive that will eventually come out and you should place your kid according to their skill and desire. If the more competitive league (again, at 5 years old) doesn’t have mandatory play time rules I’d avoid it. The fastest way to turn a kid off is to play on a team and not get a fair chance to actually play. If your kid proves to be really good, then you can move to that other league and not worry so much about play time.

      But still, I’ve seen situations with older players where coaches completely ruin a sport for a kid by not playing them. I think it’s very short sighted to not play kids. How are they going to get better if they don’t play? How can you build for next year if your younger players, who spent the season on the bench, quit the team? That’s just my view from watching a lot of sports at all levels for two decades.

      • SDG says:

        Yes to all of this. What, exactly, is so wrong with kids learning how to do something even when they aren’t the best in the country at it? Why is that bad?

        And kids are naturally competitive. I don’t know where this fear that we aren’t teaching kids to lose is coming from since you get kids alone fpr a few minutes and they’re competing with each other or there’s a dominant one the other kids follow.

        • Ross H. says:

          Thanks for the responses. All that makes sense, and basically was where my head was going. Get them out there at this age, let them have some fun, learn the sports, see over the years what they have a desire and knack for, and take it from there.

    • Chris says:

      I’m sure some will disagree, but my strategy as my son’s baseball coach from t-ball until now (10), is to gradually work in the competitive aspects each year. I don’t really see the point in being super competitive during t-ball and coaches pitch. For my team I would say that extended even through two seasons of machine pitch. Now that doesn’t stop other coaches from trying to take advantage of any rule modification in the younger leagues to score more runs. In t-ball most balls hit go right up the middle to the pitcher. I had an opposing manager who stationed his kid at pitcher the entire game and had him run to each base to attempt an out rather than throwing the ball. This despite the rules for t-ball not even counting outs.

      When the kids themselves start accurately keeping score and knowing which team is winning or losing, is when its time to push the competitiveness.

    • SDG says:

      Those are two different things, though. “Everyone gets a trophy” (and seriously, five-year-olds don’t know what trophies are. They just register that the other kids got a toy and they didn’t. You braion doesn’t really get the concept of winning at that age) is different from everyone gets to play and it’s a fun, positive atmosphere.

      My guess is that plenty of parents who sign their kids up for sports at that age, it’s not about the sport. They want their kids to get some exercise and make friends and learn about work and goal-setting. Other parents want their kids to actually play the sport seriously.

      • Ross H. says:

        Yeah, it’s about the exercise and fun for us. I have no visions of them growing up to be professional athletes or anything.

      • Rob Smith says:

        Yes, that’s true. I coached 5-6 year olds and there were a lot of play for fun and exercise kids. By 7-8, though, they were playing to win. But I found that by giving various kids a chance to play different positions early in the season, I found some extra pitchers, extra catchers and some kids that could even play middle infield (surprisingly in some cases). It really came in handy around playoff time when you had 5-6 solid pitchers. Some kids really couldn’t pitch under playoff pressure, so you need options. I felt that by giving more chances to kids you ended up with a better team & ended up winning more. That’s why I still don’t understand Varsity coaches who don’t insert lesser players into games more often. Everyone needs reliable backups. Kids get injured and foul trouble, in basketball, and it happens all the time.

        I’ve seen kids perfectly capable of spelling a star player for a few minutes languishing on the bench while the star player runs out of gas in the fourth quarter or fouls out. Coaches sometimes amazed me with how they approached things.

  9. John Sharon says:

    I am not sure that the critics who say that the “everyone gets a trophy” idea is eroding the competitiveness of our youth is accurate. Anecdotally here… I have a 14 year-old who plays soccer moderately seriously. I will assure you that even when the coaches and parents are downplaying the winning part of it, just about all the boys are keenly aware of whether they are winning or losing and react accordingly. They are not “fooled” by the participation trophy.

    What I have seen is that there is a lot less being a sore loser than when I was a kid, which I think is a good thing.

    Again, just one data point here.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I fully agree that kids don’t care about the participation trophies and I feel that whole thing is way overblown. The idea that participation trophies are a sign of the apocalypse is ludicrous. Thinking the kids love them & treasure them & get the idea that they don’t have to win at anything is also dumb. If kids are getting the message that they don’t have to work at things it’s because their parents give them that idea by buying them everything, not setting high standards & by never holding them accountable when they mess up. I think the thing that’s way worse than participation trophies is how parents buy kids cars these days. The whole experience is much more valuable for a kid when they buy their own car. They had to earn it and they therefore treat it much better. Work = get good stuff = accomplishment.

      Participation trophies really don’t matter at all one way or another. It’s just a good sound byte on talk radio.

    • DB says:

      Seconded. They know the difference and, IMO, are way better sportspeople than we were as kids. Winning does lead to confidence and getting validation does matter. At the young ages, birth date matters and we need to keep kids interested until that does not matter. For example, my son has an August birth day and for gymnastics that was the worst birthday to have as kids were much older than him (Sep. 1 was the cut-off). It also hurt that his team is really good so the chance of him getting trophies was slim (just the participation ribbons). He knew that it was partially an age thing. This year gymnastics moved to a June 1 cut-off and now he is doing really well (and really knows that it was an age thing). He is basically the same kid but the results are very different. Basically need to keep the kids interested, healthy and learning. If participation trophies do it (or the Positive Coaching Alliance which I recommend to anyone with a young kid in sports does it), then I am all for it. They know the difference but acknowledgement of the effort means a lot for everyone (not everyone can get a raise but a good job or thanks for the hard work means something too).

      • Rob Smith says:

        I agree. The big thing at younger ages is to make it a good experience so that they want to play again next year. That alone is a big win. And helping them get better is a big part of that equation. Eventually talent sorts itself out. But I dread thinking about all the kids that quit because of a bad coach or a bad experience. I see some of those kids grow up to be quite athletic & I become upset at the coach that caused them to stop playing. Eventually you get to a level where it’s definitely play to win. But not at younger ages.

  10. Rob Smith says:

    To me, it’s all context. I was watching a girl’s national powerhouse high school team dismantle our small high school team (we unfortunately had to play them twice a year). They pressed relentlessly and beat our team something like 110-15. It was annoying to watch. So, I vented some frustration. The guy I was sitting with told me that the other team was right to keep pressing. If they subbed out everyone and stopped pressing, how would they be able to play better opponents a full game at full speed? And bottom line, if you don’t like it, get better. The context here was competitive High School basketball. At that level, it’s play to win. And yes, if you don’t like getting pounded, then get better.

    Certainly in pro sports it’s no different. But there is a much smaller difference between pro teams. So teams check themselves because they don’t want to give other teams extra incentive the next time they play. And they might play the same team again in a few weeks. But they do acknowledge that tactically, anything within the rules is fair game. The one exception is the series of ridiculous unwritten rules of baseball. That’s a whole other topic.

    But at the 6th grade level, it’s different. I coached a lot at that level, and as a coach, you need to prioritize getting better, and giving everyone a chance to play. That should be the priority. So, do you get better if you hold the ball for a quarter? No. That’s just wasting everyone’s time. The time players could be spending getting better is just lost. That’s bad coaching. Our high school boys team tried holding the ball against a top opponent once. It didn’t even work and just led to the other team mocking our team and rubbing it in wherever they could. I was glad that we never did that again. The next time we played them, we might have lost by 30 points, but we had some really good plays and some bright moments. Moments they didn’t have when they were holding the ball.

    But in the end, starting at the High School Varsity level, you can employ whatever tactics you want in order to win. Before that age, a coach that plays entirely to win is missing the point very badly. I always gauged a season on how much better we got from the beginning of the season to the end of the season. And, probably not ironically, we often ended up playing in the championship game. Short term wins at that age often equate to long term losses and vice versa. In fact, we lost our first two games one season and my assistant coach moaned that we might not win any games this year. I told him that we were working things out still and hadn’t even fielded our best lineup yet…. and that we’d be fine. We went to the championship game that year, though we lost a close game there. That’s how we need to treat youth ball games. Get better and find things that weaker players do well & take advantage of everyone’s talents.

  11. DB says:

    Kind of agree with Pete. I know that your daughter’s team had foul trouble and was afraid to foul out but you at least have to try. My 6th grade daughter plays lacrosse and you see that a lot at the end of the game when one team has the lead and they basically go into the four corners. You press and double and hope for the bad pass.

    I more feel bad for the other team actually. I see this short term tactic all the time. That tactic only works now until they get older and there is the shot clock or whatever (you name the sport and their is always a short-cut instead of teaching how to play). The coach is taking short term victory now for teaching them how to get their offense into motion and getting a shot off in time which they will need to do. Or another lacrosse thing (sure people have seen it in other sports as well) where one team is physically bigger for whatever reason and it is a part-time ref who cannot cover the whole field or does not know all the rules and the bigger team just manhandles and hope the ref does not see it. They win then but the kids do not know all the rules. Two/three years later, that bigger team is losing all the time as their players never developed and learned what they have to do when they get older and have real refs.

    At this age, I get really mad at a coach who wants to win so badly that they forgot that it matters nothing now. Make it fun. Teach them the proper techniques and victories come. Bill B is at the final stage and short term victory is all that matters. A 6th grade b-ball team is a different beast. In 2 years, I bet that other team is going to stink and the best players will have left to find a real coach (and they will actually be behind in development).

    • Rob Smith says:

      In 12 year old soccer, there was a really good team…. well, they won a lot. But they did it by purposely holding, shoving, tripping, and even spitting. The coach never said a thing, so it was clear that these tactics were taught. Look, in soccer kids hold and shove and do things they shouldn’t do. Or, maybe they just play physical. It’s a little hard to convey how bad this team was (it was really bad), but I failed to see why what they were teaching a 12 year old was helpful to their development.

      When you get to the High School level, none of this matters. They’re all full grown and the games are ref’d better. So holding gets called, kids get yellow/red carded and kids are big and strong and can deal with any problems on the field. Push me? I push back. But at 12 years old? It’s ridiculous to teach bad tactics to young kids. Tactics that won’t work well at older ages. It’s short term thinking that doesn’t help the kids develop.

      • SDG says:

        In cases like this I have to wonder, where were the refs? Or administrators of the league. Isn’t there some adult, somewhere, to enforce the rules and tell the coach to knock it off?

        • Rob Smith says:

          You often have teenagers refereeing the younger kids games and sometimes that’s taken advantage of. One teenager trying to cover the whole field just doesn’t happen. Luckily this behavior didn’t happen much. If games started to get out of hand it was usually because both teams were going at each other & the ref didn’t do anything to stop it. The team that purposely grabbed, pushed and spit was really just one team. So although it still angers me to think about it, it wasn’t very common.

          Like I said though, none of this matters at the high school level. My son was one of the worst at the above mentioned offending tactics (no spitting though). He never got tossed from a game, but he got yellow carded and talked to by refs too many times. And other teams took available opportunities to get him back. Like I said, it all worked itself out at that age. Teenage boys are wound pretty tight & refs kept a tight reign on things.

  12. Michael Bleach says:

    To start, it seems pretty clear what this opposing coach did was wrong. 6th grade is pretty young for that kind of gamesmanship, he wasn’t fulfilling his duties as a teacher of basketball skills and winning without joy doesn’t feel much like winning.

    (Attempts Stephen A voice)

    HOWEVAH, let’s play devil’s advocate for a second. Coaching zone defense in sixth grade is also ridiculous. It does not teach the kids the fundamentals of help and recover and sliding they should be learning at that age and zone defense takes advantage of the lack of shooting range opponents that age possess. You don’t coach zone defense because you believe it is best for a 6th grader’s development as a basketball player, you coach zone defense because you believe it gives your team the best chance to win.

    So an opposing coach responding with a strategy to thwart said zone defense, doesn’t feel that out of line. I’m sure most reasonable people will agree that this guy went overboard. That’s pretty early to bring the ball out, he apparently had the more talented team, winning isn’t everything — or even the most important thing at that age — etc. etc. But I don’t think it’s a black and white case of valiant sportsmanship vs. win-at-all-costs. Playing zone in 6th grade means you want to win. The opposing team ALSO wanting to win seems reasonable.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree with this to an extent. I found that the best leagues for youths use color coded wrist bands & require the kids to cover a player with a similar colored band. That forces teams to play man to man, opens up the court and allows teams to run rudimentary plays. The games are more fun, scoring goes way up & kids actually learn something.

      I learned this by trial and error, but I told by brother about this & he put his kids in these types of leagues and completely agrees. It’s WAY more fun & the kids learn WAY more.

      That said, I’m pretty sure those types of leagues topped out at about 5th grade. So, this being 6th grade, probably zones become way more common until kids start knocking down three pointers a few years later.

  13. Pete says:

    “So, do you get better if you hold the ball for a quarter? No. That’s just wasting everyone’s time.”

    There is no such thing as “holding the ball” in basketball, because there is a defense. Go play defense if the other team is standing around dribbling. Make the dribbler give up her dribble. Commit a foul and make her make her free throws. Put some pressure on to make the other team move, pass or shoot. These are things you coach a team to do. It’s really not that complicated. I am on board with Joe’s writing 99% of the time, but complaining about the other team holding the ball in basketball is absurd when there are multiple legitimate strategies to prevent that.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      It’s not absurd to complain about a ridiculous strategy employed by an adult coach in a 11/12 year old basketball league. You can also complain about the opponent not trying to steal the ball, but they are two different things (one much worse than the other, imho).

  14. Scott says:

    I don’t think we give kids enough credit with the whole participation trophy line of complaining. I played baseball up to age 16, and got trophies for every year but the last. There was a team party at the end of the season, sometimes at a pizza place, sometimes at a park where we could play softball, kids against the parents. I never saw those trophies, even as a kid, as a reward for playing, no matter what. I saw them as a memento to remember the year. They’re nothing different than the 10 year pin I got from my job last year…commemorating hard work, sticking something out, being part of something bigger than just yourself. That’s what team sports are supposed to teach, and the trophies, to me, were part of that.

    When I was 8, my team was really good and came close to winning the league. But I was on the young end of that roster, and primarily played the outfield for 3 innings, trading off with another kid. I never thought my trophy was somehow making me the champion player on the team, or anything like that. And I don’t have that trophy any more, but I know I learned on that team how to be a supporting player when there are others that are better. And that lesson helped me in all the seasons that followed, when I’d be one of the better kids on my Little League team during the season, and then go to a backup role come All-Star season.

    I guess this is all to say, any adult who thinks that kids aren’t learning the right things…well, I’m pretty convinced those adults are not teaching the kids the right things.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      I totally agree with you on this. My son has soccer and basketball trophies, none for a championship. But he doesn’t look at them as trophies for winning, they are what you said they were, mementos.
      People who think “participation trophies” convince kids they are winners even though they are losers are missing the point entirely. Give kids some credit. They know what’s up.

      • SDG says:

        People who think participation trophies are flattering themselves. It’s enormously ego-boosting to believe your generation was the last one to amount to anything and to accomplish anything. It’s not surprising so many people cling to that illusion.

        I would speculate that it’s also that, for the last 60 years, our culture has venerated youth to a historically-unprecedented degree. Given that, it’s not surprising that dumping on the young is how some people cope with getting old.

        • Ross H. says:

          Seems like people generally overrate the differences between generations when really the bigger difference is that they themselves became adults, now have a different perspective, and think “kids these days” when really those kids aren’t that different from how they were 30 years ago.

          • invitro says:

            Kids these days probably aren’t a lot different than kids of 30 years ago, but they are dumber, and that’s a fact.

          • Karyn says:

            That’s a fact? Citation needed.

          • invitro says:

            Given the subject matter, I’ll politely ask you to look it up yourself…

          • Karyn says:

            No, if you make a claim, and state it as fact, it’s on you to back it up. You think kids are dumber these days? By what measure? What kind of ‘smarts’ are you talking about?

          • Rob Smith says:

            Not to mention the generalization here. Are their dumb kids? Of course. When I went to high school in the 70s we had kids showing up stoned every day. A lot of kids were really dumb & I am shocked when logged into my High School class year book how many kids did not go to college. We were from an affluent community so I found that shocking.
            So, if we’re comparing with “back in the day” I’m not convinced that we were blessed with loads of geniuses back then. I’m also aware of a couple of kids that I know that have started their own business before they even exited college and have made their first $1M before they were 25 years old.
            As is usual, I completely reject the idea that the good old days were better than today. Relatively speaking, things change, but people really don’t. And the idea that kids are dumber today is absurd.

          • invitro says:

            “And the idea that kids are dumber today is absurd.” — No, making that claim in view of the facts is what’s absurd.

          • Mr Fresh says:

            C’mon guys…Invitro wrote it, it’s got to be true!

    • Doug says:

      I never in my life thought that participation trophies I got playing sports as a kid had any relation to my personal skill or success, or my team’s skill or success. Kids are not idiots. Kids know who won the game (once you get above the level of the 6 or 7 year olds where you’re just running around not even keeping score) and kids mostly know how well they did. I knew how much I contributed when teams I played for won (not very much) and I knew when I played well (not often). Having people around for a nice pizza dinner and some positivity at the end of the season doesn’t change any of that. It’s a completely ridiculous narrative.

  15. Dan L says:

    What is the lesson we really need to be teaching our children? That some kids are winners and others are losers? We live in a society where childhood obesity is an epidemic that comes with a myriad of costs, and yet we feel that childhood sports should be about sorting winners from losers and not about how physical activity can be fun. My daughters won’t play team sports because they don’t feel like they are talented enough. They don’t want to be labeled losers, which I completely understand. What I don’t understand is why it’s so important to adults that less talented kids learn the lessons of losing in life.

  16. tangotiger says:

    Why do we even have adult coaches for kids? They should just be there to prevent chaos, like a chaperone. Otherwise, let the kids decide how to play on their own, like on a school yard.

    • Brent says:

      Bingo. I cannot remember which 50s athlete made the same point, talking about in his childhood, they just organized and played without adults. Stan Musial, maybe?

    • invitro says:

      Schoolyard means schoolyard bullies. The main job of the adults should be to prevent bullies from taking over.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I agree that sports are way to regimented these days. And the coaching required if you play at travel league level requires more of the same. We played organized baseball 3 months out of the year and played school yard pick up ball the rest of the year. It was more fun that way. But if a kid does that today, they won’t be able to play competitive ball. The level of play is WAY higher than it was for me. It’s quite a conundrum.

  17. heaveecee says:

    6th grade is probably right at the cusp of where sports start getting competitive. From a hockey perspective that meant separating the “house” (recreational) teams and the “rep” teams that were development and competitive squads. I remember hearing Gretzky speak about how at a young age how his coaches would have them try new plays and work on particular skills in a blow out win rather than run down the clock or run up the score. He also spoke of a rival team where the coaches worked a system and assigned roles and limitations on players in order to win. The end result was that more of Gretzky’s team mates that were freed to “play” and try things rather than conform to a winning system went on to major jr. teams and play professional hockey.
    Even if winning is a high priority for a coach at your daughter’s level, the emphasis should be skill development. Clearly, the interests of the players is not at being served from either coach. Your daughter’s team should be breaking out of the zone and trying things as well.

  18. Mark Daniel says:

    The coach of the other team is pathetic. My son (6th grade) plays in a basketball league. They have only 8 games, 8 minute quarters (running time). During a game, the time flies by so fast. I’d be so ticked off if the other team’s coach took away playing time for my son by pulling some BS stunt like that. It’s totally inappropriate for that age, and ridiculous. I hope some parents really let that coach have it because he deserves it.

  19. Squonk says:

    I don’t know the coach involved. Maybe he’s just a real jerk.

    But something tells me that Joe wouldn’t be any happier if that coach had “let the kids play” and they wound up beating Katie’s team by 90 points.

    If that had happened, we’d be reading about a heartless meanie who ran up the score.

  20. Scott says:

    The point of youth and high school sports is not to win at all costs. Rather it’s to teach kids skills like teamwork, dedication and health while they’re having fun. At that level coaches (even volunteer ones) should be seen as and act like teachers and try to instill these values. Even the sport itself is less important. Teaching kids to win (and especially to beat the other team) at all costs is the opposite of what you should be teaching them because it encourages cheating and poor sportsman within the game, and lack of empathy, antagonism and pettiness off the court.

  21. kehnn13 says:

    “You kidding me? I mean, what’s that teaching kids? It’s OK to lose. ”

    In the past, I have been against participation trophies. However, if they actually teach kids that it’s OK to lose, maybe they are worthwhile.
    Everyone loses. The only question is what will we take from it. If we learn that it’s ok to lose, we can actually look for lessons that will allow us to improve and not be so hung up on the losing itself. I actually know people who won’t play games they think they might lose at, because they hate losing so much. What benefit does that have for anyone?

  22. Jeff says:

    The “everyone gets a trophy” thing is perhaps the most tired, overused cliche out there. This is used by people too lazy to understand that the world is impossibly complex. It doesn’t explain a damn thing.

    What I’ve said in the past to someone like this coach, who is so focused on “winning” is…. you are defining the competition you are trying to win too narrowly. I’m trying to win at life and you are worried about this silly game.

    I really agree with the above comment, also. Learning to fail, get up and try harder/better is the most important lesson in life, one that I still struggle with. But participating is the only way to learn it.

  23. Brent says:

    So I played football for 4 years at my high school, receiving a Varsity Letter for my final 2 years. Our record those 2 years was 17-4, so we had a nice run. Guess what? The varsity letter that the seniors received my 8th grade year when our high school went 0-10 looks exactly the same as mine. This all happened 30 years ago. So what Generation invented participation trophies?

  24. JB says:

    So what about the situation where a coach would rather have his team not play at all than win an easy game. My son is in a Grade 4/5 Hockey league of 12 teams (lower division) and there are 3 teams from our community. Two of them (Teams A and B) are battling it out at the top of the division while Team C has not won all year and has had multiple blowouts.

    So after being blown out by Team A, the coaches from Teams B (my son’s team) and C are thinking to not play the league game between the two teams. All 3 teams will have playoffs after this final game.

    • Lee says:

      When I was a kid I mostly played on pretty to very good soccer teams and I also despised losing to an almost ridiculous point, but the one thing I hated nearly as much as losing were huge wins, some games (thankfully not to often) we would win by double-digits, 12-0 14-0 scores like that and I used to hate it, I’d honestly preferred u I play in a draw than one of those games because at least then it was a challenge

    • Rob Smith says:

      This is a bad idea. Play the game. If it’s a blowout, then that’s what it is. Sometimes teams surprise, sometimes not. But throwing up the white flag of surrender is not a good idea. The coach could come up with some small goals for the game or whatever & focus on that. Win or lose, there’s a lesson. The closest I’ve seen to this is a T-Ball team my youngest son was playing on. We were bad and the coach was terrible. He’d cancel practice for no good reason & so the kids didn’t get better like the other teams were. Then he wanted to cancel a game for some reason. I took over the team. It was too late to save the season, but at least a couple of kids benefited from a little bit of instruction that I gave them in the final week. I was really sad when most of the team didn’t return to play the next year. Anyways… play the game. Quitting is not a good message.

  25. Donald A. Coffin says:

    Christ, I’m old. When I was a kid, the youngest age at which there was ANY organized league sports–Little League baseball–you had to be 9 to play. There was not–at least in Indianapolis–any “youth” football. Elementary schools had basketball (7 & 8th grade–so ages mostly 11-13,14), but not football. We played touch FB in the park (4-6 players a side), a version of baseball without force plays, and balls hit to the “off” field–RF for right-handed hitters, LF for lefties–were outs. We played basketball in people’s driveways. Coaches? Surely you jest. Even in Little League, there were generally 2-3 coaches in a league who could actually, credibly coach. Certainly different from everything I read about today…

    • Mark Daniel says:

      Times have changed. You can specialize in a sport at age 8 now. Maybe younger, I don’t even know.
      My son played lacrosse last year. He was 10 at the time. We soon learned that

      • Mark Daniel says:

        Whoops, hit reply too soon. *We soon learned that most of the kids played all year long. Spring season, Summer season, Fall clinics and winter camp. There’s no way you can do all that without committing full time.

  26. invitro says:

    Is anyone here really upset about participation trophies? Because I think this is a straw man. A related thing that I think -is- a problem is that everyone in school gets straight A’s if they come to class most of the time. Or maybe the problem is that teachers are forced to give everyone an A, or else they get fired. It’s a problem if this trend is a factor is the declining education of current youth, which is a fact, and which I hope we can agree is a problem.

    • DB says:

      You are the one making that statement so you need to back it up with facts not us (also to your comment to Karyn above). I know that as a comparison to other countries we are doing badly but I do not know if we are doing better relative to us in the past (which we were never that good anyways).

      I think part of it is because we do have such a wide variety of education in this country. My daughter’s 8th grade honors math class is doing harder math than I was doing in 10th/11th grade at a prep school. Is she doing better and learning more (yes because my area cares about schools (put your money where your mouth is) and it shows). The fact that Mississippi is doing so bad is an indictment of Mississippi and of the federal government (which no voucher will fix). Today’s kids are doing less drugs, having less sex (and therefore less babies) and seem to be doing all right. I would rather throw more and more money at schools as the ROI is much better than prisons. Every kid deserves the education my children are getting regardless of local property taxes.

      • Dave says:

        Agreed again. I do not accept at face value the statement that kids today are less smart. And in fact I am highly skeptical of that claim. I will echo DB…my daughter is routinely 2+ years ahead of where I was in every subject at the same age, and I was in the “advanced” classes. And this is not just true where I live (Northern Virginia.) I have close friends and professional colleagues in place like Chicago, Louisville, Dallas, Austin, Billings, Birmingham…a lot of diversity there…who would say the same thing.

        No doubt there are places in the US where, for any number of reasons, children aren’t getting a great education. But the generalization simply doesn’t hold water.

        • Dave says:

          I should that with one exception, every one of the places I cited referred to a colleague with children in public schools.

      • invitro says:

        “You are the one making that statement so you need to back it up with facts not us” — OK, bro. I think the best measure of youth education is the NAEP tests. This NAEP page: has graphs of reading and math scores at the bottom. The reading scores were significantly lower for 17yos in 2012 (the most recent date on that graph) than in 1988-1992. The math scores were slightly lower in 2012 than they were in the 1990s. (The scores for 9yos and 13yos have risen, but who cares, if that rise has gone the other way by age 17?)

        Then, from 2012 to 2015 is at least partially covered by this article: . The lede: “The 2015 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and the news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement.”

        I’ve seen countless articles and papers that say the same thing: the education of youth has been dropping, slowly but surely, for about 30 years.

      • invitro says:

        “You are the one making that statement so you need to back it up with facts not us” — OK, bro. I think the best measure of youth education is the NAEP tests. This NAEP page: has graphs of reading and math scores at the bottom. The reading scores were significantly lower for 17yos in 2012 (the most recent date on that graph) than in 1988-1992. The math scores were slightly lower in 2012 than they were in the 1990s. (The scores for 9yos and 13yos have risen, but who cares, if that rise has gone the other way by age 17?)

        Then, from 2012 to 2015 is at least partially covered by an article I’ll link to in a reply. The lede: “The 2015 scores for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are out, and the news isn’t good for those who think standardized test scores tell us something significant about student achievement.”

        I’ve seen countless articles and papers that say the same thing: the education of youth has been dropping, slowly but surely, for about 30 years.

        • invitro says:

          I temporarily forgot that posts can contain only one link. Here is a link to the second article I mentioned:

        • Karyn says:

          I think maybe you aren’t reading those correctly. When the testing format changed, all scores in reading dropped by 2-3 points. Some kind of change is to be expected, when adopting a new format.
          Also, the proportion of Latino students testing tripled, and the proportion of Asian students testing sextupled between 1978 and 2012 (at age 13, the changes are greater for age 17); I will hazard that this means more ELL students were testing, which is quite likely to bring down scores. And no, they’re not excused from testing–I’ve seen newcomer students sit and take standardized tests. It’s frustrating for all concerned.
          I’m not convinced you can say that reading scores for 17-year-olds are significantly lower in 2012 compared to 1990, when it’s a three point drop on a peak score of 290. That’s not terribly significant.
          Furthermore, I’d like to see evidence of your claims that “teachers are forced to give everyone an A, or else they get fired,” and that “everyone in school gets straight A’s if they come to class most of the time.” Because I’ve worked in schools in three cities in two states over a dozen years, and I’ve never seen what you describe.

          • invitro says:

            “When the testing format changed, all scores in reading dropped by 2-3 points. Some kind of change is to be expected, when adopting a new format.” — I have faith that such a major organization as the NAEP has ensured that scores are still comparable.

            “Also, the proportion of Latino students testing tripled, and the proportion of Asian students testing sextupled” — So what? These students are still USA students, who are who I am talking about.

            “I’m not convinced you can say that reading scores for 17-year-olds are significantly lower in 2012 compared to 1990, when it’s a three point drop on a peak score of 290. That’s not terribly significant.” — It’s not me saying it, it’s the NAEP. It explicitly says that the three point drop is significant. (This is probably due to the very large sample size.) Can you please try to read the chart correctly, before criticizing others of not reading it correctly?

          • Karyn says:

            From the page you link to:
            “Results from the long-term trend assessments cannot be directly compared to those from the NAEP main assessments because the long-term trend assessments use different questions and because students are sampled by age rather than by grade.”
            “Both 9- and 13-year-olds scored higher in reading and mathematics in 2012 than students their age in the early 1970s. Average reading and mathematics scores in 2012 for 17-year-olds were not significantly different from scores in the first assessment year.”
            So I’m unsure what you’re talking about. And you’ve missed my other points so completely, it’s like you were trying to avoid them.

          • invitro says:

            “the early 1970s” — I haven’t said anything about the 1970s, early or late.

          • Karyn says:

            Again ignoring points by focusing on minutiae. Argue honestly, or go away.

      • invitro says:

        “. I would rather throw more and more money at schools as the ROI is much better than prisons.” — Alright Dave, I cited my claim, now it’s your turn. I think you’re lying. It’s a well-established fact that putting more people in prison, for longer periods of time, is one of the major factors in the large decrease in violent crime since about 1991-1995. This is the classic study: , but there are many, many more. Here’s the main result: “Four factors, however, can account for virtually all of the observed decline in crime: increases in the number of police, the rising
        prison population, the waning crack epidemic and the legalization of abortion.” Putting more people in prison (and hiring more police) requires more money, and I’d say we got a substantial ROI from that investment.

        On the other hand, my impression is that we’ve been spending more and more money on schools, with the result that test scores have been going down.

        Now, I don’t think the drop is test scores is yet a *serious* problem, as it’s small. I think it’s a problem, but probably a minor one, unless we’ve been spending even more on public education than I think we have, or if the drop in scores is concentrated in public schools, both of which may be likely, I don’t know.

        What I’d like to see happen is to get rid of the moronic requirement that high school teachers have a degree in education to be able to teach. A B.S. in math should be able to teach high school math, a B.S. in English should be able to teach high school English. What we have in public education is a powerful union (the NEA) that cares far more about boosting its salary, and thwarting competition from non-union members (people with degrees in a major other than education), than on the education of students. That’s a crying shame.

        • Karyn says:

          Again showing that you know nothing about education. Do you think that everyone with a degree knows how to teach? How to lesson plan, how to maintain classroom discipline, how to differentiate instruction? Anything at all about brain development? Or how to deal with kids who have 504s or IEPs?
          Or for that matter, simply how to explain clearly what they themselves understand? We all know people who are very good at their jobs, smart as anything, but cannot explain basic concepts to newcomers. Yeah, it’s a good idea to teach people how to teach.

          • invitro says:

            “Do you think that everyone with a degree knows how to teach? How to lesson plan, how to maintain classroom discipline,” — Yes, as well as education majors do.

            “how to differentiate instruction?” — The idea that instruction must be “differentiated” is a load of malarkey.

            “Anything at all about brain development?” — Not needed when teaching high school students.

            I can’t remember if you’re a teacher or not, Karyn, are you? I’ve taught about 25 college classes, which doesn’t really make me a teacher, but at least gets me pretty close.

          • Karyn says:

            That you don’t understand what differentiated instruction is shows you know nothing about education. Your remarks about brain development in high schoolers shows you know nothing about neuroscience.
            Teaching some college classes doesn’t mean you know anything at all about working in K-12. I’m not a teacher, but I work in a high school, and have done for a dozen years in various roles. If you want to discuss how to improve education in this country, that’s great. But when you start by denigrating the profession of teaching, you’re not gonna get very far.

          • invitro says:

            “I’m not a teacher” — I didn’t think so.

          • Karyn says:

            Do you think that you scored some kind of point with this? Have you addressed any of the real issues?
            Again, argue honestly or go away.

          • invitro says:

            “Have you addressed any of the real issues?” — If you don’t think the decline in youth education, and the causes of crime, are real issues, that’s your problem.

          • Karyn says:

            It’s like arguing with a child.

        • KHAZAD says:

          Just commenting on the crime part: The author of the study should be praised on his analysis of the affect of abortion legalization on crime rates, and the other stuff has merit as well, but I think the length and number of prison sentences for actual violent crimes should be separated from the rise in prison population brought on by changes in drug sentences.

          I do think he misses out on a couple of very important contributing factors to the decrease in crime that are very important factors. The first is the rise of Forensic Science and DNA testing, which both contributes to the rise in the percentage of people actually imprisoned for crimes they have committed, as well as being a silent deterrent to some people committing the crime in the first place with the realization that they are more likely than in the past to actually be caught. The amount of evidence that a criminal can leave behind is a well known fact now, while in the past the thought might have been “If no one sees me do it, I will get away with it”)

          Another factor in crime reduction, but this time in robberies and thefts, is the fact that less and less businesses and people have ready cash to steal. The rise of credit cards by both businesses and people have made them less attractive targets. If you mug someone in 1990, they are carrying cash for their night out. If you do it now, they might not have any cash, or just an emergency $20. Businesses that did 100% cash business 25 years ago now do about 10%.

          As for car theft, 25 years ago you could slim jim and hot wire and do it quickly. Now (at least in my car) you have to clone the chip in mine or it will not run no matter what you do.

          There will always be some criminals, of course, and people who don’t much care if they go to jail. But these things add up to greater risk for less reward, and they have made a significant difference.

          • invitro says:

            Well, until you or someone else tests your hypotheses like Levitt did, your ideas are just speculation, of course.

        • DB says:

          Average Cost of Prison per year: $31,000. NY is $60,000 is highest. I have seen some states as lows as $14,000 per inmate.


          Cost of Massachusetts per student (seems to lead or be in the top in most student rankings) per year: $15,000. Highest I could find was $20,000. Average appears to be around $10,000 with Utah being the lowest around $7,000.

          Many studies have shown that educational attainment leads to less crime.

          Now, we can argue whether more money leads to better results or not. However I am a capitalist at heart and more money paying teachers would argue that better candidates would go into teaching (I know unions, working conditions, etc.). I was just talking about ROI. An extra $5,000 per student per year (average to Mass) seems like a better investment than $30,000 (either they are in prison or not) spent on a prisoner per year. That could be $50,000 per teacher (I assume all in costs are another $50,000 as in most industries). I could be wrong but I doubt it.

        • Karyn says:

          There’s also some discussion about the possibility that removing lead from portions of the environment has led to better brain development/less low-level brain damage. This can result in fewer problems with impulse control, as well as better education outcomes. Also leading to lower propensity for crime.

          • invitro says:

            There’s also been some discussion that Martians have been abducting the worst offenders, for use in an Earth invasion. Who cares, speculation is worthless compared to facts and scientific analysis, like Dr. Levitt’s.

          • invitro says:

            I’ll echo what Levitt says: “When you have a variable like crime that goes up for a long time then goes down for a long time, it is easy to find other variables that share that pattern and appear to have a causal impact, even though the relationship is completely spurious.”

          • Karyn says:

            If you had the read the whole article I linked, you would see that the effect holds true on multiple levels; internationally, nationally, state, etc. It certainly isn’t the only thing involved in the lowering crime rate, but you can’t discount it entirely.
            Your snarky comment about Martians notwithstanding, I actually do know something about this. You might consider that before clinging to one and only one theory.

          • invitro says:

            “I actually do know something about this.” — I’ll believe that when you show it.

            “You might consider that before clinging to one and only one theory.” — I never said anything even remotely like that I cling to only one theory. What I “cling” to is scientific fact and study.

            You’ve been a real prick throughout this discussion, by the way, constantly trying to use ad hominem attacks instead of fact and reason. I’d ask you to “get lost”, but I don’t do that, even to jerks.

          • Karyn says:

            Really? Because you started by calling today’s kids dumb. When asked for evidence, you tried to duck, and then you brought something that doesn’t prove your case. Then when challenged, you did not clarify what your case was, or how the evidence actually did support your case–no, you just wandered off. And somehow, my not being a licensed teacher is evidence of something, although I’m not sure what, because you didn’t say.
            I made an offhand comment about lead being a possible factor in the lowering of the crime rate, and instead of simply asking for evidence, you make a snarky remark about Martians. Then I bring a citation which discusses the actual research, and you throw it out without bothering to understand it.
            Again, discuss reasonably. Consider evidence. You’ve said some remarkably stupid things here and brought zero evidence for a lot of them. Kids getting straight As just for showing up–where was that again? Teachers threatened with being fired if they don’t give As–is this actually a widespread problem, and if so, where’s your evidence for this? Stop acting like a child.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I don’t know what schools you are talking about, but my kids went to a school where that wasn’t the case. They’re in college now & doing well. I think both of them had something like 3.2 GPAs in High School and they are doing similar in college. I do think there are some schools that don’t prepare kids as well for college, but I think that was always the case. I had a very high GPA in High School and was totally unprepared for college.

  27. Marvosota says:

    Despite his claim that he is not angry, Joe is obviously worked up about this or he would not have written the piece. Even kind, rationale people can get caught up in the madness that is youth sports. My favorite, similar moment for my daughter’s soccer team last year was when the opposing team got up by one goal and then proceeded to kick the ball as far out of bounds as they could for the remainder (20 minutes) of the game whenever they could. This move infuriated all of us parents on the opposing team and I carried the anger around with me for far too long. I finally came to the conclusion that encountering and dealing with bad sportsmanship is another life lesson for the kids and a teaching moment for both coaches and parents. Play hard, have fun and make friends.

    As far as participation trophies go, my son has a collection of participation sailing ribbons. He races small, affordable-ish opti boats and there are usually 40 or so boats at a race. The best part is that the ribbons list your place, and all his ribbons range from 15th-35th. He has them hung up and he jokingly calls them his “hall of sailing mediocrity”.

  28. Alter Kacker says:

    Not directly on point but worth sharing — yesterday Mike Candrea, who has coached the University of Arizona softball team to eight NCAA championships, spoke to my wife’s Rotary club. Candrea, who was a junior college baseball coach before switching over to softball, said about the difference between coaching young men and young women: “Boys need to win to have fun. Girls need to have fun to win.”

  29. Tampa Mike says:

    I agree about teaching kids to play to win, but I think the more important lesson is how you win. It’s one thing when we’re talking about pro sports, but recreational basketball? Yes you play to win, but within the rules of the game and fair play. Being OK with this would also be OK with intentionally tripping the best play to try and cause an injury. That gives you a good chance to win too.

  30. Lee says:

    I love my parents and all in all I think they did a pretty good job raising me, going to all my sport, my dad coaching since years etc,

    And I accept all my many failings are my fault not theirs.

    So having got all the caveats out of the way let me say this without equivocation… Joe & Marg are better at being parents then mine were and anyone else I know is. I have always hated the whole idea of parenting books but now I really believe Joe should write one, he’s a terrific writer and seems to be a terrific parent, who better to write a parenting book

    Plus Joe has the self-effacing humility to ensure the tone of the book is not a know-it-all commanding type but more just a series of suggestions with real world examples written by a great storyteller, I don’t have kids and I would buy that book

  31. moviegoer74 says:

    So let me lay this scenario out and see what the BRs think. Let me first say that I’m a big proponent of not running up the score in youth sports. I thought at first that’s where Joe’s story was going…that the other coach was doing the sporting thing to have his PG dribble out the clock.

    Anyway, my daughter’s U11 soccer team this past fall finished in 4th place out of 8 teams. (She’s only 8 but our local league doesn’t have a U9 or U10 travel team…she tried out for the U11s only to see what it was like, with no expectations of making the team). Anyway, it was a 9-game season. You play the other 7 teams once each, and then back to the beginning (so whoever you happened to play in weeks 1 and 2 you would wind up playing twice). The team clearly improved as the season went on and they won their last 3 in a row. In the final game they won 7-1. And the coaches apparently were admonished by the league about running up the score (and during the game there were also mutters among both the players and parents on the other team about why my daughter’s team was still trying to score late in the game).

    But here’s the thing. The team they beat in that last game finished 3rd. Ahead of our team. And they’d already clinched 3rd going in (obviously). (FWIW, the top 2 teams were both way ahead of everyone else, each only losing once, to each other. If they hadn’t happened to play each other twice, one of them would have been undefeated. All of which is to say there was less of a gap between 3rd and 8th than between 3rd and 2nd).

    However, this 3rd place team had beaten our team in Week 2, 2-1.

    The last point is that this last game was the one and only time all season our girls scored more than 3 goals in a game (and they’d only done 3 once in the previous 8 games).

    So it seems to me that in this instance, winning 7-1 did not merit an admonishment about running up the score. The team our girls beat finished ahead of us and had beaten us previously and we’d never scored more than 3 in a game. Am I wrong?

    • Karyn says:

      I guess I’d need a little more context. Were there one or two players on your kid’s team who really blossomed, became great players for that league, and ended up dominating the game? Or was it more that several players improved some, and they each had several shots on goal and 1-2 scores each?
      Did the opposing goalie have a terrible game, and couldn’t stop anything? Or was the entire game played in their half of the field, and the defense kept breaking down as a unit? Was it a rout from beginning to end, or did most of the scoring take place in the latter part of the second half?

      • moviegoer74 says:

        Well, the specifics of how the game played out are context that the league didn’t really have. They just saw the score and wrote the letter admonishing our coaches. So from the league’s perspective all I was thinking they should take into account was that the team on the losing end of 7-1 had beaten the winning team earlier in the season and finished in 3rd place, ahead of the winning team.

        But since you asked:

        The score at halftime was 3-1, I think (it might’ve been 2-1).

        There were not 1-2 players who blossomed. No player scored more than 2 goals in the game.

        It wasn’t just a case of their goalie not being able to stop anything. Most of the second half was played in the other team’s end. My daughter played goalie for the second half and did not have to make a save. They did have one shot at her that looked dangerous but it wound up curling wide.

    • invitro says:

      I don’t think kids care one iota if their team gets beat by a wide margin, and that parents are just trying to boost their opinion of their superior morality by making such a big deal out of running up the score.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I think 7-1 is a pretty good beating in soccer, but hardly rises to the complaint level in my mind. When there is a discrepancy in talent, six goals (at that age) is a pretty common spread.

  32. Subrata Sircar says:

    While your daughter’s team probably should have challenged the dribbler (while understanding that it’s risking more foul trouble) the other coach crossed the line as far as I’m concerned. My 8 year old understands both winning/losing and having fun. (We play grown-up games with him and while he rarely wins, he usually has fun and asks to play with us often.) He also understands the difference between playing fair and not playing fair.

    Especially when the opposing coach has the better team and the better tactical position, trying to win by not playing is both not playing fair and teaching the wrong lessons.

  33. invitro says:

    Were the girls on the losing team bothered by the coach’s strategy? Or the girls on the winning team? What Joe and other parents thought about the strategy is really of no importance. What matters is if it bothered the girls. This seems to be obvious, but you never know these days, and we know that adults like to take things that are about their kids and make them all about the parents, instead.

    • SDG says:

      My understanding was Joe’s problem wasn’t that the coach’s strategy was humiliating or unsportsmanlike to Katie’s team, as much that, at that level, it’s not JUST about winning, that it’s also about skill development and the chance to play, and holding the ball meant that those things weren’t happening.

      • invitro says:

        If that’s true, why are there mercy rules, when the game is forced to end if one team gets a certain number of runs/points ahead? Using a mercy rule prevents skill development and the chance to play. Well, the answer is simple: too many adults make the game about them, when it should be about the kids. When I was a kid, I *hated* the mercy rule. I didn’t care if my team was way ahead or way behind, I was in the league to -play-, not go home because adults thought it would damage my self-esteem or whatever reason they had. The mercy rule makes the sport be not about winning, not about skill development, and not about the chance to play, but all about the parents trying to feel morally superior.

        I’m not in favor of the ball-holding in the original story. But my point is that my opinion doesn’t matter. It’s the kids’ opinions that matter (I think a few other commenters here have said that).

        • SDG says:

          The mercy rule is qualitatively different from holding the ball. One is about legal tactics, something all leagues, even pro leagues, have rules about. (MLB doesn’t allow you to keep fouling off pitches forever, for example). One is about stopping the game when the score hits a certain point. These are not the same thing.

          • Karyn says:

            Wait, you can’t keep fouling off pitches forever? Assuming it’s not a bunt attempt, or it’s tipped into the catcher’s mitt, I thought you could keep fouling it off until the end of time.

  34. Doug Lawrence says:

    Anyone want to look up Bill Belicheck’s pre-season record? He is singularly focused on winning when winning is his singular job. When his job is player development, training and evaluation, he does that and winning does not matter. A 12 year old ball coaches job is having fun (fail), building skill (fail) and building confidence (fail) and sportsmanship (fail). 12 year old basketball is pre-season.

    • John says:

      I don’t really buy this argument. I mean, it was the championship game, right? Yes, it was a sixth-grade interfaith league, so the stakes are pretty low, all things considered. It’s not Game 7 of the NBA Finals. But it wasn’t a meaningless pre-season or exhibition game either. It was a championship game. Given that, I don’t really think that trying to actually win the game is out of line–I agree with Michael Bleach above that the other team playing zone means that they were also trying to win, not just “developing the players and having fun.”

      And the “My player development!” argument seems like a red herring to me. Yes, they’re not getting player development for a few minutes. But they presumably still get player development during practice and during the parts of the games when they’re not dribbling out the clock. And clearly, the player development in those times must be working, since they just won the championship game (yes, I understand that natural talent also is important in this equation).

      And if the other team is refusing to challenge the ball handler, knowing full well that they can just run out the clock, they are effectively putting up the white flag. If a football team up by a touchdown late in the game is running the ball, and the opponent refuses to stop the clock by using their timeouts, is it their fault for not throwing the ball? Not in my book. I don’t know. Maybe if I had kids of my own, I’d have a different opinion, but while this coach (from Joe’s telling) sounds a little too intense, I can’t fault him that much on this game.

  35. Rower41 says:

    I am not sure what the lesson was either, and this is why I enjoy your blog. Thank you for not handing me the answer (trophy). Adults that repeat this mantra about “everyone gets a trophy” today surely are talking about themselves. I wasn’t angry about winning or losing at that age; rather, I was concerned that the kids who started gained this playing time advantage because their parents were able to attend many of the practices and all of the games. Mine worked. I played my first year of knothole baseball at second base without a glove, although I was able to borrow an ill-fitting old glove from the coach’s son-in-law whenever he remembered to attend. I agree with those that have said that the world is more competitive than it has ever been and sports is one way to begin learning some lessons that will benefit you down the road. In this case, perhaps your daughter is learning to observe, to work with others and to think. These are great skills to have in a highly competitive world.
    Was it Keegan that said the leaders learned their skills on the grass playing fields at Sandhurst? And what was it Ender Wiggins said about playing the game?

  36. Dan Meyer says:

    On the other hand, if the winning team keeps the petal to the metal and wins by 90 points…That will be considered poor sportsmanship.

    • Karyn says:

      I think there’s a happy medium. Don’t gun a lot of threes. Don’t trap or press. Put in your subs. Run some plays your kids are still working on, or have trouble with in practice. I don’t think it’s one or the other.

  37. MikeN says:

    Even the losers in Hoosiers didn’t dribble out the clock.

  38. Dano says:

    I misunderstood at first. I thought the coach had the kid dribbling out the clock so as to not run up the score which I thought was a good thing. I didn’t realize until a bit later that he was just trying to take time off the clock to enhance his team’s chance of winning.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *