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Participation should be a priority in youth sports

The youth football leagues across Western New York have just completed another season. There were teams more successful than others, as apparent by their final won-loss record and possibly a championship trophy. Hurray!

But, at what level in youth sports does winning take precedent over the development of all of the players on the team?

In one youth football league, teams must put 11 players on offense and another 11 on defense, throughout the game, thus giving 22 players a chance to compete, while another league allows only a few players to play both ways.

However, there are leagues across our region that permit the reserves just five plays, per game. Once the five-play limit is up, it is back to the bench for the second stringers, until next week.

But the mission statements for every one of these youth football leagues has virtually the same mantra: “The purpose of youth football is to teach the fundamentals and sportsmanship.”

A recent proposal in one league would have the reserves playing against one another, during the first quarter of every game. This would allow every player an ample amount of playing time and a sense of accomplishment. The coaches who prioritize winning would have to devote more attention to all of the players, during practice and games that would, in turn, match the league’s mission statement.

Unfortunately, proposals such as this will most likely be met by opposition and be voted down by the board of directors. When they perceive less playing time for their own children, who are already on the first team, a proposal that would even the playing field is often discarded.

Little League baseball adopted a rule several years ago that every player bat at least once and play two innings in the field, during each game.

This rule is followed all the way through the Little League World Series, each summer. Regardless of skill level, every player will be guaranteed to play in 33 percent of each game.

But, in the confines of the five play football rule, it equates to about 8 percent of the game. Basically, the young athletes are expected to attend practice for 12 hours a week, but play only 3 minutes per game.

All youth coaches are volunteers. A promotion to the next level – high school – is almost non-existent, since most are not certified teachers. But their win-at-all-cost mentality can be just as prevalent as the pros’.

The ultimate goal for youth sports should be teaching fundamentals and sportsmanship, while providing an equal opportunity for all players to participate and improve their skills.

Mark Benton

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