(This blog first appeared on MHSAA.com August 24, 2010)
Perhaps you are like me. Sometimes as I focus on problems, as my job requires that I do, I tend to forget about the positives of our program. So let me state some of them up front, lest we (or at least I) momentarily forget how good and strong interscholastic athletics are.
In spite of everything that bothers us and batters us, school sports is still the best brand of youth sports in America. School sports still has the highest profile of any youth sports program in America. It still has the most media coverage of any youth sports program in America. It still has the most spectators of any youth sports program in America.
Non-school sports programs may involve longer trips and larger trophies, but school sports has the sanest, most sensible policies, and school sports has the best sportsmanship, and school sports is usually the safest youth sports in America.
We still have what most kids and parents want in youth sports. Heck, they even sue us when we tell them they can’t have what they want. Our standards of eligibility and conduct, and our limitations in and out of season are credible and defensible policies. And as long as we have them, I’ll have no difficulty promoting them and defending them.
I want to lose nothing of these strengths, even as we look at ways to shore up our weaknesses. Let’s be clear about that.
But here’s one of the chronic issues still crying for our attention.
Two decades ago, a common concern of school administrators in this state was that the absence of MHSAA rules was forcing school basketball coaches and players to compete all summer long, placing demands on both of them that far exceeded the real basketball season during the school year. This concern for summer basketball has evolved to be a concern for the year-round demands on students in all sports; and the focus has shifted from overscheduling out of season by school coaches to the onerous demands of non-school programs and their coaches.
For two decades, our constituents provided clear consensus that the MHSAA should be working to lessen the activity between school coaches and student-athletes out of season. The sound thinking was that this would encourage multi-sport coaches and athletes, both desirable aims for interscholastic athletics, and would tend to avoid burnout by coaches and athletes.
This proper perspective was intended to avoid pressure on one coach to do as much with his or her team in the off season as another coach, to avoid the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that would eventually lead to an “arms race” in off-season activities by school teams. The increasingly evident result, however, has been that non-school youth sports programs have moved into the voids created by school sports as the new restrictions were implemented, and that non-school youth sports programs have demanded more of school-aged athletes than the school coaches ever dreamed or dared.
We’ve had the right philosophy, but we’ve suffered the wrong result: an environment of constant escalation of out-of-season demands on students by non-school coaches and programs.
Perhaps the consequences of doing nothing to control school sports out of season would have had worse consequences than our attempts to control out-of-season excesses by school coaches; but candor requires that we admit that the efforts of the past two decades have had good intentions, but unintended consequences significantly problematic that we need to rethink some things. Not rethink our philosophies, for they were and are appropriate for school sports. But rethink our strategies.