More Thoughts on Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports

10 08 2010

Thank you for everyone who weighed in and took the time to provide insight and opinions on equal playing time in youth sports for a previous blog. It is clear playing time is a pressing issue across all sectors of youth sport and parents, coaches, and administrators alike are struggling to make informed decisions.

Existing and emerging evidence from child development, pediatric sports medicine, sport psychology, sport sociology, and moral development seems to point to the idea that equal playing time is imperative for children up to age 12 (and some would argue age 14).

From my observations and interactions with youth sport stakeholders the debate over playing time starts with differing views on the purpose of youth sport and the tension between winning/being competitive and athlete development/fun/enjoyment. I reject the notion that winning, athlete development and fun/enjoyment can’t simultaneously be achieved. This dichotomous thinking is part of the problem in organized youth sport.

Adults who run, organize, and coach youth sport consider many factors when making decisions about playing time and arguably factors change in weight as the child gets older. The graphic in Figure 1:  Playing Time Considerations illustrate this complexity.

I’ve outlined EFFORT in red as this is one of the few factors that a child can control. Giving full effort in practice and games regardless of the situation is a very important life lesson that can be taught and learned through participation in sport.

A father in a recent sport parent workshop asked me about the danger of “teaching children to be  mediocre” by awarding equal playing time. His point was that a child who didn’t work hard or give full effort would automatically be awarded the same playing time as a child who was working hard, and that if playing time weren’t used as “the carrot” (i.e., you work hard, you get to play) that kids wouldn’t work hard. It was a good question.

To answer his question used evidence and borrowed some wisdom from my colleague Clark Power, Ph.D., a scholar in moral development and Director of the Play Like a Champion Educational Series at the University of Notre Dame. Power argues playing time is not a reward for displaying virtue, it is a means for developing virtue. I also pointed out the carrot approach is a problematic way of using playing time. First, children need to be taught that working hard is an inherent part of sports, skill development, and life. Children should want to work hard because it is inherently enjoyable, as hard work can lead to improvement, satisfaction, sense of self worth, accomplishment, and many more positive outcomes. These intrinsic motives for giving full effort will lead to a much greater likelihood of long term participation than using playing time as an extrinsic reward that can be taken away or awarded by adults.

Second, up until age 10-11, developmentally children cannot discern between effort and ability. They equate effort with being good at something. Therefore, under an unequal playing time system a child who gives full effort but does not get to play, is likely to think he is not good at that sport. Based on evidence in sport psychology, perception of competence is one of the biggest predictors of enjoyment and sustained participation. The take home message here:  a child who believes he is incompetent because he is sitting on the bench even thought he believes he’s given effort in practices, will be much more likely to drop out. If he drops out before he can understand cognitively that effort and ability are not always the same, and that effort is a virtue, then he will not reap the developmental and health benefits which can be accrued through sport participation.

A great deal more evidence than what I’ve presented here exists in support of an “equal playing time through age 12” youth sport policy, but this is an evidence-based food for thought starting point for youth sport stakeholders to consider. For more information on youth sports visit the Minnesota Youth Sport Research Consortium.





A Question About Equal Playing Time in Youth Sports

27 07 2010

Sidelined

I’ve been asked to give an evidence-based presentation to a youth sport association on equal playing time. I’m interested in what you think about this issue. Here are the questions I have:

1. Why should youth sports have/not have equal playing time?

2. Who should decide?

3. If you believe in equal playing time, at what age should equal playing time cease?

If you have solutions , ideas of opinions, please leave a comment.





Mothers’ Influence on Active Lives

10 05 2010

We need to see more of this!

In light of Mother’s Day 2010 I have a few thoughts about mothers’ influence on the active lives of their daughters. First of all, I have the BEST mother in the world and I would not be the woman I am today without her. I love you mom!

Here are some research-based facts about moms. daughters, and physical activity (PA):

  • If mom values and supports physical activity, daughters are more likely to be active. More importantly if a daughter perceives mom values and supports PA ( even if she doesn’t!) this is predictive of increased PA
  • If daughter also perceives mom believes that she is good at sport, she is more likely to participate in sport and not drop out
  • If mom is active, daughter is more likely to be active in her youth, adolescence and into adulthood
  • PA is a positive, enjoyable, and healthy thing mothers and daughters can do together
  • Moms are needed in a variety of active, visible role models in PA contexts, especially in positions of power such as coach, youth sport league administrator, club president, athletic director, and referee. When we SEE women in positions of power it helps challenge outdated gender stereotypes about leadership. Less than ~15% of all positions of power in youth sport are held by women. We can do better!
  • Mother skills are transferable to coaching!! And mothers who coach say that their role as coach enhances their roles as mother and worker (for those women who work outside the home)
  • Moms should encourage their daughters to volunteer as coaches, referees, and to find a way to give back to the physical activities they love
  • Moms need to encourage both their sons and daughters equally to participate in sports
  • Most importantly, moms should unconditionally care about their children regardless of the score.

Happy Mother’s Day.





More on Gender Difference and Coaching

26 04 2010

I recently was called by a reporter who was writing a story on gender differences and coaching. I’m posting the link to his story here, as he did a nice job representing the current debate and ongoing discussion about coaching girls and coaching boys .

Stay tuned for more research-based information this topic coming soon!





Did You Know? Videos: Hot Topics in Coaching

15 04 2010

I put together a few Did You Know? powerpoints and turned them into short videos (1:22-1:34 in length).

One is about the scarcity of female coaches in youth sport and the other is about gender differences & similarities in coaching.

I’d love your feedback as this is a bit a work in progress. Here is what I’d like feedback on:

  • Content
  • Length
  • How could these best be used?
  • What other topics would you like to see in a DYK?
  • Any other feedback you feel is relevant.

Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

(thanks to Austin Stair Calhoun for overlaying the cool music!)





New Short Videos of My Research Talks on Girls & Women in Sport

30 03 2010

Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi

I just posted new videos of two research talks I gave in the last week on girls and women in sport.

The first talk was a Tucker Table on “Coaching Youth Soccer as a Token Female” and the other was “Current Research of The Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport” for the St. Paul AAUW.

To see some short clips go to The Tucker Center’s YouTube Channel.





One Boy’s Perspective About Youth Sports

19 03 2010

A colleague sent me this video of a young Canadian hockey player describing his “magic hockey helmet”. I thought I’d pass it along…enjoy!

Speaking of helmets…. stay tuned to this blog for upcoming information on the first-ever Mayo Clinic Ice Hockey Concussion Summit, to be held October 19-20, 2010 in Rochester, MN. I’m on the planning committee and I can tell you the program is excellent!





Effective Behaviors for Coaches Regardless of Athlete Gender

3 03 2010

Is coaching boys and girls different?

I’m putting together a presentation on “Differences Coaching Boys and Girls: The Facts and the Myths”. Given my position as the Associate Director in The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, without fail every time I give a coach or parent workshop, this question is raised– “What are the differences in coaching girls?”

I can’t summarize an entire hour presentation here, but I will tell you there are a set of evidence-based coaching behaviors every coach should employ regardless of the gender of the athlete.   Here are a few of those strategies:

•Develop skills
•Provide rationale for tasks & limits
•Inquire about & acknowledge feelings
•Allow as much choice as possible within limits

To learn more about this workshop or to schedule one for your organization, contact me via email at nmlavoi@gmail.com





Two Triggers of Background Anger in Youth Sports

15 02 2010

Over the weekend a Minnesota sport parent assaulted a youth basketball commissioner following an in-house game played by sixth graders. The the father was disgruntled over the officiating during his son’s game. From some of the research I’ve conducted with colleagues pertaining to what we call “Background Anger” the spark to this parent’s violent behaviors is consistent with our data.

We’ve found that many things make sport parents angry, but two big themes are more likely to set off sport parents: 1) their perceptions of injustice and, 2) their perceptions of incompetence.  This father was was upset because he perceived “the  timekeeping of the game” at the end of overtime was not correct (incompetence), and most likely felt it disadvantaged his son’s team (injustice). Based on what data exists, I would argue this combination of sport parent perceptions along side the fact the game was in overtime and probably emotionally charged, provided a perfect storm for an egregious background anger incident to occur.

Our data shows background anger incidents by sport parents are more likely to occur with travel, not in-house levels of youth sport. However, this example illustrates that no level of youth sport is immune to background anger. Requiring research-based education for sport parents, like Minnesota Parents Learning About Youth Sports (MN PLAYS™) or the MYSA Parents And Coaches Together (PACT™), can help to reduce the liklihood these type of incidents.

To see a video clip of me discussing this issue on Fox News 9, click here.





Paying Youth Athletes for Performance

16 01 2010

A colleague forwarded me an e-news from sports-media.org that contained an article titled Cash For Goals in Youth Soccer: Adults Gone Wild. When I give parent education clinics as part of a research-based educational program I helped develop called Parents Learning About Youth Sports (PLAYS), I always include a brief section about paying children for performing.

Why is it brief?

Because the take home message for sport parents is this: NEVER pay your child for scoring goals, winning matches, or accomplishing some performance standard…NEVER. Just don’t do it.

The sports-media.org piece gets at some of reasons why this is not a good practice, but I’d like to elaborate.

Researchers have demonstrated that giving extrinsic rewards (like $$) for an activity that is already inherently fun and enjoyable (like sports), can undermine intrinsic motivation. We want kids to play sports and be physically active because they love it, its fun, they meet friends, learn new skills, enjoy competition and thrive on striving to be the best they can be. If adults offer monetary rewards for scoring goals, the primary focus is on scoring goals and success is defined in terms of scoring goals…not because sport is fun and enjoyable. The classic studies around this phenomena involve collegiate athletes who obtain an athletic scholarship. Many collegiate athletes are good at their sport because they love it, but some play only in hopes of obtaining a full-ride. For some of the very few who actually do obtain an athletic scholarship (and the odds are VERY low according to the NCAA), they often face diminishing intrinsic motivation. They’ve worked so long and hard to get the scholarship, and that is how success was defined, that once they get the scholarship, sport has no meaning and is no longer is enjoyable. I’ve seen this far too often with collegiate athletes in my classes.

When intrinsic motivation doesn’t exist or is undermined by adults, athletes will more likely to experience anxiety, burnout and dropout, and will also experience less enjoyment, satisfaction, well-being and optimal performance, and positive development.

If you want to read on your own about the self-determination theory, and learn about the complexities pertaining to why paying youth athletes is a terrible idea, I encourage you to go here.

What should parents do to foster intrinsic motivation, instead of paying their child-athlete?

Based on the evidence, I suggest a few simple things as a starting point:

  • attend the event and look like you are engaged (i.e., don’t read the paper or talk on your cell phone)
  • cheer only when someone does something good & cheer for everyone’s children, not just your own
  • refrain from yelling instructions or “coaching” from the sidelines
  • offer unconditional care, regardless of the outcome or the performance