The Problem with “Playing Fair”


In writing this post I realize that I may be outing myself as one of “those parents.”  That’s okay though, I am alright with the world knowing that I do not think that sports should be “played fair.”

Here’s the thing, I have three children, 2 of which are of age to play organized sports.  My daughter has been playing basketball and volleyball since the 4th grade and during the younger years all of the kids played equal time and that is great.  Every single kid that wants to play sports should have the ability to learn and develop.  Once your children hit a certain age though, it should be perfectly acceptable for these sports to be more geared toward competition.

Last year, my daughter was in the 6th grade.   When it came time to play volleyball they split 36 girls up evenly into 4 teams and the coaches made sure that each team only had one or two “good” players so that it was fair.  They also substituted a girl out of the court with every single rotation (if you are familiar with volleyball…you know how often that is).  While, this was frustrating for the girls, we understood that it was simply the way things were done at that age so okay, that’s fine.  Our daughter dealt with an entire season of losses last year.  Then came basketball season.  Finally, they were changing it up.  She was put on the “competitive” basketball team as opposed to the “recreational” team.  This meant that her team would be competing in tournaments at the end of the regular season.  At the competitive team level, the kids that had the most skill played more and I don’t recall one instance of kids on her team feeling like they didn’t get their shot.  Her team did great and I can look through at countless pictures of all of the girls smiling at the end of a win.  She did great and her team did great and everyone was happy.

Our only issue was that she she still suffered from a lack of confidence throughout the season and was very easily intimidated by other teams that she considered to be “better” than hers.  To combat this and to build her skills she elected to join a competitive sport club that cost us a lot of money (I am talking about upwards of $1,500 in a matter of 6 months).   If you are reading this, you know that we are a very frugally minded family so this was an expense that was not taken likely and you know what?  It was perhaps one of the best investments we have ever made.   She practiced several times per week and had very competitive tournaments every weekend.  She played against some of the best players in this state and on this club team there was no “playing fair.”  She actually spent quite a bit of time on the bench, which was a new experience for her.  You only got playing time if you were working your butt off in practice and you were good.  That was perfectly okay with us.  We were paying a lot of money for her to be there, she better be working hard while she is there.  She hadn’t been playing at that level for long so it took her time to develop those skills which meant sitting on the bench more and that’s okay.  By the time her club season was over we were very happy.  Yes, my daughter’s basketball skills improved, but more importantly to us, her confidence grew by leaps and bounds.   She was a different child socially too.  She was no longer afraid to talk to other kids, she was no longer afraid to just be herself in front of others.  (For those of you that remember middle school and how hard it was…this is a very big deal).

Fast forward to 7th grade and volleyball season.  She attended tryouts and made the “A” team along with another 8 girls.  She was very excited to go into this season finally able to win some games.  Her coaches apparently had other plans.  I know and adore her coaches, but they are still in the “playing fair” mindset.  While several of the girls work their hardest, it would make the best sense for them to be sub-in players, but no…..they are put in at every rotation, much to the detriment of the team.  Our girls have been told that they are not to question the coaches and their decisions.  They have now suffered a complete season of losses because of the coaches deciding to play fair and making decisions based upon that and not about the game at all.  Other teams in our league do not do this, and they are playing to the level that they should be playing at.  And our daughter is once again down in confidence and feeling like she cannot win ever.  She has asked to quit 3 times so far this season and for anyone that knows her, knows that this is entirely out of character.  She is a born athlete and has never wanted to quit any sport she has ever played.  This is my problem.  I do not like to see her confidence suffer, because coaches deem it necessary to make sure everyone gets equal time on the court.

“Playing Fair” is great when kids are young and need to develop their skills.  When they are older, please let them be competitive.  Competitive play is great for building confidence, social skills, strength and fitness.  I know it’s not all about winning.  It’s about having fun, giving your all and learning!  You know what?  Us competitive parents know that it is not all about winning.  They won’t always win and that’s okay.  But when they always lose just because it’s “not fair” that some kids had to sit on the bench for a portion of the game, that’s not okay either.  Kids need confidence in themselves and they also need to know that life isn’t always fair.  In order to succeed in life we have to work hard to get there, success is rarely given to us.  A youth sports program is a great time to start teaching this lesson.

And before anyone gets their panties in a bunch over this, just know that in no way am I okay with anyone berated a child or looking down on them for not being a star athlete, etc.  I love that we have recreational and/or “B” teams (for the record…I prefer they be called recreational teams) so that the kids that are interested in sports have an opportunity to build their skills.  I simply believe that competition can be a wonderful thing and really, really good for our kids.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.