McKenna Schindele, a member of the Vendetta AZ 18U-Brimhall club softball team and a Division III college commit, has never played in a high school varsity game. Schindele, 18, is among many other talented athletes, who are finding themselves benched during their high school seasons because of “politics and coach’s favorites.” According to these athletes, favoritism is rampant in the realm of high school sports. It is credited as to why several athletes have chosen to forfeit their high school careers. Data collected in a Wall Street Journal investigation shows how participation in high school sports has been on a steep decline since 2008 for various reasons, including that “certain athletes felt at a disadvantage due to their coach’s bias for particular players.” “The only reason I would play for my high school team is because of how much I love softball,” Schindele said. “At this point I don’t care about the coaches anymore.”. This bias has in turn resulted in an influx of young athletes choosing to just play for private club organizations instead of their high school teams. Eden Hernandez, also a club softball player for Vendetta, said she has felt the unfair treatment of her high school coaches as well. She is content with only playing for her club team and is unsure if she will even try out for her school’s softball team. “I don’t think high school softball is important … It’s not a good route for myself because I don’t believe the coaches are invested in my personal development as an athlete,” Hernandez said. “Club coaches are more apt to give you instruction and to help you get to a college level. I feel like I won’t even be given a chance to prove myself at my high school.” Hollie Woods, a softball athlete who has been playing since she was 4 years old, said she feels that she is among the not favored players at her high school as well. Even with her long time dedication and passion for the sport, she is very reluctant to participate in her school’s team. “It’s all politics at my school,” she said. “I personally don’t feel like I am favored by the coach. The coach at my high school gives more time to the girls that she knew previously from when she was a club coach, and it’s clear she doesn’t like me.” If favoritism and politics discourages so many players from trying out for their high school teams, then why isn’t more being done to resolve the issue? Dina Samora who coaches both club and high school softball, says parents in booster clubs are to blame for the lack of resolution in coach’s affinities for certain players, specifically in 5A and 6A Conference schools. “The booster club raises a lot of money for their team,” she said. “They then dictate to the coaches that they expect their kid to be given more playing time, regardless of their skill level, in return for the sponsors they acquire,” Samora said. As a coach, Samora said she has seen a direct correlation among athletes at different high schools who aren’t favored, not returning to play the following season and turning club softball into their main priority. Although Samora admits that club softball is more beneficial to players wishing to pursue collegiate careers, she said she is saddened by high school teams’ decreasing popularity. “In my personal opinion, girls who choose not to play high school are giving up valuable memories they won’t be able to get back,” Samora said. “They don’t get the experience of playing for their community and the school they represent.” Samora said she doesn’t believe there will ever be a “win-win” situation that resolves the problem of favoritism, but she is hopeful that regardless of biases, athletes will be encouraged to “play for the school’s name on the front of their jersey, not the name on the back of their jersey.”
Tragically this article illustrates reality and truth in high school sports today. High School programs nation wide are clearly on the decline and there is plenty of blame to share.
High School athletic programs including softball have made significant contributions to the explosion of club programs in every sport. Whether due to decreased funding or other means high school programs have devalued the importance of competition and now view athletics as more of a recreational activity. Many high schools now utilize athletic coaching positions as financial incentives for current teaching staff. Teachers who do not posses the specified skills to instruct and or coach the sport are taking on these roles for extra $$$$. As a result many athletic teams are ill equipped to compete. Naturally the kids who thrive to compete and excel at a higher level are drawn away from high school and toward a club organization.
The coaches themselves are also making their own contributions to the problem. As I have written about previously coaches are generally a little full of themselves and believe individually they are the best resource for any given player. Hence they show little respect for each other and put tremendous pressure on the player to choose between them. Think of the possibilities if coaches focused on the greater good of the players and worked in tandem to develop the player. Players become frustrated and choose the avenue they think will propel them to the next level.
More often than not the player chooses club ball. If you have been to a college camp recently coaches always seem tell the players to forward their "Club" schedule. You do not seem to see very many college coaches interested in watching prospects play their high school schedule. Coaches want to evaluate players in a competitive environment, which is more consistent on the club scene.
Personally I felt this article was subtly suggesting politics only exist in high school softball, We all know there is plenty of politics around club softball as well. I take issue with the "Booster Club" as the root cause of coaches affinity for certain players. Don't get me wrong I am not defending parents here and if our high school athletic programs were properly funded, I would lead the charge to ban all "Booster Clubs". The coach quoted in the article is correct in one regard, there are parents who believe their player deserves compensation on the field because Mom and Dad sold the most cupcakes. If you take a close look at the make up of your "Booster Club" executive board, I bet you find all the players that correspond with those parents are mediocre at best. There are parents and players who also believe they should play because it is their "Turn". They have waited around in the shadows for a few years and now it is their turn to play. I find it interesting these players are usually the ones who play one season of softball a year and put limited to no time into preparing for that one season. But what about the player who drags their butt out of bed every Sunday morning all winter to get their work in. They should sit because it is not their turn?
Coaches need to take responsibility and own their team. They talk a big game and preach to players how it is their own responsibility to communicate with the coach. Parents are banned from communicating with the coach, or the player will lose time in the line up for violating the golden rule. It makes perfect sense. High School aged kids taking responsibility and dealing with issues independently. Awesome !!! Except every coach violates this rule. Truth be told the rule only exists for the parents the coach does not want to deal with. There is always a small group of parents who are welcome to communicate with the coach at will. In turn we teach our kids hypocrisy. Let me share a little secret with every coach out there. There are NO SECRETS !!! Everyone has someone they trust to keep a secret. Except guess what? That person also has someone they trust to keep a secret. And so on. And so on. Hence secrets don't really exist, and discourse in your team is created by your own doing. Don't create the rules if you can't handle enforcing the rules.
In a world that really doesn't exist any longer in high school sports, it is every coaches responsibility to put the best product available on the field. Period and The End. So why doesn't it happen? Simple. We have become to consumed by "Who's turn it is" and "Who's parent contributes the most". I take exception with the coach in the article because as appalling as the behavior is the parents are not to blame. The coach is to blame for not taking ownership of their own team. They are to blame for not standing up for the player and the parent who are doing the right thing.
These situations occur less often in club organizations simply because they are generally more concerned with impressing college coaches than parents. College coaches will take you more seriously if you are consistently successful on the field.
Society has taken something very simple and made it very complicated. If your kid wants to play more than encourage them to work harder. Teach them failure is not the end of the world, and sometimes things were just not meant to be. Trust me creating an opportunity for them to be mediocre among great talent is not going to make them happy.
For the sake of communities everywhere lets hope we can bring competition back to high school sports.