Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

When it comes to youth sports leagues, doing it 'for the kids' can be challenging

Stringent rules, contentious meetings, red-faced league officials, belligerent parents, teary-eyed kids, allegations and rumors that occasionally cross personal boundaries.

This unsavory mix doesn't define youth sports organizations, but the emotional combination is not uncommon to those who have assumed leadership roles in leagues.

Years ago, I invested two years of mixed emotions as a board member of a youth football and cheerleading organization in Brandon. I enjoyed some moments, but more often regretted volunteering.

Since that time, nearly every parent I talk to about the ups and downs of board membership shared the same perspective about getting a group of adults to pull in the same direction and "do it for the kids."

Seldom has such an innocent concept proved so challenging.

At its best, a league offers children a chance to join an effort bigger than themselves and more meaningful than success with a video game. If they walk away more familiar with the most valuable intangibles of sports — teamwork, leadership, exercise and fun — winning is just a bonus.

At its worst, clashes between overzealous adults remove all the joy the children hope to achieve. Coaches who fail to adhere to rules collide with league officials trying to maintain accountability and the kids end up hurt.

The scene played out again this week between the Brandon Bears and the Tri-County Youth Football and Cheerleading Conference. The simple story: The league ousted the five Brandon Bears cheerleading squads and two of its football teams from the season-ending championships this month because seven girls from a 34-member squad performed a routine in the living room of a coach's home, where they were attending a picnic.

But it's never that simple.

The bigger picture involves the league's never-ending quest to maintain competitive balance. To outsiders, rehearsing the routine at a picnic seems innocent, but those involved in youth football know that trying to ensure teams practice the same amount — three two-hour sessions a week — is a longtime source of controversy.

In fact, a cheer squad was punished during my tenure for a similar infraction. The cheer routines are judged in part on synchronicity, so practice truly makes perfect.

As parents strive to stop "some other team" from cheating their kids, rules grow more exacting and penalties become more severe.

In this case, however, it's difficult to believe the Bears intentionally conducted an illegal practice, because they posted online the video of the girls performing the routine. Still, most involved will insist "rules are rules."

On Tuesday, the league voted to allow the football teams to compete in the Nov. 23 championship but refused to lift the ban on the cheer squads.

I don't have enough detailed knowledge about the case to judge the decision, but I know that as long as the rulings come from a board made up of other league members, unhappiness will reign.

Their intentions may be honorable, but the perception that the governing board punishes one squad so its teams can benefit looms over every major decision.

So the most controversial rulings need to come from an independent arbitrator. The one-rule-fits-all approach fails to address the specifics of individual cases.

It may seem like a laborious change for a game played by kids, but if you think this is just child's play, you've never been involved in a league.

That's all I'm saying.

When it comes to youth sports leagues, doing it 'for the kids' can be challenging 11/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 4:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  2. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.
  3. Told not to look, Donald Trump looks at the solar eclipse


    Of course he looked.

    Monday's solar eclipse — life-giving, eye-threatening, ostensibly apolitical — summoned the nation's First Viewer to the Truman Balcony of the White House around 2:38 p.m. Eastern time.

    The executive metaphor came quickly.

    President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump view the solar eclipse from the Truman balcony of the White House, in Washington, Aug. 21, 2017. [Al Drago | New York Times]
  4. Secret Service says it will run out of money to protect Trump and his family Sept. 30


    WASHINGTON — The Secret Service said Monday that it has enough money to cover the cost of protecting President Donald Trump and his family through the end of September, but after that the agency will hit a federally mandated cap on salaries and overtime unless Congress intervenes.

    Secret service agents walk with President Donald Trump after a ceremony to welcome the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions the Clemson Tigers on the South Lawn of the White House on June 12, 2017. [Olivier Douliery | Sipa USA via TNS]
  5. After fraught debate, Trump to disclose new Afghanistan plan


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will unveil his updated Afghanistan policy Monday night in a rare, prime-time address to a nation that broadly shares his pessimism about American involvement in the 16-year conflict. Although he may send a few thousand more troops, there are no signs of a major shift in …

    U.S. soldiers patrol the perimeter of a weapons cache near the U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan in 2003. Sixteen years of U.S. warfare in Afghanistan have left the insurgents as strong as ever and the nation's future precarious. Facing a quagmire, President Donald Trump on Monday will outline his strategy for a country that has historically snared great powers and defied easy solutions.  [Associated Press (2003)]