When my son was 7 years old, he played his first year of Little League football. He was all of 42 pounds, on an 85-pound-maximum-weight team. He spent many a game on the bench -- a pony, not a horse.
The following year he had gained only three pounds but assumed, nonetheless, that as a second-year player he would be a starter. After three weeks of practice, he wanted nothing to do with football.
Quitting was not an option I would allow, so I asked him if he were a "horse" would he then be interested in playing. "Well, yeah," (read: "Duh!") was his response.
"Then make yourself a horse," I told him. "During practice, make those coaches watch you and show them what you can do."
In all honesty, I didn't have much faith in this -- he was incredibly small. He frowned rather seriously at this bit of advice, and I thought that was the end of it.
Apparently, he heeded these words well. He started on defense in the first game, playing -- of all positions -- on the line. He did it himself. He wasn't the best. He wasn't the worst. But he was quite proudly a horse.
He won Most Improved Player that year at the annual banquet and though he has played a couple of seasons since then, that one remains his favorite. We even use that story as an impetus for betterment in our house. "Remember when your brother wasn't a starter and so he worked extra hard?"
Imagine my dismay, then, to have my two girls playing elementary school basketball, where everyone makes the team and plays equal time, no matter their qualifications, their drive, their attitude or their skill.
What is wrong with healthy competition? Why must we hand everything to children nowadays? Are they allowed to work for anything? And, most important, what are we teaching them with this practice?
When I was in grammar school, I had to try out for basketball. Having made the team -- by the skin of my teeth -- I sat on the bench the first two seasons. I didn't work hard enough to be on the court.
When seventh grade rolled around, I had no intention of repeating my limited input of the previous seasons. So I worked for it. I dribbled constantly in my driveway because my coach told me to work on my ball handling. It's possible that I did thousands of layups to make that aspect of my game better. I shot with my brothers at the playground, and rarely missed a scheduled practice. I tied with two other girls for MVP in eighth grade.
What is the incentive for a child to improve if nothing will change? She is going to play her six minutes each game whether she bothers to make her game better or not. Should we not want our children to learn that hard work is rewarded? That laxness is not?
This equal playing time rule adopted by some schools as politically correct has shown that certain figures on the court will look the same at the beginning and the end of the season. But don't worry, they'll play just as much as the girl shooting hoops under a spotlight at 9 o'clock in her driveway.
"Put me in, coach" should not be followed by "because the rules say you have to give me equal playing time, despite my lack of interest, level of skill or willingness to do better."
"Put me in, coach" should be answered with: "Show me why."
Rebecca Ruger, of Blasdell, believes that children benefit from healthy competition.