Here's the first post in a three-part series on how and why certain kids get to play key positions such as point guard, pitcher, and quarterback. In this series, we'll cover the importance of primary roles to a team's success, the skills a child needs to develop to play key positions, and also touch on the fairness issue of playing time.
A while back, a parent posted a comment and asked, “How does my child develop expertise in an important role unless a coach is willing to rotate the player roles?” This is a fair question. Parents recognize that more attention is often focused on the athletes who play the key positions on their team. And when parents see the same kids continually playing the primary roles, they may feel it’s unfair that their child is not afforded the same opportunity.
So let’s take a closer look at why certain kids play the “glory” positions, whether this is unfair to other children, and how you can help improve your child’s opportunity to play an important team role such as quarterback, pitcher, or point guard.
Who plays the key positions and whySuccess in team sports often hinges on the performance at key positions. In the NFL, it’s understood that having a “franchise” quarterback substantially improves the odds for a team to reach the Super Bowl. Championship basketball teams often have a dominant center, talented point guard, or both. Excellent hockey and soccer teams usually have forwards who can score and an outstanding goalie.
In competitive youth sports, the same principle holds true. Because youth leagues often bring together children of different age groups, the effect of dominant players in key positions is substantial. A team lacking talent at these positions will likely not compete for the league championship.
Participation-oriented youth programs usually require skilled players to occupy certain roles—not just to engage in balanced, fun competition, but to also achieve some semblance of teamwork and opportunity to play the game in a way that benefits all of the team’s players.
Placing a young football player at the quarterback position, when he has neither the strength nor accuracy to make a downfield throw, will not benefit the more experienced receivers on the team. A young baseball pitcher who can’t throw the ball over the plate will walk player after player, ruining the game for his or her teammates. And a point guard in basketball who has difficulty dribbling will continually turn the ball over to the other team. His or her teammates will never touch the ball, become frustrated, and lose interest in playing (no fun).
So even in participation oriented youth programs, there are valid reasons for coaches placing their more accomplished child athletes in certain positions. (But at this level of play, there are usually opportunities to give a less-skilled child a taste of playing a key position.)
Individual factors that lead to successGaining expertise at a key position, and developing the necessary skills to play the associated team role well, is a process that develops over time and with a number of influences. A child’s natural athleticism, interest in playing sports, age and size relative to others, all affect a child’s overall ability to play a key position. These factors are often also the ones that determine how far an athlete can climb up the ladder of competitive success. But for many children, these factors vary throughout the developmental years. The youngest child of course becomes the oldest at some point, a change often accompanied by increased physical stature and ability.
The other main influence on a child’s ability to play a key position is the set of skills a child has mastered. Although natural physical ability is certainly helpful, many important sport skills are learned. And through practice and repetition, these skills are mastered. There are many examples of physically inferior athletes who have enjoyed enormous success because they both understood their position and mastered the requisite skill techniques.
How does a child begin the process of learning these essential skills? Today’s parents usually expect organized youth sports programs to provide the instruction and initial opportunity for their child.
In next week's article, we'll look at how organized sports and a child’s coach impact the development of your child’s ability to play a key position.
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