Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Attendance Conundrum

In the previous blog, I threw some parents under the bus. Thankfully, it's just a speed bump on this particular path. Rough road, this House League sports topic. So let's jump into the next great negative before I change gears.

The "A" word. Not the "A" word we call our coaches for not playing our kids enough, nor the "A" word we may call the person who forgot to pick up our child on the way to the field.


Why so big? I've found players' attendance at games, practices and other team events to be one of the biggest differences between House League and Competitive teams, aside from the obvious skill and money.

Hydration is always important! And thirsty players tells the coaches they are working hard!!

With Competitive athletics, players are expected to attend every team function: game, practice, fundraiser, supporters' event, etc. Penalties range from missing playing time to financial penalties to physical punishment (gotta love push-ups!). And for the most part, competitive athletes learn to be punctual and respectful of the coaches and trainers.

With House League athletics, attendance is neither compulsory nor expected! As a coach, I have learned to hope that players will arrive on time for games. The level of hope decreases for practice attendance. You would think that by paying substantial fees for their child to participate in organized sport, parents would be more inclined to encourage and/or force their child to at least show up. Let the coach handle the child's performance once you have reached the game.

It doesn't seem to matter what the sport is or where it is being played, there are a few common indicators that can help coaches determine the participation of their players.

First, let's assume that practices are fun, engaging and the players are learning something. The coach's performance is another discussion.

When a team is doing well, win or lose, as long as they are competing and games are close, players and parents are very willing to attend team functions. They are usually early. I say usually, because we all have the one or two players who arrive five minutes before the start of the game, fully dressed and ready to play (that's another topic).

Let's say the same team starts to lose matches. While competitive teams practice harder on their deficiencies, house league players stop coming to practice! If losing becomes a habit, some players stop coming to games. This snowballs to the point where the team gets into such a huge hole that the path to climb out is blocked from the negative hubris that has been following the players.

It is possible for a coaching staff to pull a team from the abyss. It can be a daunting task and not all coaches are up for it. But they should always try.

Another common issue with House League sports are the children who are spread too thin. You know the one: she plays league volleyball, has piano and dance, tutoring and then because a friend asked her, is now playing ringette. Somewhere, something has to give. It may be any one of the sports or the music lessons. It's great that you want to expose your children to as many different things as you can to expand their horizons, but these parents don't realize the potential damage to the league team that is counting on that player to be there.

Coaches have to change their plans for the line-up. Or change the entire game strategy, depending on the player. Players expect their teammates to attend every game and practice or they question their own commitment. Parents look at the depleted bench and wonder what they got their child into. Lack of attendance hurts everyone.

I know of a team where the top goaltender missed every second game. This goalie was so good that the coach was able to play some of her better players at their natural forward position when the goalie was there. They rarely lost a game and were always competitive. The other goalie wasn't as strong and the coach had to change her line-up to prop up the goaltending issue - most of the better players had to play defence just to keep games close.

Obviously, the team didn't perform as well every second week and the players and parents were quickly able to determine the reason. The second goalie was never blamed but felt poorly. The players who were asked to play defence resented every second week. Eventually, more players started to skip every second game. Needless to say, it was the last year this child every played goal.

An extreme example? Yes, but it details how lack of attendance can negatively impact more than just your child. Really, no child should be that involved in interests to sacrifice one for another.

The question parents now have to ask is: How can I get my child to participate no matter the team's standing? Barring conflicts with other players or coaching staff, children just need to be told they are going. Debate is for adults, not six year olds. Parents can ask their children to put in their best effort. Parents can suggest re-evaluating the sport at the end of the season. But because so many people are counting on that player to be there for games, please make the effort to get there and be ready.

After all, It's Only House League Sports!

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