Every Picture Tells A Story
Ever see a picture in your local paper of a summer "all-star" baseball team of 10 and 11 year olds and find it odd that nearly every kid in the picture is either the son or daughter of one of the coaches or of one of the coaches of a team during the regular season or the best friend of the coaches kid?
Ever wonder how it was that all the coaches' sons or daughters are so much more "talented" than the other kids that they get to continue playing all summer, sharpening their skills, getting the advantage of playing three, four, even five times a week under the lights or in the hot summer sun, while other kids, eager to play, stand on the outside looking in, already stigmatized by having been deemed "not good enough" to play.
Fast forward to the time when those same kids are juniors and seniors in high school and come across stories in the local paper about the high school varsity baseball team and, lo and behold, they are filled with the names of the same players who were so-called "all stars" six or seven years earlier. Surprised that they are the same kids, when experts say that abilities change significantly in children from year to year, sometimes within the same season.
Politics, Not Crystal Balls
Because the current relative athletic ability of a young child, particularly a child who has not reached the onset of puberty, is not an accurate predictor of his or her athletic talent, how is it that those who select the summer all-star teams are able to predict with such a degree of accuracy the players at age ten or eleven who will be the most athletically talented six or seven years later? They can't!
What's wrong is a structure that, instead of serving the interests of our children, feeds adult egos; a flawed, slanted and, yes, rigged all-star selection process that virtually guarantees that the players picked aren't the "best" (and remember, there is no such thing as "best" at this age; for the vast majority of kids the differences in athletic ability are small; far too small to start labeling and eliminating), but are simply the ones who are fortunate enough to be the sons or daughters of the coaches, league administrators, or Board members. Occasionally, the inequities in this system are there for all to see: I remember there was one boy my kids' age who made the summer all-star team year after year, not because he was a good player, but because his father was a coach. When, several years later, he tried out for the middle school baseball team, and he couldn't even make the roster! The person that it hurt the most was Tommy, and boy did he take the heat from all of the other kids who had been wise to this game for years.
Six Ways To Reform The System
If there are going to be summer all-star teams in your community at all (the wisdom of which, especially before grade seven, is questionable at best), what can be done to make the selection process fairer?
I believe that there are a number of steps parents can take to take the politics out of the all-star team selection process and to make the process more inclusive and more about having fun and learning new skills and less about winning and cutting kids (many of whom will be so discouraged that they will drop out of sports, never to play again):
The Selection Voting Process Should Be Open. There is nothing like secrecy to breed mistrust among parents about the fairness of the selection process. When my sons were playing youth baseball, the process used to pick summer all-star teams was shrouded in secrecy. Apparently, the coaches and the Board of Directors simply got together and hand picked teams and your son or daughter either got a call or they didn't. It was a classic example of the "good ole' boy network." No one knew how the teams were put together or the criteria used in determining whom the "best" players were. What they did know is that an astonishing number of the coach's kids made the team, with only a smattering of other players thrown in to give the appearance of fairness, or to help with the carpooling duties.
- Parents Should Not Vote. Period. If there is one rule that should be followed in all cases in which select or all-star teams are put assembled, it is that the parents of players should under no circumstances have a say in who is picked. My experience, and I am sure that of countless other parents across the country, is that giving the coaches a chance to vote on which players get selected inevitably results - surprise, surprise - in their own kids being selected. It is a rare coach who can resist the powerful temptation to pick his or her own child and who can be objective about their own child compares to his or her peers. In fact, I would bet that, if you asked 100 parents, 95 out of 100 would, if pressed, admit that the chance to dramatically increase the chances that their kid gets a spot on an all-star or select team (as well as getting more playing time or, at the very least, getting to play the "glamour" positions, such as pitcher and shortstop in youth baseball) is one of the principal reasons they are coaching their own kids year after year after year, in the first place. Eliminate their ability to advance their own personal agenda and the selection process is bound to be fairer and, just as importantly, perceived by all the parents to be fairer.
Survivor Type Voting. Did you have a chance to watch the popular TV show; Survivor? When the time came to vote, the votes were cast in a basket and opened one at a time for everyone to see. There should be a piece of paper with each players name on it. Every child is given a marker and a ballot and asked to vote for the player on the team who was the overall All- Star. Each player simply colors in the box next to the name and folds the paper and then drops it the basket. By coloring in a box, no one sees anyone's handwriting). Opening and counting the ballots should always be done at the end of a game when all of the parents can be present.