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Why Loyalty Is Bad For Youth Sports And Society


Everybody uses the word loyalty and some seem to embrace the phrase as if it had some parallel to ethics and I believe the word should be given some reconsideration by all. After being involved with many different youth athletic programs for the past several years, I have had the opportunity to observe youth leagues that are on opposite poles of the economic and social spectrum. I have coached in the wealthiest of suburban youth leagues and I've coached in inner city leagues that were in the most plighted areas where driving to and from practices made me very nervous.

The point that I'm getting at, first, is the one constant that I did observe is that loyalty was the biggest concern, and yet the biggest detriment to all of these organizations. My belief is that there really is no place for loyalty as it relates to coaching or running a  youth sports program. I will go one step further and say loyalty has no place in any athletic program, even college sports. If for instance, an assistant coach is loyal to his head coach and witnesses a criminal act done to a child and reports it only to the head coach but no one else, is that loyalty?  It might be considered loyalty to your superior, but it's not loyalty to the child, the child's parents, or the program. If  the head coach in turn reports it only to his Board but no one else, is that loyalty? Same answer.  If the Board doesn't report this same act to the authorities to try to spare the integrity of the program, is that loyalty ? You know my answer. 

I know this is an extreme example that I have laid out but we all know it's a very real situation. When coaches, youth league board members, athletic directors, principals, and school board members don't ask themselves, "Who am I loyal to?", and "Why am I loyal to them?", they will probably be crossing the line on what is ethical and will be viewed by anybody looking in from the outside as being unethical for their own self interest. 

One of the few acts of loyalty I view as proper is one spouse's loyalty to the other as it relates to fidelity. Or maybe one's loyalty to their favorite restaurant because the service is always good and they're going to get a consistent product. Or it might be the act of loyalty itself by never talking behind someones back. Whatever the case may be, loyalty should always be attached to some form of strong ethical standard and doing the right thing. Once again. I have seen too much disregard to the well-being of young athletes because of misguided loyalty that plays out in youth athletic programs.

You should never be afraid to speak your mind to anyone that's involved with youth sports if you see any wrongdoing involving a child. I have seen bad behavior from coaches directed toward young athletes, nothing that would be considered criminal, and I will tell a coach I don't approve of it. I know most coaches won't say anything to another coach when they see bad behavior because of their twisted loyalty to that coach. Would someone humor me, and just think for one minute about who your loyal to, why your loyal to them, and drop me a reply. My heart goes out to those of you who are loyal to kids.

You are absolutely right

Excellent blog post, Greg. You are absolutely right. If there is to be any loyalty in youth sports it should be to the kids themselves. Too often in sports, whether it be at the youth, middle school, high school, or college level, the loyalty is to the program or to the coach. Your blog goes to one of the fundamental problems in youth sports today: that it has become increasingly adult-centered, serving the interests of adults, not the children. As Brooke de Lench wrote in her book, Home Team Advantage, and, for the past eleven years on this website, we need to put the youth back in youth sports. If every decision that is made in the name of our kids in sports were actually looked at from the perspective of what is best for the kids, not the coach, not the program, not the Board of Directors, sports and society would be far better off. Thanks again for your thoughts on this critically important subject.

Greg - Awesome article.

Greg -
Awesome article. There is such a difference between ethics and loyalty. You make a brilliant point. I will push a bit further. The adults ( or athletes) "loyal" to a coach, program or team.... are they afraid to speak up for fear they will lose their position or status within the organization? Cowards who hide behind the guise of loyalty. Loyalty is a noble trait and cowardice is not. Neither is ethical!

Loyalty or commitment

Coach Mood
I'm going to deal in Symantecs here. Loyalty and commitment. I think that loyalty is commitment and in turn commitment is loyalty. I think there is a big place for loyalty in youth sports. Loyalty to the coaches, players and the organization or league. Coaches being loyal (committed) to the players in their development and safety as a player and developing individual. Parents being loyal (committed) to the coaches by positive backing and getting their players to practices and games consistently and on time. By volunteering to help at fund raisers, games (half time snacks, chain gang and car pooling). However, I also feel there is NO place for loyalty when it comes to acts of immorality, unethical, or illegal acts by coaches or parents involving the youth player. To me this type of loyalty can be equaled to a form of conspiracy and in most states is classified as a crime if one has knowledge of such acts and does not report it to the police or abuse hotline.

I'm so happy to find kindred spirits

Greg, great post. I am a mom, coach, and teacher. I love sports and was denied the chance to play when I was a kid because I was a girl. I have twins now, a boy and a girl, and I refuse to deny them anything. If my son wants to sew, so be it. If my daughter wants to be a wide receiver for her favorite football team, go for it. Dream big, because that's what you do at 7.

So, I coached because I didn't want them to end up with the stereotypical crazy parent that was living out his/her glory days through my child's ability or inability to catch a ball or hit one. And I love it. A teacher myself, everything to me is about development and creating children of character and substance. Something that I feel as a society we have lost. I teach them to play well and play fair, to be a team mate and a good sport. The score isn't important, but the game well played is.

I am loyal to no one but the kids, their spirit, and the basics. I had to sit for too many years on the side lines. I refuse to have children's happy years be at the mercy of people like some of the coaches we have been describing.

Your post was refreshing, the comments amazing, and I am so lucky I stumbled upon this site. I was looking for the right height for a basketball hoop for my 7 year old and had seen so many posts saying, "Too bad, have the kid shoot at a 10 foot hoop and be done with it." What type of developmental philosophy is that? So, this site, a breathe of fresh air.

Why are we in such a rush to raise our kids and create mini power machines? For what purpose? It doesn't serve the kids. I am loyal to them, and it's worth repeating, to them. I take care of them when I teach them. I take care of them, my kids, all day long. I take care of them when I coach, making sure they feel special and appreciated when they leave the field of play. I always find something positive they did, I am always kind. I look for how I can develop them.

I had a coach once asked me why I never looked at the rankings when I picked my team. How would I get a good team otherwise, with kids who could catch? I said, my job is to coach the team and teach all the kids how to catch and if they know how, to teach them to do it better. What I look for are the parents? Are they loyal to their kids? If they are, they will be on my team, regardless of whatever developmental stage a child is in.

I am a teacher, I can work with any child, any stage, any time and will always do it with their best interest at heart.


Hilde Garcia

Speaking Up

Greg -
In response to this portion of your article:
"You should never be afraid to speak your mind to anyone that's involved with youth sports if you see any wrongdoing involving a child. I have seen bad behavior from coaches directed toward young athletes, nothing that would be considered criminal, and I will tell a coach I don't approve of it. I know most coaches won't say anything to another coach when they see bad behavior because of their twisted loyalty to that coach."
I am a mom who speaks up and am not popular with our ED, probably because I call him out on his own inappropriate behavior to kids while coaching, especially toward my son since I do speak up. Our BOD never hears about these issues, except from him, because we have no way to contact any of them. They are hands-off when it comes to the membership and I've never heard from any parent that anyone on the BOD bothered to investigate their complaint (or mine). Basically, the BOD does nothing to keep the staff accountable; and you're right, not a single coach in this club stands up to him or the BOD! I don't think it's always out of loyalty that they don't stand up, but also fear of losing their coaching position (yes this ED would do that).

There are so many examples that are provable and verifiable by witnesses, and that's sad; yet he and the BOD wonder why membership is down this year.  There are so many articles, etc., about bad sports parents and not enough about bad leadership with respect to EDs, etc.; sometimes the bad people in the club aren't the parents.
I would love advice on how to handle getting the BOD more involved and also a parent advisory board started within this club; and I'm sure it will be a major struggle as the ED certainly doesn't want his bad behavior to come out into the open. They tend to forget this is also a business, and they are pissing off the customers.
Thanks very much!