I play two high school sports, and both coaches have made it really clear that if I don’t play their sport during the summer, I won’t have much of a chance to make varsity. I don’t have time to do both — I have to work — and it just doesn’t seem fair. — R.R., San Francisco
I agree — it’s not fair. And it’s not right. But sadly, that’s the way it is.
Back in the day, only the really devoted spent their summer touring gyms or baseball fields. Sure, there might be a camp here or there, but nobody thought the world would end if an athlete didn’t play 35 games (at least) in the summer.
But the competition for college scholarships is much more intense, and those scholarships are much more important because college is much more expensive than it once was. There was a time, not that long ago, when tuition at a UC was about $500 a year, so the pressure to pay for college was correspondingly much less. But now, with student loans a burden to be borne for most of a lifetime, the hunt for scholarships is much more cutthroat.
That individual focus translates into team performance. Obviously, if all 12 guys on my basketball roster play all summer, and only four guys on another team’s roster play all summer, I’m going to have an advantage because my players are presumably going to improve more. So a competitive high school coach clearly wants his players getting better, and he doesn’t want to lose ground to another team if his guys don’t put in as much time.
Which leads to ultimatums like the ones you got, and even though it’s not really “fair,” in a sense, to demand summer participation, it’s also not really “fair”, in a sense, for a potential varsity athlete not to work hard on his game in the offseason. After all, when it comes to team sports, the skill level of every player is important, and those who don’t do their best to enhance their skills are letting everyone else in the program down.
In other words, if you play one sport in the summer and not the other, you’re letting down the players in the sport you skip; if you pass on both sports, you’re letting down everyone. On the other hand, you have to work, and even if you didn’t, shouldn’t you have the right to do what you want with your summer?
There is no simple answer, but this is what I tell my players: I’m not going to penalize a girl who doesn’t participate during the summer — but in a program with players fighting for starting spots, and even places on the varsity roster, the girl who doesn’t play is liable to get passed by. While she’s taking a photography course, say, her teammates are getting better, and come the season, that could make a difference.
Of course, if a girl doesn’t pick up a basketball from March to November, and walks on the court for the first day of tryouts and is still one of the best players in the school, then she’s still going to make my team. I’m not going to punish my program by denying talented players an opportunity to contribute just because they didn’t want to spend the summer looking at the walls of a gym from the inside.
I will, though, definitely give the girls who put in the time and effort more chances to prove themselves, and if it comes down to a tough choice for those last couple spots on varsity, the edge is going to go to the girl who sacrificed during the summer, not the one who worked on her tan.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at email@example.com
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