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Is Natural Athletic Ability Enough? MomTalk

Expensive club teams offer players an unfair advantage at school sports tryouts.

My oldest daughter will be in fifth grade next year. As a result, she'll have the opportunity to explore many new avenues. School sports are on her to do list and she's quite capable. Her natural athleticism, strength and determination would make her an asset to any team she made.

But here's the problem. I'm not so sure she'll make the team. She's determined to try out for the volleyball team, partly because she really likes it and because she knows I played in high school and college. While I don't doubt she has the ability to become a good player, I have to consider the many girls whose parents can afford the club teams they put them on in an effort to give them a head start.

One mom suggested we get her into a club team as soon as possible because she "wouldn't stand a chance" against the other girls. Although she practices regularly with me, I wonder if it's enough. With a mortgage and other children to consider, we can't go into debt with the hope that doing so will give our daughter a leg-up on the competition. These club organizations are expensive. And what we do for one daughter, we must do for the other.

Is it not enough that she practices with me and attends the high school volleyball camps each year? Maybe not. And therein lies the problem. How far are we willing to go to give our kids an advantage? Is it fair to compare a coachable, natural athlete with potential to a child whose parents had the means to expose her to a higher level of play at an earlier age? 

Marci September 14, 2011 at 09:54 PM
You make it sound like a parent can put out some money and Presto! their kid is a star athlete. I think you are belittling the hard work and dedication required by club teams. My daughter plays club soccer and she practices 2 hours a day, twice a week (plus an hour of driving time each day, which means it takes 6 hours out of her school week) and at least one game a weekend (again, by the time you add travel she is devoting a signifant part of her weekend). She practices and plays whether the heat index is 102 or its 25 degrees and sleeting. She gives up vacations over spring break, she misses social events with her friends, etc. - she personally makes soccer her top priority. As far as club rules go, the only acceptable reason to miss practice or a game is for something school-related or illness/injury, but my daughter goes to practice no matter how bad she might feel. As a parent, I sometimes wish she wasn't so dedicated so that I could get a break from driving her around. As a result of her efforts and personal sacrifice over many years, she has become an excellent player with great skills. If these skills get her a position on a school team, how can you say that I somehow bought her an unfair advantage and she didn't deserve her position on the team? You can't buy what it takes to make a team. There are kids on club teams that will never be stars; the child has to put forth the effort or all the practice and coaching in the world will not make a difference.
N Yan September 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM
The hope is that the coaches truly pick the best players. I am not familiar with club teams that try to give the leg up. If one can afford it and child interested, great. Again, the hope is that the coaches take who is deserving to be on the team. Unfortunately, not all coaches are unbiased all the time (may know the child from a friend or friend of friend, etc.). If one practices on own/in a club, it will improve the craft so do what is best for your child and family.
Jenny C September 15, 2011 at 03:09 AM
It really has nothing to do with fairness. Each one of us is dealt a hand in life and we must play it. One way to look at it is you are already thinking of this in 5th grade. Some kids don't think about joining sports until high school, and your daughter will have a jump on them. Like one of my daughters. She was in cheerleading from 3rd grade, through the park district (which is not at all competitive). She enjoyed it and that was all that mattered to me. When she got into high school, she tried out for the school team but was way outclassed by the girls who were on the junior high teams and also took dance classes. She was disappointed and I really felt for her, but cheerleading is not what defined her so it wasn't the end of the world. Teach your daughter to keep things in perspective. She may try out and make it! If not, she may decide to take up something else or it will strengthen her resolve and build up her perseverance, which will be to her benefit. If you dwell on things being 'unfair' or talk bitterly about the situation, your daughter will pick up on that and that may just kill her drive to excel.
Tracie Vilimek September 15, 2011 at 04:46 AM
As a coach and a parent of four, I can tell you all the money spent on "extras" sometimes doesn't matter. Some kids are naturals and some can take all the classes in the world and still not make the cut. I do encourage extra help because for the most part, it does make a difference. For instance, in cheerleading, gymnastics and dance classes do help tremendously. But if the girl is naturally uncoordinated, sometimes it doesn't matter. I see this alot. I am fair and do try to find strong points in everyone, because I believe everyone has something to contribute. I had three sons play football, baseball and basketball with no extras and they all did just fine. You do what you think is best but don't be discouraged if it doesn't bring the results you expected. Just keep encouraging your child to do thier best.
patch reader September 20, 2011 at 04:46 PM
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