Monday morning quarterbacks, coaches, players, and fans are nothing, if not opinionated when it comes to sports. We can all typically agree on the things that need to be fixed. But, the solutions people bring to the table rarely satisfy all the audiences.
As a fan and parent of two kids involved in youth sports, I’ve observed a LOT over the years. There are things that drive me crazy; for example, the offsides rule in soccer and hockey. But, not everything that drives me crazy is worth fixing. Sometimes, it is what it is.
My dad was a big believer in the idea that it’s easy to point out that something’s broken, but if you do that, you have a responsibility to offer solutions. I’ve always tried to live up to that philosophy. In this post, I’m going to focus on 3 very specific problems that exist and offer up some solutions.
Video Assistant Review, aka VAR
The English Premier League makes it clear, that “VAR is constantly monitoring the match. VAR is used only for “clear and obvious errors” or “serious missed incidents” in four match-changing situations: goals; penalty decisions; direct red-card incidents; and mistaken identity.” The idea of VAR was great. Referees can’t see everything and be everywhere all the time. Making the correct calls ensures more accurate outcomes. However, the implementation of VAR has universally been panned. Fans hate it. Pundits hate it. Players hate it. In fairness, a major reason people hate VAR has less to do with VAR and more to do with the actual rules being enforced by VAR. For example, the handball law. But, the other major reason is that so much of VAR comes down to interpretation. I can’t change the laws of soccer, but I do have some suggestions for improving the execution of VAR.
- Acknowledge it needs to be improved. Swallow the pride.
- All goals are reviewed. Each manager is given 2 additional challenges/calls for a review. Maybe it’s an offside call, a foul, or the ball going out of bounds. Basically, stop trying to legislate everything.
- Make the VAR review a 3 member panel of refs and former players. Consensus must be reached to overturn the original call. If 2 out of 3 can’t agree, it’s not “clear and obvious.”
That’s it. As the kids say, that’s the tweet.
I have seen, up close, the horrible underbelly of youth sports. I’ve written previously, in a now-deleted post, about the racism I experienced while growing up in Vernon, NJ. Some of it was overt. Some of it lived in the shadows. For example, when it came time to pick the Little League All-Star team, magically most, if not all the kids of coaches were picked. Some were selected at the expense of more deserving players. In particular, my dad received a call from another team’s coach apologizing that his kid was selected ahead of me. He shared what took place in the manager’s/coach’s meeting and said it wasn’t right. But, I’ve also seen it as both of my kids have played in a number of youth sports programs.
There’s a lot you could fix in youth sports. For example, stop charging to attend basketball games. Just build the “revenue” into the season price in the same way that soccer does. But, I want to focus on the hero worship that comes from how programs operate. Programs are designed to drive success, not develop players. Development is a byproduct, for the most part. Even at young ages, athletic programs are looking to retain the best players in hopes they’ll drive their High School programs to success. So here’s what happens:
- Talented kids are identified early on.
- Their parents are asked to be on boards and to coach.
- Conflicts of interest arise, but are swept under the rug. Programs take care of their own and from what I’ve observed the complaints originate from parents of kids who are less talented, and thus less valuable.
Parents of kids shouldn’t be allowed to coach their children’s teams, oversee the programs their kids play in, or hold positions on boards that drive talent selection and development decisions. At a minimum, any concerns parents would have about shady practices, favoritism/nepotism, and ethics go away.
Let me offer a real example situation that wouldn’t have happened if my recommendations were in place. Two parents made a complaint about a coach being a bit too handsy with the players. To an untrained eye, the physical interactions might be seen as typical coaching. One of the parents was a victim of sexual assault and saw it as something more. A formal investigation, as recorded through the minutes, never took place. The coach’s child was a very good player, was being allowed to play up, and they didn’t want to create friction. They were told to bring their concerns to the police if they were that concerned. With everything we know about the sexual assault of athletes by trainers, coaches, and staff, the only logical conclusion was that this program was protecting the coach of a talented player.
If most well-run, ethical companies prohibit family from managing family and influencing the hiring of family members, shouldn’t youth sports?
I confess, I basically stopped watching basketball 2 years ago for a variety of reasons. We had season tickets for our local team, the Minnesota Timberwolves; even though I’m a Chicago Bulls fan. I tried. Really, I did. But, the over-emphasis on no defense and jacking up 3-pointers simply doesn’t appeal to me. The James Harden approach to basketball is not my cup of tea. I am not the only person who has this opinion.
Most opinion pieces focus on the 3-point line. They either want to change the shape or make it further away from the basket. Others have recommended the NBA adopt an MTV Rock N Jock style basketball court where certain areas, beyond the 3-point line, are worth more than 3 points. I’m not going to touch the 3-point line. I’m not advocating for more lines or ways to score more than 3 points.
My solution is much simpler. I want to bring back the pre-mid-1990s hand check rule. The hand check rule allowed defenders to place one or two hands on an offensive player to “check” their movement. The rule was significantly modified after MJ’s first retirement and then went away completely after the 2003/2004 season. Here’s how I’d like to bring it back:
- You can only use one hand.
- The hand check can only be used between the half-court line and the 3-point line.
- The hand-check can only be executed on the ball handler.
If you adopted my 3-point plan, no pun intended, here’s what’s likely to happen.
- We’ll see more offensive balance. You can still move quickly from the inbound to the half-court line.
- The mid-range game comes back into play.
- We’ll see a resurgence of post-up play.
- There will be new offensive creativity requiring more movement and off-the-ball play to free up the best shooters.
- A new era of defensive creativity will be born, evolving us from the binary choices of zone and man-to-man.
I do think you’ll also see better youth development. Walk in to a gym these days and you’ll see kids chucking shots from deep, with horrible form. Bad habits are being created early.
The net-net should be a more balanced, enjoyable, and fun game.
There you go, problem, with solutions, as my dad would have approved of!