Equal Playing Time: The Fine Line Between Development & Discrimination

kobe10.equal.playtimeMy eldest son has always been a soccer player.

From the tender age of 3, I’ve done the soccer mom dance, enrolling him in house leagues, and showing up at the pitch every week with my lawn chair and latte in hand. My husband on the other hand, is a basketball guy… he killed it in high school, played NCAA on a full scholarship in the states, got his level 2 NCCP certification, and went on to coach youth programs professionally around Toronto for the next ten years.

Knowing he would feel pressure to live up to dad’s basketball glory days, we purposefully never pushed our son in that direction.  This year, at 9, for the first time ever, he came home one day and announced that he was trying out for the under 10 basketball team at school, and we didn’t make it into a big deal. He made the team (in fact, everyone in grade 4 who tried out made the team), and he started to get pumped.

The first game would not be until after the winter holidays, so while we were in Florida on vacation, he eagerly practiced with his cousins, playing games like H.O.R.S.E. and working on his ball handles. He talked about the team non-stop, so we treated him with a new ball and a shiny pair of Nike Kobe 10’s.  He decided to save them (and keep them clean) for his first game.

When school resumed in the New Year, all the team parents received an email from the coaches and athletic director, with important dates, info, and procedures. Included was a statement about the CISAA (Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association) rules, which at the under 10 level, stipulated equal playing time for all athletes in order to support player development.

Sounds reasonable, right?

When the first game finally rolled around, my husband, my dad, and myself anxiously arrived early to get good seats. A few independent schools had organized a 5-game tournament to kick off the season.

Well, it was a pretty huge surprise, as we sat, and watched, and waited, quarter after quarter, and my son continued to sit on the bench. After the first 3 quarters passed, and all of the other 15 out of 16 team members had played, instead of putting my son in the game, the coach sent the first line-up back on the court.  We watched him try to tell his coaches that he hadn’t had a turn yet, but he was sent back to the bench with his head down. He was the only kid on the team who sat on the bench for the entire game, and didn’t get a turn to play… and we watched his excitement and his huge smile fade away.

In fact, my son went on to sit on the bench for two entire games, while everyone else played in every game, and many of his peers played on two shifts per game.  Furthermore, he was told to sit at the very end of the bench, while his peers rotated seats and exchanged camaraderies as they took their respective turns on the court.  Aside from this being damaging to his self-esteem amongst his peers, and extremely disheartening to witness as a parent or grandparent, I decided to look myself at the CISAA U10 boys basketball 2015/2016 rules.

It actually specifically says:

“Each player dressed on the bench must play an equal amount of time unless injured – no player may return to the court until all other players have played.  This rotation must continue for the duration of the game.”

This rule is consistent with the Ontario Basketball Association’s equal participation guidelines.

To be clear, ‘equal playing time’ does not mean every child deserves a medal.  I don’t believe in participation medals.  I do however, believe that every child deserves an opportunity to participate, to learn, and to be a part of a team.  This was not intense varsity level athletics (where a competitive coaching strategy is appropriate)… we are talking about a 4th grade co-ed development league.

So after seeing my son effectively ostracized for two entire games, I finally expressed my concern to the coach, whose only defense was to flaunt her clipboard (displaying her three perfect line-ups, and my son’s name off to the side scribbled on a post-it note – illustrating that her decision was in fact pre-meditated) and to chalk it up to “a shit deal”, while she blatantly disregarded the CISAA league rules.  She even stated that she had warned him that he would be playing last due to his “lack of focus during practice” (admitedly punishing him for his known and documented learning disability, as he resided in the ‘Special Education Small Class’ specifically to support his ADHD, at the school’s urging).  No child deserves to be alienated like he was, at an elite (and not cheap) private school of all places. The optics were demoralizing at best, and my son went to bed that night feeling discouraged and humiliated in front of his friends and family.

We’ll never really know what the coach had against him.  It could be his darker skin; he’s a bi-racial mix of African-American and Jewish… and the ‘token’ black kid on the team (and in the entire grade).  Or, it could be he was singled-out due to his ongoing struggle with attention (as they waste no time pigeonholing kids these days).  Either way, one thing is for sure – when it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it’s usually a duck… or in this case, that other ‘D’ word that makes us all cringe a little (and rhymes with _iscrimination).

Of course, we expressed all of this to the Vice Principal the next morning, but apparently our concerns were heard just after the coach had run into his office crying like a damsel in distress (or a tattle-tale doing severe damage control), painting a picture of a far different scenario; one in which she was allegedly intimidated and belittled by angry parents.  Myself, my husband, and my father each explained our perspectives, and asserted that the only person who was victimized that day was our son, who justifiably, required a prompt and sincere apology to repair his confidence.

He humbly agreed.

A week went by, and another game approached.  At this game, the coach utilized a proper (equal) rotation, as per the rule-book.  The next morning, my husband and I both received an email from the Vice Principal, saying that the coach had made some “changes” and is now “looking out for” our son, and he was hoping that we would make some sort of apology to her. We ignored his absurd suggestion, and responded by simply reminding him that our son had still not received any form of apology.

The “changes” that she made (to finally abide by the rules) are actually in fact, her job requirement as a coach (and the mandate for participation in the CISAA), but that in no way constituted taking ownership for her reprehensible actions, nor did it demonstrate compassion (as one would expect from a professional educator).

Who was the adult and who was the kid here?

As I write this, the coach never did apologize to my son for the way she brutally excluded him, and there was no disciplinary resolution (to address her incompetence and misconduct).  Needless to say, we are moving to a new school, preferably one whose administration prioritizes the childrens’ needs above one prima donna teacher’s ego, and perhaps a school that adheres to it’s own mission statement – “to honour the individual”.

Fair_Play2012

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