If you would like to send a letter to Nina Van Erk, the Executive Director of NYSPHSAA, we have a sample letter that might be helpful or feel free to create your own.
To: Ms. Nina Van Erk, Executive Director
Re: Every Player, Every Game
Dear Ms. Van Erk,
We are writing to you as concerned team parents and supporters of school sports in hopes of alerting you to and asking for your help in solving some problems common in high school sports. One affects many high school athletes directly, namely, getting virtually no playing time in their varsity or junior varsity sport. The other is an attempt to ensure that the coaches and their respective staffs, whom you oversee, are familiar with, accept and practice the Code of Ethics, as stated in the NYSPHSAA manual.
Students try out to become players on their respective teams because they love playing their sport and wish to contribute to their team. Making the team indicates that they already possess most of the required skills necessary to be an active participant in their sport. Granted, there are different levels of players on any given team, and everyone realizes that it would be impossible for each player to play the entire game every time. However, even if someone is not the strongest team member, they should still be given an opportunity to play in each game, for at least a small percentage of the time. For a true player, just being on a team is not enough. True players want to play the game, win or lose. But all too often, players have a coach or coaching staff that denies them playing time, rarely or never giving them an opportunity to play.
We believe that by being accepted onto a high school sports team, every player should be guaranteed a minimum amount of playing time in every game, with obvious exclusions for illness, injury or disciplinary action. Just exactly what that number should be is up for discussion, but we feel that 10% of the each sport’s total game time would be a good starting point. For example, in basketball, each player could expect to play in every game for a minimum of about 3 minutes. For high school football, that would translate to roughly 4-5 minutes per player per game. In baseball, each player would see about one inning of playing time, and so on. Giving every player a chance to participate can boost the players’ confidence and self-esteem, teach leadership skills and other valuable life skills. Having a positive and supportive coach, as well concrete and realistic expectations about one’s playing time, will almost always lead to better quality performance and a more cohesive team…a win-win situation. Please refer to No. 10 in the NYSPHSAA Code of Ethics: “…Remember that an athletic contest is only a game….not a matter of life or death for player, coach, school, official, fan, community, state or nation”.
Some coaches might feel that recording each player’s time would become problematic. Each sport and each team tracks stats for everything, from points scored to turnovers committed, so keeping track of minutes (time) played should not be a burden. Each team would track players in the game and then compare books to verify that each player got into the game for the minimum amount of time required. Any coach that does not get his/her players into every game would then be subject to progressive disciplinary actions (e.g., first time a warning, second time cannot coach for one full game, third time cannot coach for three full games). This will reinforce that coaches pay attention to all the players they select for a team. This change, when instituted, could mean that coaches would need to become more selective in their choice of athletes when making up their roster. But we feel that it would be better for a player to know up front that they have not made the team and suffer one disappointment, rather than have them show up for each game hoping for some playing time and be repeatedly disappointed.
We are not trying to single out a specific sport or coach, because this problem exists in virtually every high school sport. The conversations that go on behind the scenes at the games and social gatherings indicate a high disapproval rating among players and team parents regarding how much time individual players are given. Yet, there are few complaints voiced, because both the players and their parents are afraid of the repercussions of such actions. They fear that their child’s playing time and/or the coach’s attitude toward their student athlete will be negatively affected. And this leads into the second issue of having coaches abide by the NYSPHSAA Code of Ethics. There is no fair grievance process for addressing concerns about a coach’s conduct or decisions. Unfortunately, in some cases, where coaching has become too powerful, there is no accountability to the players and the team parents, and no clear policy for identifying and addressing problems or ways of coming to a fair resolution. A stated policy, by which coaches, players and team parents must abide, would greatly improve communication, cooperation and satisfaction.
We realize the huge commitment made on the part of the coaches, all for minimal pay and recognition. Their dedication to expanding students’ skills, maturity, athleticism, leadership and responsibility is commendable. We also acknowledge that the vast majority of coaches perform their coaching duties in a professional and ethical manner, teaching their athletes valuable life skills. But, when players and parents are afraid to approach their coaches because of negative repercussions, the system is broken. When coaches play favorites, to the exclusion of other perfectly capable players, the unfairness breaks down the players’ spirit. When coaches apply inconsistent rules regarding rewards for good performance or negative reinforcements for poor performance, the result is divisiveness for the team. When coaches allow themselves to be influenced by certain parents, affecting every team member’s playing-time, the players lose respect for the coaches. When coaches give their players hope about increased playing-time, and then do not follow through with their word, honor and respect for the coaches are lost. It is divisive for a team to have individual players that receive unearned and unequal amounts of playing time. Behavior such as this contradicts both the first and ninth listings of the Code of Ethics: “ to emphasize the proper ideals of sportsmanship, ethical conduct and fair play” and “to recognize that the purpose of athletics is to promote the physical, mental, moral, and emotional well-being of the individual players”.
A coach or coaching staff can make or break a player. It is their opinion that determines how much playing time a team member gets. Often, players try out for high school level sports after having come through other programs, such as an AAU league or a travel program, where they had a proven record, one that would make a positive contribution to the high school team. If they then are selected for the high school team and are not given the opportunity to play, because of the coaches’ biased opinion, the players’ self-esteem and confidence are shattered. This begs the question: Are coaches teaching all of our student athletes to become better team players, or are they only coaching a select few? Are the players there to secure a legacy for the coaches? Has the glory of a school’s winning record taken precedence over the ideals of hard work, overcoming obstacles, and learning leadership and life skills? Do they even realize that this type of attitude is a complete contradiction of the Code of Ethics, which should guide them in their decision-making?
A possible solution for the coaches who have broken the Code of Ethics would be to have them attend awareness or sensitivity-training programs to educate them in teen psychology and what the consequences of their coaching decisions may have on each of their players. Coaches may not realize how much power and influence they wield, how it affects the players’ performance in the game, but also in their life skills. This power can enhance or destroy a player’s performance in their sport, affect their future prospects for college, and shape their self-esteem and confidence. Less playing time signals that the player is not good enough. Giving a favored player too much playing time without having earned it, gives the privileged player an unjustified sense of entitlement. Coaches need to be reminded of the difficult, emotional stage of life that our players are going through. Teenage players need to make decisions on everything from peer pressure, selecting colleges, sports, social relationships, and even drugs and sex. Sports has always been promoted as the safe haven that helps keep kids on the right track. But if a player is discouraged from their chosen sport because of a coach’s poor influence, then they may have forced that player to look at potentially dangerous alternative choices.
We are appealing to you, as the Executive Director of NYSPHSAA, to take up this challenge and implement an “Every Player, Every Game” program in New York State, to promote fairness in coaching and to give all players the right to participate in their sport without being coerced by other players or coaches. We stand ready to do whatever it takes to make this necessary change. We need an advocate who believes that a well-run sports program with transparent, systematic, codified and enforced policies can profoundly change the lives of everyone who participates. The players are ready to play, but they need an advocate that will help them meet their goals. We strongly urge you to become a leader in implementing such a plan in our state. Please consider becoming the example for other states to follow. Now is the time to show our student athletes that even though problems have existed in the past, a true leader can face difficult challenges and make improvements for the benefit of all.