Letter to the Editor: School athletics miss their goal

Team sport organization needs reevaluation


Aparajita Srivastava, Community Member

The Middle School’s (MS) Athletic Department requires all students from grades six through eight to participate in the athletic program three seasons per year. A wide range of activities is offered to the students to choose from and try out for. The first week of a season often constitutes tryouts for the sport and the placement on the A or B team. Even the B Team makes cuts in some sports, and there is not equal playing time for all players. The A and B teams are poisoning the atmosphere of athletics at the MS.

I propose three alterations to the MS athletic program to improve the student experience. The first change is to have no cuts from any team sports. Having an athletic requirement and then cutting students from teams is counterproductive. According to the school’s athletic mission and philosophy, the coaches and athletic directors’ “number one responsibility is to create and promote a safe, healthy, non-threatening and respectful environment.”

To 11- to 14-year-olds, entering tryouts for a completely new sport is not non-threatening, and the stressful process of being cut and finding a new sport is not healthy. The second alteration I am calling for is equal playing time on an individual level. There is no reason why any student should play more than any other student throughout a season. Individuals with already established skills in sports do not need to be prioritized. If a student is new to a sport and is not playing in games, how will they improve?

Additionally, how will they feel about themselves when they realize another teammate is clearly being prioritized just to win the game? They must feel less valued than the other student and unworthy of playing. This feeling in a student for the tradeoff of a game won is not worth it. I believe coaches and educators will agree with me on this.

There are simple ways to preserve the idea of A-teams and B-teams while eliminating the unhealthy culture. The first is to replace the names A and B. These names correspond to letter grades and clearly state “better” and “worse.” Instead, using names that do not so vividly rank the teams, such as Blue and Gold would better set the tone.

The third way to improve is to increase the teams’ time together. Scrimmaging is a great way to do this by having both teams playing against each other or even with each other. Another idea is simply always having mixed levels in practice and only have the two teams divide up for games and the practice directly before a game. That way, the two teams feel more like a commuknighty. There are benefits for everyone with mixed levels. For the more experienced, it has been proven that teaching a skill enhances one’s own learning, and for those newer to the sport, learning from a peer can help both understand the sport better.

Two of these alterations should also be made at the Junior Varsity (JV) level in Upper School Athletics: no cuts and equal playing time. The counter-productivity of having a sports requirement and then cutting students is true with JV athletes, too. There are students who decide for one season to take a risk, try something new, and push themselves by trying out for a team. Perhaps they are not pro-athletes and because of this, they are cut from the team. These students now have to scramble to find another sport to do already a week into the season. To these students, the athletic program feels like an additional requirement, something they are forced to do, rather than an opportunity. I am sure this is not what educators, coaches, and athletic directors desire and intend for their students.

JV athletes should also have equal playing time in interscholastic events. Again, why should any student play more than another when the athletic department’s mission is to have a “healthy, non-threatening and respectful environment”? The absence of equal playing time gives the impression that one has to be exceptional at a sport even to play at all. This should not be true, especially at a JV level and when students are required to participate in sports to graduate.

I do not make these arguments for the varsity level of athletics because varsity sports are not required.