Competitive Levels

There’s a great quote from the football movie “The Program.”  The head coach is in the office of some administrator arguing about the importance of football to the university.  At one point, he drops the line, “When was the last time 80,000 people showed up to watch a kid do a [chemistry] experiment?”  While I don’t agree with the sentiment that athletics trumps academics in the school setting, the public is much more vocal about the athletic performance of students as opposed to their overall academic performance.

Last week, I wrote about our three program goals.  Although those are what I feel are really important in educational based athletics, I also realize that those goals seem Utopian.  I can honestly say that I’ve never taken a phone call or email from John Q. Public because our kids don’t appear to be having enough fun.  The reality of our department is that all of the stakeholders – athletes, coaches, parents, public – still expect us to be able to compete with the intent to win games.  We can’t simply run an intramural program based solely in learning the sport and having fun; we have to tailor our programs toward improving our athletes to give our teams the best opportunity to win.  For this reason, we offer up to four levels of competitive teams in our district.

1.  Varsity – Our coaches select the kids that they believe will give the team the best opportunity to compete on any given night.  It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean the team consists of the most talented kids.  Sometimes, an athlete blessed with talent has difficulty fitting a specific role on the team and needs more time to grow within a team concept.  I often get calls/emails from parents who are upset because “my kid” is a better player than “so and so” and should be on the varsity.  I won’t engage parents in this conversation (there will be a future post regarding our communication guidelines), but if I did, I would point out that several different characteristics lead to a team being successful.

2.  Junior Varsity – We use our Junior Varsity levels as an opportunity to prepare athletes for varsity next year.  It can be difficult to predict this roster considering the various rates of growth and maturity among high school kids, but put as simply as possible, this level consists of our next most competitive group of athletes.  It’s important to note that because we use our JV to prepare future Varsity athletes, we usually will not roster a senior at this level (unless participation or some other unique circumstance dictates it).  As an AD, this is the level that causes me the highest level of stress.  In essence, we’re asking our head coaches to guess at who might be the best suited for varsity in the next season.  It’s a task that’s nearly impossible, and we’ll never get it 100% right.

3.  Freshmen – A majority of our 9th graders play at this level (in the sports that have enough numbers for a freshmen team).  Freshmen teams are an excellent way for 9th graders to learn how to practice and compete in a high school setting, e.g., a longer season, higher level skill learning, more travel.  Because of those factors, we often see our biggest drop in participation between the students’ 9th and 10th grade years as they start to learn the level of dedication it takes to be successful at high school athletics.

4. C Squad – This level is a go-between for sophomores and juniors who aren’t quite ready to compete on the JV yet.  From time to time, we may also have a freshmen on a C team in order to fill a roster or compete against older kids.  When we have enough participants, a C team allows us an opportunity to keep more kids active in our sports.  When we have another team for sophomores and juniors to compete, we’re able to keep more freshmen in our programs, as well.  The C squad is generally referred to as the Sophomore Team; rightfully so as this team typically consists of mostly sophomores.

The harsh truth of these four levels is that we can only house so many students in each level while still providing meaningful instruction and competition.  I have yet to meet a coach who enjoys cutting kids from their programs, but coaches understand that it’s a necessary evil in remaining competitive.  At the lower levels, particularly Freshmen and C Squad, keeping too many kids on the roster spreads practice reps and game minutes too thinly among our athletes, hindering their competitive growth.  At the upper levels, we can only roster a finite number of varsity athletes, and we need the JV team to build our future varsity athletes.  As much as we’d like to find a place for all students who wish to compete, we simply can’t.  Even if we chose to run multiple freshmen and C teams solely as participation opportunities for kids, we would still run into two major problems: (1) Funding, and (2) finding enough other teams to play.

In the overall picture of our athletic department, we use these guidelines to select our teams.  Once the teams are selected, we attempt to meet our three department goals with those students.  I can’t stress enough that we’ll never have 100% accuracy within this system, but I trust the judgement of our coaches in selecting their rosters.

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