No More Fans

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been mentioning to anyone who will listen to me that I really need to get a new blog post up.  I realized today that I’m getting close to six weeks from my last post, so it’s time to put fingers on the keyboard today!  I apologize for the delay, but I have a really good excuse.  In the last month, we’ve hosted a regional tennis tournament, a state tennis tournament, a state soccer tournament, our big in-city rivalry football game tomorrow, and I’ve spent a weekend in Indianapolis on a national planning committee (very cool experience to be a part of that).  We have three weeks before we host the state football championships, so I plan on being more productive on the blog in the meantime.

Since it’s been a while, I decided to come back out of the corner swinging away.  After one night of our tennis tournaments, I came home chuckling about the effort and persistence that some fans display in trying to duck paying for a ticket to watch a tournament.  My fiance suggested blogging about why we have to charge at the gate; her suggestion gave me the nudge to write about something I had filed away some time ago.

Would educational based athletics (e.g. high school sports) be more effective if we didn’t allow fans to attend our games?

Before you completely write off the idea, let’s get a couple things on the table:
(1) Yes, part of high school athletics is teaching kids how to perform for the public.
(2) Yes, high school athletics provides a measure of community entertainment, especially in smaller communities.
(3) Yes, we need the attendance income to supplement our budget (I’ll address this more in a little bit).

Having said that, think about the rest of the world of education.  The easiest comparison is to the classroom.  Just like how we don’t allow the public to watch our athletic practices, we also don’t allow the public into our classrooms while lessons are being taught.  However, we also don’t let the public into our classrooms on test days.  I’m aware that parents, and the public in general, aren’t clamoring to get to the door to watch a math test, but think about how the dynamic of kids testing would change if we did.  Let’s assume that most kids face some level of test anxiety already.  How much greater would that be if mom or dad was sitting against the classroom wall watching and critiquing every move?
“Use your Number 2 pencil!”
“Follow your Order of Operations!”
“That’s terrible factoring!”
Just writing that brought a smile to my face.  I’m certain that most (all?) of us – even if we were in the classroom at test time – wouldn’t even consider shouting stuff like that.  Yet, how easy is it to identify those types of comments coming from the stands on game day?

I could post a similar example from our other extra/co-curricular activities.  When’s the last time you were at a high school band concert and heard someone from the audience getting after the trombone section for being out of tune?  Or yelling at the director for cuing someone in late?  How about at a school play?  Ever heard someone from the gallery yelling at an actor who turned the wrong way to exit the stage?  Or heard a parent yelling at a kid for stumbling through some lines?  My guess is that you haven’t, yet that’s what’s heard in a gym or on a field on game day.

So let’s make the logical assumption that the added competition inherent in athletics is what causes adults to lose their minds and yell stuff that they wouldn’t normally yell.  Could we more effectively administer educational based athletics without allowing fans to the games?  For the most part, I think we could.

– We’d have a much higher retention rate of coaches, who would no longer be subjected to constant scrutiny from everybody.  A higher overall retention rate would mean that administrators would have a bigger pool of coaches from which to hire, and a bigger pool of coaching candidates would mean more highly-qualified coaches.
– We’d have a higher retention rate of officials.  See above.
– Alongside that, I believe that coaches would treat officials and their peers with more respect.  While some of their antics are based in competitive juices, many coaches put on a show for the public watching the games because coaches feel like that’s what they’re “supposed” to do.
– In 9 years as an AD, almost every single discussion/complaint that I’ve heard about playing time has been initiated by a parent.  Without anyone there to witness/track/record the amount of playing time, coaches and kids could more effectively learn and fill their roles on the team.
– Kids would have a higher level of focus on the task at hand.   Instead of worrying about what parents or public are thinking, kids could simply do their best to perform what they were taught in practice (just like test day in the classroom).
– Kids would still get all of the basic character education that competitive athletics provides: dedication, commitment, sportsmanship, patience, respect, teamwork, integrity, persistence, leadership, work ethic, self control, how to win/lose, courage, humility, responsibility, and on and on and on.
– Multiple surveys by credible researchers have stated that the least enjoyable part of youth sports for kids is the ride home.  I think that we could, in part, flip the script on the ride home.  Without viewing the contest, parents couldn’t drive the discussion.  The only side of the story would be the kids’ versions, which is exactly how it should be.

What would the negatives be?  I think some are obvious.
– Kids would lose the opportunity to perform a skill for the public.  For the kids whose strengths are in the athletic arena, this is a big deal.  (Although I again come back to the classroom.  Multiple kids’ strengths are academic, yet they don’t have public platforms for performance and seem to do just fine.)
– High school athletics provides a measure of school and community pride.  I think that we could balance this a little bit by allowing students to attend games, but overall, this would be a definite loss.
– The high school athletic department would lose a solid stream of revenue.  This varies from school to school and state to state, but there’s no doubt that a large part of our revenue comes through ticket sales.  We could balance this to some extent, though, because I think we could keep officials’ rates down if they weren’t being yelled at constantly, and some equipment needs – like uniforms – could be purchased at a much lower rate if we weren’t trying to out-dress everyone else.

I’m getting wordy now, so I’ll leave it at that.  To be fair, I’m not actually suggesting this as a course of action, just as a course of consideration.  I find a ton of value in kids learning how to perform for the public, dealing with the pressure of performance, and allowing people to enjoy their talents.  BUT, if this was a viable option right now, what am I missing?  What else would need to be considered?  Send an email or comment to the post; I want to hear your opinions!

2 Responses

  1. FletchMacFletch

    Ah, the dream of most coaches & ADs, including volunteer youth coaches – fully excluding the parents. That way, no one challenges us, no one questions us, no one fully knows what we’re doing. We’d be free, I tell you, free! But wait, we’ll still expect the parents to fund everything. Pay-for-play costs will rise to make up for the lost revenue stream. Families will have to buy the uniforms each year. And on and on. Just give us your money and leave us alone. If there is a group of “adults” that whines more than coaches and ADs, I would like to know who it is. I want to see firm examples of how many parents complain to coaches and ADs. Then, let’s compare that to how many volunteer, drive, and support the team/school/kids without complaint. I’m guessing it turns out to be the 1/99 rule. 1% complain and 99% do their job. To all high school coaches & ADs, suck it up and do your job. Learn how to firmly communicate at the beginning of the season and then stand up for what you believe. Oh, and let’s not forget that there are more crappy coaches than stellar ones.

    1. highschoolsportsstuff

      I disagree with your first sentence. Our attempt isn’t to fully exclude the parents; our attempt is to have parents working with us for the benefit of our programs. If you check out the five-part post I wrote last summer about sports parenting, you’ll see that while I have pretty strict communication guidelines in our department, I also empathize with the position of parents and encourage them to communicate with us regarding the growth of their kids.
      I could show you the stats that would pretty much agree with your ascertain; it’s a small portion of parents who complain. It’s also a small portion of parents/fans who are obnoxious at games, but isn’t that the small portion that makes it miserable for everyone else? Would clearing out a gym fix that problem? Nope, and I wasn’t honestly suggesting that as a solution.
      I don’t believe that I have more crappy coaches than good ones in my district. I think I have an excellent group of coaches who prioritize educational based athletics and balance that with competitive opportunities; I try to hire them that way on purpose.
      Thanks for checking out some of the posts on the blog. I appreciate the feedback.

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