Are there “politics” in sports?
But aren’t there “politics” in almost every aspect of life, too? What I mean is that anytime you have people left to make subjective opinions and appraisals you are going to inevitably have others who don’t agree with them. This may not be “fair,” but I’m not so sure that it is even possible to be fair to all the people, all the time.
In my view, there are actually two types of “politics,” and I break down my thoughts on each below:
A.) Normal Politics: This is the kind of bantering I hear from some parents who feel their kid is better than the kid starting ahead of him. This is normal, and expected, and really only shows that a difference of opinion regarding athletic abilities exists between the parent and the coach. In my mind this really isn’t even “politics” as it’s more of a case of a coach simply using his or her best judgement evaluating talent, but we’ll leave it as a form of politics for now.
B.) Unfair Politics: This type of politics occurs when a coach has clearly treated a child unfairly, and is more a question around morals and integrity than it is a case of a coach simply making a judgment call. For example, if several kids on a team were suspended from school earlier in the day for the same violation, and then in the game later that evening one of the student athletes was allowed to play while the others weren’t, this would certainly not be anywhere close to being fair. Another example of unfair politics might be a coach continuing to play a known ineligible player — again, this is a very different example from a coach who makes talent evaluations that you don’t always understand (or like).
Neither type of politics are easy for parents, but I would urge you to distinguish the differences between the two. Keep in mind that if you are upset because the coach made a different decision about your kid starting than what you would have made that’s OK, but even if he would have selected your kid then another parent would be feeling exactly how you did! In other words, coaches really can’t win in those situations.
On the other hand, when coaches blatantly abuse the trust and fairness that should be in place with the team and create new and special rules for some kids, then you may have a situation that warrants a higher degree of involvement (possibly from an Athletic Director or League Operator). The idea here is not to make the situation worse, but to protect the integrity of the program if a coach is clearly abusing the responsibilities he or she has with coaching. The good news is that the type of politics most parents complain about, ironically, has to do with judgement calls around talent and not direct and intentional decisions that treat kids unfairly.
The “politics” in sports are really no different than the politics we see in many other areas of life, including job promotions, voted award winners, and students selected to colleges. In life, it’s sometimes difficult to acquire objective, measurable criteria needed to make fair decisions, leaving us to make decisions with the information that is made available. In some cases this information is incomplete, so making “perfect” decisions is really nearly impossible when you think about it.
While sports politics are tough to deal with at times, these situations can also be great teaching tools to use with kids. Teach your child about how politics are a part of life, and that the true test is developing resiliency and coping skills to weather the tough times. When kids keep their heads up and their spirits high, they will be more ready for that next opportunity in life where they might become the benefactor of a “political” decision that goes their way!