Year-round team practices…what were they thinking?!


This should have been a no-brainer.  Instead, the members of the AIA legislative council apparently left their brains at the door.

That’s perhaps the best explanation for what happened last Friday when the council met and voted 39-5 to allow high school coaches to practice year-round with their teams.  The measure goes into effect July 1.

Sometimes, decisions that are made for the right reasons are later found to have unintended consequences.  I’m afraid that’s what lies ahead after the stunning decision by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the state’s governing body for prep sports.

I don’t have all the answers, but I feel I have a really good perspective on the issue.  I’ve been a high school varsity coach, a club coach for many years, and I have three athletically-gifted children that were multi-sport athletes in high school.

Based on that experience, it’s easy to see the problems that are coming down the road.

Here are the most obvious:

  1.  Athletes who want to participate in another sport during the school year will feel the pressure, whether real or implied, to attend practices and activities for his/her primary sport, offering no option for enjoying a multi-sport experience during the high school years.  Sure, the coaches who voted for this measure will insist that won’t happen, but common sense says it will happen all too often.   They will also insist they will work with the other coaches at their school to ‘share’ the athletes.  But, while many may operate in a spirit of cooperation, there will be too many coaches that value the success of their program more than the idea of sharing the wealth.
  2. Continuing along that line of thought, it will be the smaller schools that suffer the most under the new rules. Without a large pool of talent, they depend on athletes playing more than one sport.  These small schools have to rely on the multi-sport athletes to be able to participate in a full slate of sports.
  3. Kids need a break from their coaches, and vice versa.  Many athletes at this stage use a second sport, or a season of club ball, as a way of de-compressing from the stress they feel when competing in their major sport. I know how important this can be from life as a father of athletes.  A different coach with a different approach can be beneficial to the athlete’s overall development.  I can still remember vividly how eager many of my club basketball players were to get a change of scenery, and spend some time with a new coach and new teammates.  Not all players are fortunate enough to have a good high school coach they enjoy playing for; too often that’s not the case – again, from personal experience.  A change for a few months can keep them looking forward to the next school season.

What’s even harder to understand is why the measure was passed so overwhelmingly.  You would think something as controversial as this, with far-ranging effects that will be felt for years, would be more evenly divided.

Unfortunately, the answer to that question is pretty obvious.  It has two parts:

The first involves the territorial nature of most coaches.  They want to protect their programs and, in keeping with that objective, they have always felt threatened by club sports.  They don’t want someone else working with their players, perhaps teaching them things that contradict what is being taught in the school program.

The other part of the blame has to be laid at the feet of the legislative council.  They’re taking the easy way out.  It’s no secret that many coaches try to work around the rules that have been in place, doing it with open gyms, classes held for a specific sport, clinics, fall baseball, and other creative methods to get extra time with their athletes.  By passing the new measure, the AIA won’t have to spend the time and resources it has been using to police out-of-season activities.  Those headaches all go away with the new rules.

We’ll have to see where this new road takes us, give it a few years to incubate in the lab.  In the end, there may be little fall-out.  The new approach to school practice won’t necessarily be the option the kids will take.  They know the club programs and camps will still provide the exposure to college recruiters that playing on the school team can’t provide.

But the opportunity to create big problems going forward is still there.  As AIA Executive Director Harold Slemmer, who is not in favor of the measure, said in an interview with The Arizona Republic: “Personally, I think we’re going down a path we might regret in a few years.”

Sometimes, adults make decisions that are in their best interest rather than the best interest of the student-athletes.

This, I’m afraid, is one of those times.