Meritocracy Is Killing High School Sports


In some cases, High school is the last time student athletes will ever play their favorite sport again. Years of work put in to grow skill to become the best they can be so they can play possibly their final 4 years of softball, baseball, basketball, and/or any other sport their school offers. For some dedicated student athletes, they will only see the field (or court) a few times due to poor coaching at their school. Coaches with poor philosophies are inhibiting athletes that have true skill and talent. Coaches should play athletes who have earned their position through hard work and effort, not just because the coach likes the athlete’s parents or because they are an upperclassmen. A coach should make decisions with the intention to win, not to please parents or players.

Having gone through all 12 years of school in a small town --especially as a student athlete in multiple sports-- there has been an existing dilemma since the start of my high school athletic career. Derek Thompson wrote to The Atlantic about the struggle between high school athletics and politics. Thompson stated in “Meritocracy Is Killing High School Sports” that the number of male and female participation in sports has fallen for the fifth straight year. This is due to certain last names have passed through schools just like Southern Boone, for some reason have become a coach's favorite; even though there are other players just as good, if not better, than the politically backed player or upperclassman, their playing time is cut due to poor relationship boundaries between the coach and student-athlete. “Coach educators err when they assume that a general discussion of being a good role model or being professional will produce positive behaviors in students. Likewise, more specificity is needed when presenting coach and player behaviors such as creating boundaries, treating athletes as student-athletes, and eliminating negativity toward players. Equally, a careful determination of fairness is needed.” (Stewart 2014) Boundaries between the coach and player are a necessity for extracurriculars in a High School setting. Coaches can have a favorite athlete on the team they are conditioning but it should not affect their decision making. If an athlete is committed enough and simply just better than “the coaches favorite”, then they deserve to play. Windee M. Weiss shines light on the topic of commitment difference between high school and college level athletes; In contrast to the college level, high school athletes reported significantly greater perceptions of parental social constraints and mastery-motivational climate. This reveals that those who truly strive for college will go above and beyond because “they” want to, not because their parents or friends want them to.

Likewise, the coach’s relationship with the athletes family should also be professional. If it’s not, it creates an unbalance of what is considered fair. This brings up what most parents get upset about. “Stewart (2006) found that players defined favoritism and fairness as it related to former coaches in many ways. Similar information would be needed from sport administrators as to how they defined the concept. Does fairness mean everyone plays an equal amount, or does it mean the best players earn more playing time?” (Stewart 2014, Failure to Rehire). This is the main conflicted coaches face when parents or athletes get upset when they don’t get to play. How I view the matter is that the level of the sport is highly important to think about. Before high school I believe everyone should get a chance to play because you are still figuring the game out. But around the age of Middle school and High school there is a transition from letting everyone get playing time, to only a select few. Some people may not agree with this, but High school athletics is what defines a lot of schools. No one wants to play on a losing team or represent one. Sometimes school teams don’t have enough participants to have a “winning team”, but if there are enough players who are skilled there should be no excuse why they should not be played for the interest of the team and playing athletes who have worked to get that starting position. 

This does not mean those who are benched don’t work as hard as those who start; to put it bluntly it just means that the player who starts is just better at that sport. The coach should treat every player the same no matter the skill level, “Finally, coaches should address the need for relatedness by accepting, caring for, and valuing players as people and not just performers.” (Stewart). Athletes are still people, especially in high school, the young participants still need a figure that they can feel safe around and if favoritism is used to divide the players, then it will cause confusion between the athlete-coach relationship. The player on the bench needs to be mad aware that they can speak with the coach on why they aren’t starting because they may be better at certain things than the other athlete but the coach may think they haven’t surpassed the starter and as a coach it is their job to determine that.”Understandably, in athletic programs where winning will lead to postseason play, better players will receive more playing time. Likewise, in recreational and development levels, where fun and/or the improvement of all players' skills are prioritized over a win--loss record, the determination of playing time is different.”  It is not the athletes fault if their skill is higher than the other player who is benched, it just makes the point that if the second stringed player really wants to play, they will have to put in the extra effort to get better. Rachel Simmons states in “Tell Kids the Truth: Hard Work Doesn’t Always Pay Off”  that “it is not a lack of motivation and perseverance that is the big problem.” Some athletes have the motivation to work on their game and skill 

There is no easy solution because there will always be players and families who think that everyone should get a chance to play, not just those select few. The only way to please both sides is to play those who aren’t as rounded at that particular sport. Those second or third string players should go in when games are “already won or already lost”. That means if the score is 20-5, whether who you’re supporting is the winning or losing team, the benched athletes should be put in so they get their chance. Athletes should be at that level to understand not everyone will get to play as much as they want.  “In any program that defines success by winning, and includes cutting or demoting less skilled players to lower levels (e.g., from varsity to junior varsity), the coach must determine objective criteria for starting a contest or remaining at the higher level and communicate this to players and their parents before the season starts.” That is why there must be player-coach boundaries. Your coach is not your friend, they are an authority figure and a teacher. No outside factors or underlying reasons unrelated to the players skill and ability should have an affect on the decision making. 

Not everyone's opinion will be the same on who should play at the high school level but there should be no excuse to not play a hardworking - good athlete. Coaches need to communicate with their players so they are aware that not everyone will get to participate as much as they would like; this will set the player-coach relationship and unequal advantages some players may have just because they know the coach more personally. The truth of the matter is that not everyone will get to play past high school, NBC news and CBS news both state that only 6-7% of athletes go on to play in college after high school. Those who go above and beyond have earned it, no parent, athlete or coach should take that opportunity away just because they want to play without having to work for it just as hard as they have because the athlete that doesn’t start had the same opportunity to go above and beyond, they just chose no to take it. 

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