UVRA Adjusts Playing-Time Rules for Youth Tournament Teams

  • Mary Veracka with the ball for Thetford rec. 2018 Sarah Towne blocking MidV

  • Madison Willey with the ball Hartford, with Sarah Towne, Mid Vermont. Brooke and Autumn Powell in the background. Score 16 -28 for Hartford rec. played 01/22 at Mid Vermont School .

  • Tessa Marinello of Mascoma with the ball and Kira Gray of Mid Vermont behind her. Mascoma won the tournament 1st place, and Mid Vermont runners up! Score 30- 13 for Mascoma rec. at Richmond Middle School in Hanover N.H

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/8/2018 12:09:53 AM

Norwich — The Upper Valley Recreation Association recently modified guidelines to change language in a passage of its manual to reflect an emphasis on equitable playing time during both the regular season and in tournaments.

The UVRA, which has 21 municipal and nonprofit members and sets standards primarily for K-6 youth sports, addressed the issue at a meeting in Tracy Hall on April 10.

Under “Coaches who participate in UVRA Parks and Recreation Department programs assume the following responsibilities,” on page 18 of the manual, an item previously read: “To see that every player participates in every game during the regular season. Equal participation in the program as a whole is the desired goal.”

It now reads: “To see that every player participates in every game during both the regular season and in tournament play. Fair playing time in the program as a whole is the desired goal.”

While enforcement is ultimately the duty of each member municipality, each is expected to follow UVRA guidelines.

The topic of playing time arose after two players on a boys fifth- and sixth-grade basketball team — including the coach’s son — were sidelined for all but less than one minute of a tournament final in December in Lyme. Family supporters of the second child confronted the coach on the spot after the game, prompting Thetford recreation director Nathan Maxwell to issue revised playing time guidelines.

Before passing the measure on April 10, UVRA members centered discussion around the differences between tournaments and regular-season play and the playing-time challenges specific to basketball, which has only five players per team on the court at once and often yields larger rosters than other sports. Thetford’s boys basketball program, for example, drew nearly 30 athletes, split into two teams with rosters in the mid-teens.

“Soccer, baseball and softball has 9-11 kids (on the field at once),” said Maxwell at the meeting. “When you have 14 kids on a basketball team, five on the court at a time and six-minute periods, that’s tough.”

Despite that challenge, most at the UVRA meeting agreed that coaches generally strive to rotate players equally during regular-season games. The larger debate came in regard to tournaments, which sometimes draw non-recreation league programs such as AAU teams or all-star teams from communities with more than one team.

“It’s a different animal when there’s a trophy involved,” said Woodstock Recreation assistant director Joel Carey. “A lot of teams are trying to win.”

Maxwell, previously a longtime youth basketball coach, said he has participated in many tournaments where some teams leave their two or three most-skilled athletes on the floor for the entire or nearly the entire game.

“You’ve just got to take the high road,” said Lyme recreation director Steve Small. “If you’re in the tournament as a town team, the same standards should apply (in tournaments as during regular-season games).”

Windsor recreation assistant James Aldrich has a similar approach. “Play your kids; it’s that simple,” he said. “I tell my players, ‘There’s only one winner of the tournament. Sometimes you’re the top dog, and sometimes you’re not.’ ”

Another ongoing issue concerning playing time is whether players who miss practices, appear noncommittal or misbehave at practice should receive the same playing-time priorities as those who demonstrate optimal commitment and effort.

Maxwell’s basketball playing-time guidelines from last winter, for example, note that players may be docked game action as a result of practice absences that aren’t related to illness or family emergencies.

Hartford Recreation director Scott Hausler pointed out that sometimes, even absences unrelated to illnesses or family emergencies shouldn’t necessarily be considered unexcused.

“We often forget that it isn’t the fault of the child missing the practice; it falls directly on the parent or guardian,” Hausler wrote in an email. “Communication with the parent often helps resolve this concern, but we cannot punish or bench a child in a K-6 recreation-level program because they were not brought to practice.”

Sara Ecker, chairman of Thetford’s recreation advisory council, noted that, in her experience, a child athlete who may appear unengaged at practice may actually be putting forth more effort than it seems.

“Some kids might really feel as though they are putting in their absolute best and, for some kids, that looks very different than for others,” Ecker wrote. “If kids are showing up, they should play.”

As for behavioral issues, Ecker feels parents and coaches should address those matters as quickly as possible.

“This needs to be dealt with immediately and not an excuse to come back to only once a parent complains about their kid’s lack of playing time,” Ecker wrote. “Coaches need to communicate with parents.”

Hausler feels disciplinary behavior during a practice or game should be addressed and noted that every program has team rules regarding behavior and conduct.

“But it has to be reinforced in a positive way for improvement to occur,” Hausler said.

That’s not always easy for youth-level coaches, many of them volunteers and operating without an assistant.

“The recreation level of sports does not have the resources available to help volunteer coaches and players deal and engage with many mental health or social challenges that affect many young players,” said Hausler. “This is an area we can all improve on.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225. 

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