Saturday January 16 2021
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All-Star Teams: Understanding The Division of Talent

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As spring approached and kids took to the ball fields once again, Ian Mitchell, 12, was focused, prepared and ready to play. He had been thinking about this day since the end of last season when he narrowly missed being selected to the all star team.

“Ian was on the bubble; he was the fourth kid on the list and three made it,” says his father, Brian Mitchell, who helps to coach Ian’s Lenape Valley baseball team. “And while Ian was disappointed, I told him to let that be his motivator to make it next year.”

That’s a good approach for parents to take, according to Dr. Aimee Kimball, Director of Mental Training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine. “Parents can use this experience as a valuable life lesson. Kids can learn that sometimes others are just better than they are and that’s okay. Parents can talk to their kids by saying, ‘I’m glad you’re competitive and want to get better. This is what you can work on for next season.’ Parents should keep the athlete focused on what he is doing well, not the negative.”

Kimball points out another lesson that can be learned from this experience.

“Sometimes your best isn’t always recognized or seen by others,” Kimball says. “Kids can still feel good about what they do without other people recognizing it – that’s just the icing on the cake,” Kimball continues. “You can point out to your child that later in life, in school or at his job, people aren’t always going to be there to tell him that he did a good job.”  

Most experts agree, however, that kids under the age of 13 or 14 are too young for all star teams.  

Tim McCoy, Director of Member Services, PA West Soccer says, “There’s no need for all star teams until kids reach high school level. The term “all star” implies athletes are of a certain caliber, and younger athletes are still changing. Their bodies are changing. You can set kids up for huge disappointments if they are selected one year; then maybe they grow and now they are clumsy because they haven’t really grown into their body, and the next year they are not selected for the all star team. It’s important to make sure kids are physically and mentally ready for the challenge and have the skill.

“Not making an all star team can signal to kids they are not very good and make them give up on a sport too soon.”  

Joe Luxbacher, Pitt’s head soccer coach, agrees. “Kids between the ages of seven and ten are too young to be separated into all star teams. Kids at that age are usually better because they’re more physically mature and/or aggressive – not because of skill. There’s no benefit to all star teams at this point.

“The focus for seven to ten year olds should be on developing skills. At this age everyone should be playing and practicing and touching the ball, doing fun drills to learn skills through repetitions. When kids reach the ages of 13 and 14, then you can separate them according to ability.”

Luxbacher continues, “Kids who are not picked for all star teams tend to quit… who’s good at age nine is not necessarily who’s good at 15. This eliminates kids too early.”

Of course, some youth leagues differ on their approach to sports.

Says Dr. Kimball, “The organizers of the league need to recognize the purpose of the league. If it’s for fun, development and participation, then all star teams are not appropriate. If a child is in a more competitive league, then it’s okay for kids to learn that sometimes there are winners and losers.”

John Walsh, League President of Lenape Valley Girls Softball, has this to say.

“Our league does not have all star teams. As a recreational league, we struggle with the idea of NOT letting kids play. It’s a recreational league and the atmosphere is about fun and learning. It is hard because some kids want to play more competitively, so the struggle is wondering if our league should be more competitive to help kids make their school teams.

Lenape Valley does have more competitive select teams that girls can try out for, but they hold fast to their decision not to select an “all star” team as part of the intramural league.

“We could recognize talent, but we’re reluctant because it is a recreational league. We try to define ‘winning’ in different terms, like developing different skill sets. I see the value of all star teams, but we want the kids to excel and learn. It just doesn’t serve a purpose in our league.”

If your child does participate in a league that recognizes all stars, then there are ways they can benefit whether they make the team or not. Teaching kids about sportsmanship can be a big lesson. John Greene, Executive Director Big 33 Scholarship Foundation/Football Classic says, “The focus of all star teams at the youth level should be more about what kids learn from the experience as a whole… the chance to learn new skills and meet other kids.”

Greene goes on to say, “When selecting all star teams, coaches should look beyond just how well the athlete played. They should look for the kids who were at every practice and gave it their all.”

Greene also thinks a good idea would be for the kids who did participate to come back and share with their team the ideas, skills and drills that they learned from their experience in the game.

Dr. Kimball agrees that a child’s selection to an all star team can be a good lesson in sportsmanship.

“In this case,” says Kimball, “it’s okay to use professional athletes as an example. Point out how pros like Ben Roethlisberger thanked his teammates when he made the Pro Bowl.   

“If your child makes the team, teach her to be gracious to her teammates. Have your child acknowledge the other people on her team that helped her make it. Let her teammates know how they helped – that it’s still a team effort.”

This lesson in sportsmanship can follow kids as they progress in their athletic endeavors.

“When I think about my career playing sports, what really stands out to me about making all star teams is the chance I had to meet and play with different kids from different parts of town,” say Greene. “I formed lifelong friendships and have enjoyed following the careers of the kids I played with. That’s been very rewarding.”

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