The Problems with Favoritism in Youth Sports Athletes

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Dealing With Favoritism in Youth Sports

Sports parent Michael Sands is unhappy with what he calls favoritism at Beverly Hills High, where his son plays football.

The coaches are all volunteers, but on weekends, they coach certain kids—for a fee. This puts the young athletes who get extra coaching on weekends on a different playing field than those who don’t get the extra coaching, he says. They’re more likely to be favored by the coaches.

This type of scenario is common in youth sports. Sometimes, certain young athletes are invited to take part in summer sports camps, and they are more likely to get picked to play on their school teams. Of course, this is very hard on the kids who aren’t invited. It hurts their confidence.

But that’s not the only scenario that can hurt kids’ confidence. Certain young athletes are favored by their coaches even if there is no outside coaching. The coaches may like these kids’ attitude, or physical prowess, or may be influenced by what other adults say about these kids.

If you feel your athlete’s confidence is suffering because of these kinds of favoritism, there are a number of things you can do.

First of all, you can talk to the coach. But you have to be very careful about how you approach him or her.

Find a time when the coach is free and not distracted. Avoid talking to a coach right after a game. Be polite.

Don’t accuse the coach of favoritism or put the coach on the defensive. You might simply ask what you can do to ensure your child improves enough to get more playing time, or to make the team.

It’s also really important for your young athletes to learn how to cope with the reality of favoritism. Your athletes need to learn how to stop making comparisons with other kids—even if the coach favors these other kids.

Instead of focusing on the child favored by the coach, your athletes need to focus on themselves. They should identify their strengths, and concentrate on them.

What’s more, your athletes should not assume people are judging them, analyzing them, or talking about them.

You athletes should concentrate on themselves and improving their skills. In addition, kids should not try to play or perform like the favored athletes. They need to be themselves and take advantage of their strengths.

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18 thoughts on “The Problems with Favoritism in Youth Sports Athletes”

  1. My son has played select sports since he was 9. Why is it that there are some players the coaches favor because of daddy’s last name? Every team we have participated in seems to have the same recurring theme, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Bottom line, what I have learned, as a parent, is that your son may be the most talented, the fastest and earned his position, only to have a coach crush his efforts by giving, and I mean giving, the starting position/playing time to a less deserving player simply because of who the parents are.

    Kids get to an age when they begin to question and understand the “adult political game”. I’m not going to lie to my son when he asks “Why is … starting in my position when I’ve completed more passes, carried more yards and run faster?” Now at 13, he understands right from wrong and hard work makes a person better. We are trying to teach him that he must earn respect and reward, that it is not something that is just given away, although these coaches keep proving us wrong.

    I really don’t want to sound bitter, because I love watching my son play but every single coach has lied to us or went back on their word only to self-satisfy relationships with those who may benefit his agenda. It’s really sad and has only taught my son to cautiously trust his coaches.

  2. Favoritism is a big issue with my daughter’s high school tennis team. Unfortunately, the coach year after year chooses the athletes for the varsity team based on their parents. If the parent helps during practice then special consideration is given to that athlete. Some of these athletes have horrible attitudes and don’t even want to be on the team, but are only there because of their parents. It’s sad when my daughter does everything the coach asks, has a good attitude and then is passed over for another athlete. It’s very hard to explain why this happens. It’s a definite blow to her confidence. My answer is to not complain to the coach (yet – I would like to have some conversation with him about why she’s been passed over), but become more active in the parent side. School athletic meetings, practices, etc. This is a hard lesson for my daughter, but does happen in the outside world quite a bit.

  3. My Son played basketball from age 8, being tall he was selected to play as a Center by his coaches and he has been always a starter at the Middle school & High school. My son played for travel teams and all big academy’s and spent most of his time playing basketball, as this sport is his passion, We as a parent always supported him. He was well liked by most parents and coaches because of his sharp basketball skills and always considered the best on the team.

    Every parent’s dream is to see their son’s & daughter get successful in their goals. Since my son was good in basketball he was selected on the Varsity team while he was a junior but a setback happen to him when he hurt his neck after a month into the season and was advised by the Doctors to hold on for this season. My son came back on the varsity team in senior years, but he was put to play on the junior Varsity, inspite of having height of 6.6 and having tremendous skills in the basketball., and to add insult to injury , when Varsity poster was published, he was put right behind the juniors and sophomores in the Varsity poster> Its very sad to see this kid a lot of time on this sport and work very hard , he didn’t get any respect. As a parents we are very heart broken, any advise?

  4. It’s very uncomfortable to watch when your child, being the most talented, and hearing this reiterated by hundreds on parents, officials, college coaches and school staff is made to stand by quarter after quarter because the under-classman with the favored last name is playing the starting spot. Whatever you do, don’t send your child to a private school and expect to play unless they have the household last name. This has to stop. I’m just figuring out how to do it. The stats and the videos don’t lie, but coaches do.

  5. I have a hard time agreeing with this article as it seems to explain how to lessen favoritism or attempt to lessen the psychological damage that is caused by favoritism rather than stamping it out at it’s roots. Every one wants to win But there is no I in Team or sports for that matter. Why are there no rules put in place at the high school level to guarantee equal playing time for every team member? how does someone improve by warming a bench? If players are not good enough to play why were they allowed on the team in the first place. Wouldn’t it be more humane to deny acceptance initially rather than forcing them to warm a bench most of the time and not allowing them on the field or court during championships. and if not, then exactly how many times is sufficient during a season to tell a child how they fall short of the mark for whatever reason? Favoritism is ugly and in my opinion is a form of organized, accepted bulling. No child should ever experience it. Favoritism should and can be easily stopped but there does not seem to be a will to do that. In my opinion team spirit is every bit as important as skill but what team spirit can exist in a team that practices favoritism? very few children Will ever become pro or semi pro so why do we have sports if not to teach teamwork? Team work teaches us that we win or lose as a team and that sometimes we have to sacrifice ourselves for the team. My final question is this? What does favoritism teach our kids?

    While kids need to learn that for the win they may have to sacrifice themselves for the team they must also learn that the team may need to sacrifice the win to be fair. if it is fair win or lose if you feel good about it then it is a Victory to all but those who support favoritism.

  6. I share the sentiment of many of you who posted, and have experience many of the same things you are talking about. Our daughter will soon finish her high school career and has learned more life lessons about favoritism, bullying, disparity, gossip, motives and nepotism in the basketball gym than anywhere else in her life. I am not sure that I can say that keeping her in team sports at her school was a good move. I don’t mean to imply that all coaches exhibit those attitudes, but it does seem more prevalent as kids get older. High school sports have very little to do with creating self improvement, esteem or motivation. It’s a different world from what it was when we played 20 or 30 years ago, and the remnants of what is left is very disappointing. At a recent parent meeting, the coach said “we don’t play potential”. Problem is, he doesn’t encourage it either. With that said, I still consider my highschool coaches among my favorite people in the world – and I wished my kid had that feeling.

  7. Momma Anderson,
    Thanks for sharing your story. I do hope that your story is more of an exception than the rule. We want kids to reap the many benefits of participating in youth sports. As you say, the coaches are critical, and we want all young athletes to remember their coaches the way you remember yours.


  8. Favoritism exists at all levels of our society, from the lowest level you can think of up to the president choosing cabinet members. That is one reason incompetence rears its ugly head. Why you ask yourself sometimes: how did that guy get there? He must have connections. And the children being favored? They will carry on the tradition because they have seen it work. So if you are a victim of favoritism, maybe you don’t even know it, then produce performance grades that can not be denied. And good luck with that.

  9. My son has been playing football since he was 8yrs old. He’s currently a sophomore (6’2″, 190lbs quarterback) in high school. We have been dealing with favoritism since ‘midget’ football. We’ve sent him to camps at his request to get better and recognized. When he joined his Junior High team the head coach told him, “You are the starter. No question about it.” Two weeks into the off-season he’s was pushed back to 3rd string behind a kid the coach went out and recruited and a kid who BEGGED every week to be removed from playing quarterback. After the season my wife and I transferred our son to a private school, to push his academics and get him into a more disciplined environment. The coaches loved him and gave him a choice, play JH and start every game to learn the playbook, or split time at Junior Varsity with upper classmen. My son opted to play JH to play. He had a great year and colleges started to email and call wanted to know more. A new offensive coordinator comes in and pushes my kid aside for 2 other kids, (5’9″ 155lbs & 5’7″ 140lbs), who had big brothers that went to college for football. He asked us to move him back to public school, we went along with his request because tuition was pushing $9000. Now back at his public school, he is again delegated to 3rd string behind the same kid who never wanted to play football but was enticed by the coach because of the ‘popularity’ he’d receive. And behind another kid (5’7″ 135lbs) whom my son has openly beaten in every QB passing competition, camp and clinic since the 5th grade. We are constantly hearing parents berate our son when he gets in a game and makes one throw. Emails have been sent to the coach asking, “How does a college coach see my son as a prospect and has all the tools to play at the next level, but a high school coach feels he’s not good enough to play on the field?” We have never been given an answer on why our son is constantly pushed aside.

  10. Dan: That’s unfortunate. Favoritism is such a problem in high school athletics. You are doing everything you can to find opportunities for your son. I also think other kids/parents might be jealous of his potential in football. Objective measures and a tryout for the position would solve this issue. If you use tests, such as the NFL combine uses, then you would not see this issue.

  11. Our situation is far beyond any listed here. My son attends a junior high where the football coach is the athletic director who oversees the basketball program. Therefore if you don’t play football, you can’t get a starting position on the basketball team. Complete bogus politics. Anyone that says that these are life lessons can pound sand. You do not see minorities or individuals that are victims of discrimination go hide in a corner, because there are ethics and laws that support and protect them. I say to parents: bring down any provable injustice so other talented hard working kids do not continue to go through these corrupt athletic systems in the future. Things like this can set a negative course in young peoples lives.

  12. My son walked into baseball at the age of 12 and had a lot of catching up to do.He is a natural at what ever sport he does, is aware he is not up to speed on the game and admires the talent of the other boys.Now he is 15,he made it to the nationals at the end of his first year because he pushed himself 5 days a week to catch up so not let his team down.Unfortunatly that representation at the Nationals didn’t sit well with the parents who’s child had been playing since the age of 5.He is a pitcher,is a massive strong boy for his age and has some pace on his throw.He is not interested in what speed he does he just doesn’t want any batters to get a hit and that works.But,I bet you guys have never had a coach who insists he pitch not warmed up,or who thows him from outfield till his arm blows.Well that’s what I have to contend with all the time because he wants his son to pitch.We have lost every game his son pitches whilst my son is on the bench with an injury inflicted by the coach.When I speak up I am called a “helicopter Mom”..

  13. Can I just say what a comfort to discover somebody who really understands what they’re talking about on the web.

    You definitely realize how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    More people ought to look at this and understand this side of the story.

    I was surprised you’re not more popular because you most certainly have the gift.

  14. Favoritism does not only rear it’s ugly head in sports, but also in other activities such as band and drill team. My daughter has been in band since 6th grade. She tried out and made majorette as well as drum major in 8th. As a high school freshman she was also majorette and as a sophomore achieved officer/ line lieutenant as well as several awards and UIL first divisions. This year, her Junior year, she decided not to try out for officer in order to concentrate more on her studies but still tried out and made the line. I was watching practice one afternoon and noticed that several of the incoming freshmen (one freshman being one of the Jr High directors daughter) had been placed on front lines and in the center field position (coveted positions) while veteran line members had been placed in the back line or far corners. I observed this objectively and honestly and did not see that any of these freshmen had better ability or skill than the veteran HS majorettes. As a matter of fact, their skill levels were actually a bit behind HS level. I spoke with some other moms that I have known over the years and asked their opinions. Many agreed with me and a few were actually highly upset. During the car ride home, I asked my daughter about it. She was clearly upset, disappointed and discouraged. She felt that the position she had “earned” through all her time, sweat, tears, effort, blood (at times), bruises, hard work, money (mostly mine – and a lot of it), etc. had been all for nothing. Completely deflated. I agree with the person who wrote in their comments above that favoritism IS in fact a form of bullying. Mind you, I am a pretty easy-going and “whatever” person until I feel something is unjust or undue and weighs heavy on my conscience; Especially when it comes to my child. Only then will I normally speak up and always do so in a kind, calm, constructive manner. So, I decided to reach out to the coach and was blown off. I was also told that if other parents had an issue that we could all get together and discuss. SO… I sent an email to the moms of the girls asking/inviting them to come with me to a meeting with the coach and directors. Did any show? NO! I was out on a limb battling for those girls alone. Later, I got messages from most of my “friends” that they were all too afraid their child would suffer negative repercussions and/or be ostracized. Some said girls didn’t want them to say anything out of fear. In addition, one of my trusted comrades wanting to be unscrupulous, decided to send this email and my intent to the freshman moms where it was misinterpreted and blown WAY out of proportion. Mind, I never mentioned any girls by name and most certainly did not belittle or criticize the underclassmen in any way. I simply mentioned that I believed the field positions should be earned and not given. Common sense… Right? Apparently not. This said, I believe the lesson I learned and should know by this age is “Life is not fair”. Maybe my child can learn this earlier than I. ‘Tis sad but true.

  15. Wow where do i start? Ok….today at my sons little legue practice I was physically threatened by another mom because I stood up to the corrupt system that always played the coaches sons and their friends sons. I just moved to a small town and my son was getting no playing time since we didn’t go drinking or were hunting buddies with the coaches. Since I voiced my concerns to the youth legue Director (In 3rd grade legue they are required to play 8 plays a game), I have been called all sorts of names, physically blocked from walking on the bleachers, and tonight…..physically threatened to the point the coach had to push her away and all I could say was “I’m not losing my job over you”. Is it this way in all small towns? I spoke up form my son and three other boys who never played (although their skill level was MUCH better than some of those on the field). So frustrated and the legue is doing nothing to stop this!!!

  16. Hello Ariel. We suggest banning with the parents of the other parents that never play and voicing your concerns together. You can also talk to the coach and ask what your son needs to work on in order to receive more playing time. Unfortunately a lot of youth sports coaches have favorites, but he is still young and has time to continue to sharpen his skills. This tough situation will allow him to learn to have proactive confidence and not make comparisons to other athletes. Hopefully next season he will be on a different team where this isn’t happening.

  17. I just came from our son’s high school soccer game. He is a junior and has played soccer since age 4.5; and year round since 4th grade. He loves the game and is a good solid player, usually starting for his travel and club teams. He made the HS Varsity team in 9th grade, though he played down to JV games. 10th grade, same thing. He made the Varsity again in 11th grade, but we realize now well into the season that the Varsity coach practices extreme favoritism. We’re sure our son is on the team as a glorified practice player for 1st string to practice against. Our son is not the only one, there are seven or so kids on the team that are all good players, that rarely ever leave the bench.
    The coach favors his Brazilian players (he’s Brazilian), and the kids whose parents are in the Booster Club, manage the team, or just plain suck up to him.

    It is so demoralizing to these kids to have a crowd of students and parents watch them sit on the bench game after game after game. As a parent its heart-breaking and it is whittling away my son’s confidence.

    Why do people/coaches not to the right thing. Why aren’t more coaches trying to bring out the best in each player? Too many people are in it for themselves, or their kid. It should be about all the kids. It you make the team, there should be instances when even the weakest players can get out on the field.

    I don’t know how to explain the unfairness of the situation to my son without causing him to give up. I’m so upset.

  18. So long story short I am a coach and have a degree in coaching and have worked with athletes for over 20 years and at some point I’m going to release a youtube video on this subject mostly because I think these articles all fall short (nothing in particular about this one), but I’d like to hit on a few key points here. 1. For starters these articles whether they are clear about it or not usually come from the pre- and MIS- conception that the parents are in the wrong or place a lot of doubt on the parent. Parents are adults, generally not idiots, and can see what is going on. It’s not that hard to see when a favorite is a favorite because they are family, a faculty members kid, part of a church group “booty buddy” club, etc. Coaches who engage in this kind of behavior don’t realize how obvious it is 90% of the time. 2. Any coach who denies politics takes place in sports is lying and engaging in it. I’ve never stolen a thing in my life but I know theft is big business. Just because I know it exists doesn’t mean I’ve engaged in it. I don’t care what level you coach at, if you’ve coached a 4 year old t-ball team then you’ve seen someone try to pull the politics/brown nosing job. If you deny it’s existence then you’re engaging in it, plain and simple. 3. We have teachers boinking their students left and right now days. How is it that we as a society have come to think these coaches are just too freaking honest and have too much integrity to engage in shady political maneuvers as a coach? We just had a team USA gymnastics coach/faculty and a Penn State squad get in trouble for sexually abusing their athletes but nah, coaches as a profession are just to honest to engage in politics? It’s a ridiculous notion from the get go that coaches intentions and integrity can’t be challenged. 4. There is some BS lingo that coaches use, again, this is coming from someone who has a degree in coaching and worked with athletes at every level except pro. Let’s take a look at 2 of my favorites that I hear way to often: “I prefer to be approached by the athlete rather than the parent”. Translation: “It’s easier for me to BS and take mental and emotional advantage of a middle school kid than go toe to toe with another adult”. Another of my favorites: “I go with my intuition, gut, or instincts”. Translation: “Anyone looking at objective metrics like batting average, turn overs, etc, will see my coaching decisions aren’t based on who’s the more productive athlete”. Both of these statements are a way for bad/corrupt coaches to cover their butt .5 This one mostly applies to teams with an entrance fee and/or especially public school varsity sports: They owe you an explanation. Public school teachers and coaches are employed by the public. They are not a private entity, they are not some business that can slam the door in your face. As a tax payer the money for their paychecks comes directly out of yours. They do not produce their own profit. From the janitor to the teachers/coaches to the school board members, they are all employees of the federal/state/county/town tax payers. You have every right to hold them accountable and responsible for their actions and to demand integrity in their job just as you would a politician, a roads supervisor or any other public worker or elected official. YOU pay their wages, you have the right to set expectations for how and who your money is funding.

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