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April 18, 2005, 9:45 P.M.

The Trouble With LAYBL: I was interested to read Ed Engler’s articles in the Daily Sun yesterday regarding issues with the administration of the Lou Athanas Youth Basketball league. This has been an issue in our community for several years, and the issues with LAYBL have impacted our Middle and High School Basketball programs, and have generally resulted in a lack of basketball development in Laconia. My observations are based on close to 10 years of involvement in LAYBL as a parent, coach and referee.

There has been a great deal of discussion and controversy regarding the operation of the league for at least 6 or 7 years. Many of the changes that the recent board implemented have been at the heart of the controversy. I have had discussions with many parents, coaches and players regarding these changes, and I find that there is consensus that the league needs to make some adjustments in philosophy and approach. In particular, the feeling on the part of many seasoned coaches is that they have not been allowed to coach in a way which addressed the needs of all skill levels.

The current LAYBL administration has placed an overemphasis on non-competitive play. Many participants feel that this detracted from the overall experience by imposing unrealistic constraints on the game. Competition is and should be considered healthy. In fact, winning and losing are a part of life and we should be preparing kids for life by teaching good sportsmanship, win or lose.

The league’s approach to the sportsmanship issue has been heavy handed and not generally supported. My understanding of this policy direction is that it is in response to the time when the league was extremely competitive to the detriment of many participants. Many parents agree that the pendulum has swung too far back in the other direction and that this year’s league operations de-emphasized basketball and emphasized character issues. Character education should come through the teaching of the game.

There are some adjustments that we can make to address the problems of a good deal of the participants in the league without abandoning the fundamental concepts of equal play, age appropriate skill development, encouraging continued participation and appropriate modeling of team values and sportsmanship. We should not forget that the league is, first and foremost, about kids and about basketball.

The league is currently not teaching the game effectively at all levels. We need to work on the inter-divisional transitions. Because the kids at lower age groups are not playing 5 on 5 basketball, there needs to be a better transition into a 5 on 5 game, and it needs to happen sooner. By the time kids start playing 5 on 5 they need have an idea about how to play the Areal game@. That is not to say that we should abandon the philosophy of matched skill levels at any time, but the skills needed to defeat a full court press need to be developed just as ball handling needs to be stressed in the lower age groups. Likewise, the transitions from 3 on 3 to 4 on 4 need to be addressed to allow the players moving from one age group to another to adjust to the new rules and to understand that there is a logical connection between the 3 on 3 game that they started in and the 5 on 5 game that they will see in Middle and High School. We also need to provide age and skill appropriate instruction to our most talented players as well as our least talented players.

Mr. Irving and the current LAYBL board made some decisions about a particular direction that they wanted the league to take. Unfortunately, the community at large was not encouraged to participate in the decision to restructure the board or to implement Mr. Irving’s’ philosophy. The result is an organization with declining participation and which is not preparing kids to play at the middle and high level. We have kids playing on those teams who, through no fault of their own, do not understand fundamental basketball and who lack the skills to play competitively at that level. There is simply no reason why 6th and 7th grade girls should not be playing 5 on 5 Basketball.

I encourage not only parents but community members, coaches and our Middle/High Athletic directors to attend the LAYBL meeting on May 13th, and to voice their opinions regarding the current program. I also have concerns about how the by-law changes that created the current structure were accomplished, what notice of the changes was given and who participated in the amendment process. I hope that these concerns will be addressed at the upcoming meeting.

Creating a healthy and happy environment in which children can play sports is one of the most rewarding and productive things that we can do in our community. The creation of complex and complicated models for the operation of youth leagues really detracts from what youth sports should be about. It should be about skill, sportsmanship, tolerance and fun. It should not be about adult agendas and paid managers, it should be about moms and dads, coaches and kids.

Just so there is no misconception about my personal philosophy, I do not now nor have I ever advocated competition at the expense of participation. I do believe that good, fair competition is healthy and that encouraging widespread participation in youth activities benefits us all. Setting personal and team goals are life skills that we need to model and develop in our children. My observation in 10 years of coaching in Laconia is that we are blessed with a great core group of coaches, parents and players in all of our sports. We can always improve, but I see the board’s current direction of as detrimental to the continued development of the league.

Let the coaches coach, the players play and the game teach.

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