The pool, post-game fun, and youth sports

Over the weekend, the tweet above reminded me of the teams that I coached at AAU Nationals in the early ’00s. When we went to Nationals, everyone was serious. Coaches prohibited the players from going into the pool before or after games, and parents patrolled the players. The coaches did not want the players to waste all of their energy playing around in the pool.

The picture above reminded me of this because the players wanted to do nothing else but play in the pool. It was like the forbidden fruit. I thought it was funny because more than half of the players had pools at home that were nicer than the pool at the hotel, but I realized that it was not the pool that interested the players; it was the free play with their friends. At a hotel, where else are you allowed to play freely? I know from my experience as a player that hotels do not take kindly to goofing around in the elevators or games of hide and seek!

What if we had lost one round earlier because players were tired out from an all-day win fest? Would that have been a big deal? These were 9 and 10 year-olds. Do we need to prohibit them from having fun for an entire day because they have one game in which they will play 20-25 minutes at most? What is the point of youth sports? If youth sports are supposed to be for fun, why should the fun stop once the game ends? Aren’t the camaraderie and friendship from a team among the best outcomes of sports? I remember playing in a spring league in high school and going to a nearby park to play 21 after our game ended. The fun did not stop once the game ended. My enduring memory of Little League is going to the local Round Table after the games to play video games and eat pizza.

Beyond the fun, would allowing the players to swim have been a bad idea? More and more, the pool is being used as a recovery tool after games for elite athletes. Children playing in the pool may differ from the typical recovery protocols, but being in the water is a major aspect of the recovery. Rather than prohibiting the children from the pool, we probably should have encouraged them to spend some time in the water.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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