Coaches' Perspectives of Eighth-Grade Athletes Playing High School Varsity Sports

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine eighth-graders playing high school varsity sports from the perspective of the high school coach. The qualitative inquiry was used to allow for personal insights into this coaching phenomenon, to share coaching experiences, and to provide a guide for future coaching action. Participants included 11 high school coaches (5 women, 6 men). The coaches all have direct experience with eighth-graders playing on their varsity teams. The following categories emerged from the analysis: (a) the eighth-grade varsity athlete, (b) the team, (c) the parents, and (d) recommendations for coaches from coaches.

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In the United States more than 7 million student athletes currently participate in organized high school sports (National Federation of State High School Associations [NFHS], 2006). The popularity of participation is clear with over 53 percent of students enrolled in high school involved in some form of athletics (Eitle & Eitle, 2002; NFHS, 2006). With popularity on the rise, it is important for schools and coaches to ensure young athlete experiences are positive (Odland, 2005).

Encouragingly, there is increasing evidence suggesting that school athletic participation is positively associated with physical, psychological, and social benefits (Brady, 2004; Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003). Specific benefits to young athletes include increased interaction with peers, a strong sense of worth and value, the development of problem solving skills, and the establishment of a support system (Eccles et al., 2003). Coaching behavior and leadership play a pivotal role in this participation and are frequently noted as major contributors to the overall development of the young athlete (Murray, 2006; Reinboth, Duda, & Ntoumanis, 2004; Shields, Gardner, Bredemeier, & Bostro, 1997).

In order to control for and further enhance physical, psychological, and social development, athletes are often grouped onto teams based on chronological age (Glamser & Vincent, 2004). Although chronological age and development are related, development is not always age dependant (Brady, 2004). Athletes mature physically and mentally at different rates within a given age. Since skill level is also associated with development, an alternative approach to age classification is to allow participation based on a combination of physical maturity, fitness, and skill.

The New York State Education Department Office of Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education (NYEDEMSC) in collaboration with the New York State Athletic Administrators Association, New York State Public High School Athletic Association, and directors of physical education/athletics developed a selective classification testing program to screen seventh and eighth-grade student athletes to determine their readiness to compete in high school athletics (NYEDEMSC, 2005). Following a positive evaluation including physical maturation, fitness, and skill, a seventh or eighth-grader may be eligible to play on a junior varsity or varsity high school team. In addition, the emotional and social readiness of the athlete, parent-student approval, and references are often prerequisites for participation.

According to NYEDEMSC (2005), selective classification is aligned with Standard One (personal health and fitness) and Standard Two (a safe and healthy environment) of the New York State Learning Standards for Health, Physical Education, Family and Consumer Sciences. Specifically, a shared belief "that physical education and interscholastic athletic competition are important to the development of the whole child and that students benefit when they can participate in such activities at appropriate levels of maturity and physical ability" (NYEDEMSC, p. iv). Relevant to the competitive sport environment, reasoning behind the use of selective classification includes enhanced athlete satisfaction, increased opportunities for young skilled athletes, a fairer competitive environment, and reduced injury (NYEDEMSC). …