Some thoughts on Youth Sports Lawsuits – Volleyball

There is an interesting bit of news that is happening right now- a story recently broke about a family that is suing a Volleyball club over not their daughter not being able to switch teams. The story goes something like this- girl does extremely well at tryouts, gets recruited by multiple club teams, signs contract to play for a coach who supposedly promised her some playing time. For whatever reason, coach decides she isn’t ready to be on the playing squad, so gives her two options- join the practice squad, or move to another team. She manages to find another team who will take her, but here’s the rub- the league won’t let her switch. In response, the family sues to allow her to switch.

At the surface level, this could seem like another example of over-involvement in youth sports by parents. Kid doesn’t get her way, so parents bring in lawyers to get her what they wants- damn the consequences.

At the surface level, this could seem like an overly restrictive youth sports league that is forcing a professional model of team membership on kids who will only listen to a lawsuit.

Personally I think that there might be some merit to both sides.

For the league, I think their argument has some merit- if they make an exception for one player to get more playing time, then they have to let everybody switch, and they could soon be overwhelmed by other players wanting the same. On one hand, this is a slippery slope argument, but on the other hand it makes sense- the “no switching” rule probably serves an important purpose. It may have been implemented due to problematic switching in the past, but I really can’t know for sure. I suspect that on the whole, it solves more problems than it creates.

For the player & her family, I think that their side of the argument has some merit too. They argue that because the exposure to college scouts is so important at this age and this level (I am giving them the benefit of the doubt that their suppositions are valid- number one that she is college volleyball material- it has been mentioned in what little news that exists- and number two, that this league is actually an effective avenue for college scout exposure). Secondly, it does suck that she was promised playing time by the coach (supposedly), signed her exclusivity contract with the team, and then didn’t get play time. Kudos to the coach for allowing her flexibility to change teams (I know that similar situations happen at higher levels- grab up a recruit so somebody else can’t get her). She also got the opportunity to switch to a willing team. Given all of this, why not let her switch? It isn’t unfair to either of the teams, since both are amicable to the switch.

I think there is a happy medium to be had here. This was suggested to me by a former field hockey player (who had a similar model in her youth club) as a great compromise- after tryouts, and after “signing”, there could be a period in which some, mutually agreed-upon switching can occur. The period could be 2-3 weeks or so, and it could easily iron out issues like this. It is probably not uncommon for their to be personality conflicts, bad fits, etc when an athlete joins a new team. Why not allow some degree of switching to occur? Yes, the league already has a “hardship” exemption for switching, but I don’t see anything wrong with a little bit of switching to go on because of personality conflicts or playing time. This (mostly) makes everybody happy. There are also some other benefits:

  • Yes, I’m sure that the exposure to college scouts is an important aspect to club-level play. Allowing some degree of flexibility might give players who are “pretty darn good” but not necessarily “great” to move around a bit to a team where they could really shine (and maybe impress those scouts). It also gives the opportunity to shuffle around players that just do the sport for the fun of it. If I’m an athlete that just wants to play, why not allow me to move around a bit so I can get some time on the court?
  • We have to remember that these are still kids (yes, 16 is close to what is legally considered an “adult”, but they are still youth). They are still in a developmental period in their athletic career. Some amount of switching can let them go to other teams where they might be in a better position to improve their skills.
  • It would also help with initial personality conflicts. Coaches and athletes sometimes “click” and a great pairing is born. Other times a coach and athlete don’t- and it is usually something easy to see from the get-go. The dead period could help solve those conflicts.
  • A little bit of wiggle room provided by the dead period solves the problems that a “no-switching” rule intends to solve, but allowing for the extra “stuff” that can happen sometimes.

At the end of the day, it seems a bit crazy that youth sport has to involve litigation. I really don’t know what the best answer here is (maybe the dead period is a viable solution?), but it is a pretty awful symptom of problems within youth sport that lawyers have gotten involved. Perhaps it is because there is no other recourse, perhaps it is because we are a litigious society, perhaps it is something else entirely. Regardless , there is something wrong with this situation.

What do you think?