Too often the sporting world gets hysterical over what ought to be relatively trivial - Johnny Bench's salary, where George Allen coaches next season - and ignores important issues underfoot.
We refer to the 20 million or so youngsters whose athletic safety - at least in high school football - is appallingly neglected and whose instruction often is in the hands of coaches either well-intended but ignorant or misusing the Gospel According to Vince Lombardi.
That the National Association for Sports and Physical Education (NASPE) thought it necessary to design a "Bill of Rights for Young Athletes" is sad, because that should be something instinctive in parents and education - and in practice long ago.
The "rights" are as basic as running and jumping and laughing - and they ought to be chiseled on every playground and gym and in the mind of every adult who dares call himself coach. They are:
The right to an opportunity to participate.
The right to participate at a level commensurate with each child's development.
The right to have qualified adult leadership.
The right to participate in safe and healthy environments.
The right of each child to share in the leadership and decision - making of his sport participation.
The right to play as a child and not as an adult.
The right ipation in the spot.
The right to an equal opportunity to strive for success.
The right to have fun through sport.
The right to be treated with dignity by all involved.
You already amy have noticed that winning was not mentioned. That is not to be ignored, according to one of those who helped draft the bill, Dr. Jerry Thomas of Louisiana State University, but sometimes we have coaches and parents who put the outcome of games ahead of the benefit to kids." he said.
"That's what we'd like to prohibit."
Thomas. Dr. Rainer Martens of the University of Illinois-Urbana. Dr. Walt Cooper of the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. Ross Merrick and NASPE and leaders from most of the organized sports groups in the country participated in a conference yesterday to emphasize the special needs of youth in sports.
And Thomas is the editor of a splendid book called "Youth Sports Guide for Coaches and Parents," an easily digested primer that includes well-documented advice on what to do about nearly everything except how to keep a center fielder from removing his shoes with runners on first and second.
That sort of thing happens, as does entire softball teams not being able to hit anything past the pitcher or youngsters who can shoot a basketball from 10 feet but cannot master a layup. Just the oe for third. and fourth - graders. I saw a defensive tackle intercept the snap from center.
"If you can't stand to see errors." said Thomas. "stay away. And especially don't coach. But so often there are no role models for the thousands of volunteer coaches. just Bear Bryant or Lombardi. Even the high school coach may not be a good model on how to dela with kids.
"And our research has shown that 50 to 75 per cent of all kids in sports are not affiliated with national groups, like Little League, PONY baseball, that sort of thing, but local rec departments."
My own experience with assorted grade shool sports sponscred by Montgomery County has been highly satisfying for the most part, although boys still seem to get twice the advantages given girls. Even the most conscientious and knowledgeable coach might benefit from the Thomas book, available for $3 from NASPE at 1201 16th St. NW.
"It's important that during each practice or game every youngster gets recognized at least one," it says at one point. "Those players who usually receive the most recognzion are the stars or those who are causing problems. The average player needs attention as well . . .
"Teaching the fundamentals of the sport in which you are involved is only part of your overall duties. As a volunteer youth leader, there is a substantial difference in the goals and objectives you should have, compared to those of a paid athletic supervisor on a high school, college or professional level . . .
Do not try to relieve your own ambitions through their efforts; always keep in mind that these youngsters have specific desires and goals of their own. Share the moments of gladness and victory, but be prepared to feel then."
(One tip: a Slurpee washes away much of the sting osts, trophies, plaques, jackets, ribbons. certificates and the like might well do more harm than good:
"In general, children 8 years and older should not be presented awards merely for participating. Awards related to individually established goals for quality of performance tend tos long as the child believes he or she is physically able to attain the award."
But the child joins a sport mostly because it is fun. Why not keep it that way?