It is typical in youth sports to have a tryout followed by a draft. During the draft, each coach tries to outdo the other coaches at drafting the best team. Indeed, much of the efforts to outdo opposing coaches involve cheating, like recruiting as assistant coaches the fathers of one or two likely early-round draft choices or telling a strong prospect to skip the tryout or to deliberately look bad in the tryout so the coach who knows his true ability can draft him lower than that player would normally go.

Typcially, the cheaters are the long-term coaches in the league. Every year there are new guys who have no clue the cheating is going on until they have seen it for a few years. Then, they typically become one of the cheaters.

Blind = parity

All youth sports drafts should be blind. That is, all the coaches in the league should create teams that are as equal in ability as possible, then the teams will be assigned at random to the coaches. Since the head coach will be allowed to have his own son on his team, in many cases, one other player originally on that coach’s assigned team will have to be transferred to another team to restore the parity upset when a coach’s son has above-average or below-average talent.

In a blind draft, when the coaches are creating the teams, they do not know whether they are creating their own team or one they will have to compete against. Indeed, they do know that all but one of the teams will be opponents. Consequently, they will have great incentive to use all their knowledge to create teams that are as equal as possible.

For the kids or the adults?

If youth sports are for kids, blind drafts are the only ones that should be allowed. If, on the other hand, youth sports are really for middle-aged men to build up their win-loss records to boost their egos and status in the community, then youth sports leagues should let each coach draft his own team.

At best, in a totally fair own-team draft, the smartest, most experienced coaches will do a much better job of selecting their teams. Is that right? If all you care about is the grown-ups, yes. But I thought youth sports were supposed to be for the kids. It sure as heck is not fair to the kids who end up on the teams selected by the dumber or less experienced coaches. Their seasons are largely over before they have their first practice. This is especially true if the draft is marked by cheating. I suspect that about 95% of all youth drafts involve cheating.

Alliances with fathers of great players

In one common cheating method, the head coach allies himself with one or more fathers of early-round draft picks. The dishonest aspect is the stated motivation: “Oh, we’re just friends. It’s merely a coincidence that my assistant coach’s son is a first-round draft pick.” This essentially eliminates the draft for the two or three coaches’ sons in question. All pre-draft, multi-player-father alliances must be banned. (Hiring a non-father-of-a-player coach before the draft is OK.)

There must be only one father-coach per team at the pre-draft stage. That coach should be allowed to have his own son on the team, but the makeup of his final team should be adjusted to reflect the ability of his son. For example, let’s say each team has 25 players and that each team needs to end up with five guys at each ability level. Accordingly, the blind draft would create teams with 24 players each. Four of the five ability levels would already be full with their complement of five players. One ability level would have an opening. If the head coach’s son happened to be of that ability level, no transfer of a player would be necessary. The team would have five guys in each of the five ability categories. However, if the coach’s son caused his team to have six guys at any ability level, another player at that ability level must be transferred to another team that needs a guy at that level. The ability levels of coaches’ sons and all other players would be determined by ratings by all coaches except that head coaches would not be allowed to rate their own sons.

Some leagues try to deal with the coach’s son issue by making each team use specified draft picks for the various coaches’ sons. In one youth baseball draft I attended, the two coaches’ sons were automatically the third- and fourth-round picks. That’s no good. It enables the fathers of two first-round picks to “buy” their sons for the “below-market price” of third- and fourth-round draft picks, and they still get to pick a third first-round guy as well as a second-round kid. The rounds forfeited must correspond to the talent of the player in question. Furthermore, the alliances are typically composed of all first-round-draft-pick fathers. That is a problem which can only be corrected by transferring the assistant coach’s son to another team.

No year-to-year retention

Another policy that works against equal teams and therefore against maximum enjoyment of the kids is permitting a particular team to retain players that were on that team the previous season. Little League Baseball has this policy in their majors programs. It is dead wrong. Coaches argue that the relationships between the players in question and coaches are valuable and should be preserved. Baloney! Those relationships are nowhere near as important as parity, which serves the interests of all the players in the league.

Hey, kids ought to change teams every year to meet new people, make new friends, expand their horizons socially. Spin doctoring aside, allowing teams to retain players from prior years hurts parity because it removes some players from the only mechanism that creates parity: the draft. Indeed, the players in question are veterans, the most desired players, and the ones about whose talent levels the veteran coaches know the most. By making them go through the draft every season you insure the maximum parity which must be the paramount goal of the process of assigning players to teams.

No more secrecy

The blind draft completely eliminates all incentive to conceal information about a player—like telling him to skip or not try hard in the tryout. Information-concealment efforts only work when the coach who conceals information has a chance to "buy" the player in question for his own team cheap, that is, with a lower draft pick than the boy's talent warrants.

Siblings should be allowed to be on the same team, but appropriate adjustments must be made to insure that all teams have equal talent so that the teams with siblings neither benefit nor suffer from that fact.

Own-team drafts are so clearly detrimental to the purported purpose of youth sports that they should be banned by all youth organizations. The big shots in youth leagues resist going to a blind draft because they are the very same people who most abuse the process. They want to keep their competitive advantage. No youth organization that permits own-team drafts should be believed when they claim they’re “doing it for the kids.”

Good luck,

John T. Reed