Horror stories about youth sports are well documented. From the overbearing parents on the sidelines, to the hyper-competitive coach whose screams are heard across the park, the result has often been that some kids don’t want to play in youth leagues, where the quest to win is sometimes taken too seriously. There is also the question of participation and whether any child’s development should come at the expense of a winning program.
When John Cottrell, along with his wife, Shelly, a Sag Harbor native, decided to take over the leadership of Sag Harbor Youth Hoop it wasn’t long before the program was headed in a new direction. The Cottrells were looking to build on a strong foundation set by their predecessors, Rob and Jeannette Martin and Scott Brooks, whose children outgrew the kindergarten through sixth grade confines of the youth hoop program. The Cottrells were intrigued by what was being offered in the Hamptons Youth Athletic League, where equal opportunity for all participants is made a priority, and where playing time is shared equally across the various teams.
Which is not to say there is not a place for more intense competition. Sag Harbor Youth Hoop, which has competitive teams for boys and girls in grades three and four and five and six, has also fielded all-star teams for boys and girls in fifth and sixth grade who will face regional competition at SYS in Southampton, giving the area’s best players a chance to hone their skills and fuel their competitive spirit.
But when you break free from those top 12 or 15 players, there are many others left to consider. Some might not peak athletically until they are in middle, or even high school, so encouraging their development early can only benefit Sag Harbor’s overall athletic programs down the line. There are also more important things at play, such as teaching hard work, camaraderie and simply having fun in a safe, positive and productive environment.
John Cottrell wants every child in the youth hoop program to score a basket this season, which is an admirable goal. “When you see a kid score for the first time,” he said, “you can see their world changes.” And watching that happen, he added, can’t be beat by any favorable result on a scoreboard.