Joanna Chadwick: Newcomers can contribute, too
Mikaila Woods didnt grow up playing club volleyball. She didnt play volleyball until her freshman season at Valley Center.
Now a junior, shes a starting outside hitter for Valley Center, ranked eighth in Class 5A.
Woods seems to be an anomaly.
Too often, elementary- and middle school-age athletes are already specializing well before they reach high school.
Too often athletes and parents think because they havent played a sport before age 9 that they are too far behind.
And that is sad.
Woods struggled her freshman season, especially on her hitting approach.
I felt really dumb, kind of, she said. I didnt know what I was doing. I was really behind, but I caught on fast.
But her teammates helped and assistant coach Anne Gunden helped before and after practice.
By the seasons midpoint, Woods was comfortable on her approach, and everything else fell into place. Now she is a smart hitter.
I think a lot of coaches overlook a lot of great kids because they havent come up through a youth program, Valley Center coach Bryan Otte said. Even as a teacher, I heard some middle-school boys say they werent going out for football because they hadnt played football (before).
But with boys, they develop at different ages, and girls do, too.
Otte places the blame for this thinking on coaches.
I think unless they played club, unless they played youth sports, I think they tend to dismiss them, he said. We try to do the opposite here. We try to look for those kids.
What he saw in Woods was someone who worked hard, had great hitting angles, and was a quick jumper. And she had a size-12 foot.
Is that enough to make the team? Otte said. She was a terrible volleyball player. But she had a size-12 foot. She was eager to learn. Im going to keep that kid. But if a parent comes in and says, Why did you keep her over my daughter? I have no basis.
I have no statistically significant information, but I knew she was a diamond in the rough and just needed a little polishing.
Woods certainly is not the only athlete out there who could benefit from polishing. But its sad to think that there are youngsters not trying a sport because they might, initially, be behind.
Its a fear that has become all too common, yet another example on how youth sports have taken a more business-like turn.
My husband and I decided our sons wouldnt play basketball until first grade. We based it on our desire to make sure they dont get burned out on a game we both love. Our goal has been to introduce them to different sports as a way to keep them active and see if theyll love sports.
Maize graduate Ryan Schraeder, featured by Eagle columnist Bob Lutz earlier this month, didnt play high school football because he was burned out from youth sports. Hes now 25 and an NFL rookie lineman.
Of course theres benefits to playing sports at a young age learning fundamentals and picking up knowledge of the game.
But if you didnt play from kindergarten on, its OK to pick up a sport later. Just ask Woods.