Two years ago there was a sixth grade student on our basketball team who showed promise. Even though she was short and a little overweight, her ball-handling skills and game instincts were strong. We put her on the team in the hope that with time and experience, she would become a starting point guard.
It's hard for sixth graders to get much playing time on a middle school team. They are competing against seventh and eighth grade students who are generally older, bigger, and stronger. We usually practice with a squad of 15, but only about half will get significant game time, most of them eighth graders. For the younger girls, we view their first, and sometimes even their second, year as developmental.
A couple of things happen as a result of this dynamic. One is that the older girls feel entitled to the playing time: they've paid their dues, practicing hard and then sitting on the bench for two years, and now they feel that they have a right to the spotlight. They are also the leaders of the team, and so their attitude sets the tone. As closely as we supervise middle school kids and as much guidance as we provide them in the classroom, in the cafeteria, or on the court, they always find an opportunity to reinforce their hierarchy. That's how it is on the team.
That year, our strongest eighth grade player happened to be a point guard, and so it was never very likely that this sixth grade girl would play many minutes in a game. This particular eighth grade girl had played her first couple of seasons with her older sister, who was incredibly cruel to her. It didn't help that the younger sister was a better player; in fact that made it worse, and when it came time for her to lead the team, she was almost as mean to the younger girls as her sister had been to her.
There's the whistle-- let's pick it up in the second quarter.