Monday, March 9, 2009

Taking Back Kids' Sports

Every winter, as soon as the temperatures go above freezing, and I can smell the earth and grass again, I feel compelled to write about youth sports. Spring training is just around the corner for many youth who participate in spring sports as well as their parents. This has been a ritual in my family for about twenty years, eight sports, and three kids. In that time, a few profound things happened that have stuck with me and impacted how I greet the sports seasons.
One night, at the end of soccer practice my son’s coach gave the parents copies of an article from the August 7, 2005 issue of PARADE magazine called “Who’s Killing Kids’ Sports?” He didn’t say much about it other than that we should read it and then write on the back, “My child is not a superstar”. Now, this tickled my curiosity like one of those scratch-off-to-find-your-discount cards at a JC Penney sale. I couldn’t wait to get home and read the article. But all the way there my son kept asking, “But why does Coach want you to write than I am not a superstar?”. Not knowing for sure if I was on the right track, I went on to explain that his coach wanted everyone to feel like they were a team, that no one player could do it alone. My then ten-year-old seemed satisfied with this explanation, at least for the moment.
We got home, ate a quick dinner, and then my son took a shower while I read. The article confirmed for me what I had thought about the fate of youth sports for a long time. Far too many parents are living vicariously through their children. While involvement in youth sports has been shown to be a real asset for children’s development in many ways, the over-emphasis on success and perfection of performance can be disastrous. The author refers to events where overly-competitive parents have gone so far as to fight in front of their kids, one situation even leading to a parent’s death.
There is a belief by many parents that if their child is not a stand-out athlete by the fourth grade, their chances of making the high school team or getting into a “good” college are nil. The pressure on kids to perform is incredible, and I myself have seen children walk off playing fields to face the wrath of a disappointed parent. It is time to get the culture of youth sports under control.
Youth sports are supposed to be about learning and fun. It is about team building, getting along, and respect for others. Unfortunately, there are parents who think otherwise, that it is a training ground for their own unfulfilled dreams.
When my son finished his shower, he found me sitting on my bed with the article in hand. He asked again why Coach would want to tell parents to write that their kids are not superstars. “Do you think I am not a superstar?”, he questioned almost sadly.
Well, I must admit, I didn’t actually write, “My kid is not a superstar”. But I did write this: “My kid gives 100%” I explained to him that what we expect is not that he be perfect, but that try his best at whatever he does, that he recognize and use his God-given talents as best he can. And most importantly that he have fun!

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