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Sports Should Be Fun

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Too many kids stop playing sports because they are over-scheduled, burned out or possibly ... playing to make someone else happy (hint, hint).

As you read this article, summer will be in full swing. Your children will be playing sports and also looking forward to new team participation coming this fall. Many youngsters will start playing on youth soccer, football, baseball and other teams for the first time. A great deal of time will be taken up with practices and games, and some youngsters may also be chosen to play on all-star and “travel teams.” So it’s a non-stop merry go round of sports activities that occupy a great deal of your family’s time.

If you reflect back to when you played sports during the summer and fall in youth leagues, I imagine you will agree that things are quite different now than they were 20 or 30 years ago. I doubt your parents ever attended practices, and I suspect they saw some of your games, but not all of them. I’ll bet you even remember when you, as a child, played with your friends without having adults manage the game! My point is, the culture of athletics and sports has changed significantly. Sporting events on every level – youth league, high school, college and, of course, the pros – are now a major source of our entertainment.

I believe that the change in our sports culture has worked its way down to youth and school leagues. There is too much emphasis on winning and not nearly enough on learning skills and having fun. Today, we are too quick to identify the stars. As Cal Ripkin says, “No one is smart enough to know who, at age 8, is going to make the big leagues and who is not. There are valuable lessons to be learned in sports, and we should allow kids to learn without having the negativity and the pressure that too much emphasis on winning creates.” Many kids develop at a later age and therefore are often left out and may lose interest or just quit. We too often coach our youth league kids as if they were playing on a high school varsity level.

I also believe that we are too quick to have kids specialize and play one sport only when they are 10 or 12 years old. Let kids play two or three sports as long as they like. In almost all cases, this practice will not inhibit a child from developing into a very fine athlete who will compete on the high school varsity and even the college level.
I hope all of us – players, coaches and parents – will display good sportsmanship at all times and at all levels of play. Respect is the key word. I often believe that we should play that old Aretha Franklin hit before we begin the games.

What can we do to improve our youth and high school sports culture? As psychologist Joel Fish says, “The most critical factor in whether your child loves or hates his experience in sports is the behavior in public and private and the attitude of his parents.” It is perfectly clear that parents and the other adults who participate in the games our children play must be good role models. Talking the talk does not do the trick, behavior and setting a good example is what counts.

If you

  1. talk more about your child’s sport than about your child
  2. are highly critical of your child’s coach
  3. talk to your child more like a coach than a parent
  4. constantly tell your child to practice more
  5. seem more emotionally invested in the sport than your child is
  6. get a great deal of status and prestige from your child’s athletic accomplishments
  7. believe that if your child tried harder he could be successful at sports

you are going overboard. If any of these ring a bell, take a step back and do your best to change your attitude and expectations. Remember to focus on the process of performance. Emphasize and reward effort and attitude. Winning and losing are not the same as success and failure.

So let’s agree to:

  1. give your child unconditional love regardless of how he performs
  2. be a great fan of your child and of the team
  3. always root for the team in a positive way, never root against opposing players or their team
  4. be a positive role model at all times

In conclusion, have fun watching your child play. Sports are a wonderful outlet and teacher; let’s allow the kids to learn and have fun.

Jon Frere specializes in consulting about sports with local independent schools.

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