In a study done by Michigan State University, children between the ages of 10 and 12 were asked why they played youth sports. Here are the answers they gave:
– To give them something fun to do.
– To keep them healthy and in shape.
– To improve their skills.
Most parents would probably also throw these reasons in:
– To teach them how to be team players.
– To keep them busy and out of trouble.
Did you notice that “to win” was found nowhere above? Don’t get me wrong – Children who play sports love it when they win a game. Hell, we all love to win. But winning is NOT the reason kids play sports. Some parents I know may find that hard to believe.
My boys have played youth sports since they were about four years old. That means that for eight years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching them, cheering for them, and photographing them. Since they first enrolled in youth sports, they’ve played baseball, football, basketball, and they’ve wrestled. And they’re both really good at all of those. Between their natural talents and abilities and their consistent hard work and practicing, they’ve really excelled in every sport they’ve played. They’ve consistently played on all-star teams, and they’ve brought home numerous medals and trophies for various achievements and wins.
They’ve also, however, had their fair share of losses… both individually and on their teams. They haven’t medaled in every wrestling match, and their teams haven’t gone undefeated every season. I’m okay with that. Why? Certainly not because I like to watch them and their teams lose. In fact, there were times I wanted to scream at their coaches for making a terrible decision on which kid plays which position. I’ve wanted to yell at an umpire for making a bad call. I’ve wanted to scream at one of their teammates for dropping an easy pass or an easy throw. But I haven’t.
Why haven’t I? Because the reason my kids play sports is not solely to win. For one, even if my kid was the greatest athlete on their respective teams, there’s no guarantee that every one of their teammates is great, as well. For two, every player in every sport at every age is allowed an off-day. We all have off days every now and then. My usual six-minute mile sometimes takes me seven if I’m having a crappy day or if it’s too cold or too hot outside. (Okay, yeah, I made that up, but you get my point.)
No athlete is perfect all the time. We’ve all heard that while Babe Ruth hit the most homeruns, he also had the most strikeouts. Do people think about all those strikeouts now? Of course not. He’s remembered as being one of the greatest players to ever live. We don’t judge him on his off-days.
I had the pleasure of attending a youth girls’ softball tournament this weekend, as Emma was selected to play on an all-star team for her rec department’s league. The tournament was double elimination, with the winning team to move on to the State tournament.
As I sat and watch the games over the course of several days, I saw things that I’ve seen periodically in games over the past eight years, and I came to the following conclusion: Some parents are crazy! I have seen a good number of parents over the past several years who put their kids in youth sports for one reason (and that reason is not one that was named above) – to live out their failed dreams of playing pro sports vicariously through their children. Face it – You’ll never make it to the Big Leagues, bud!
I’ve watched nearly every season as one coach or another has put his kid in at pitcher or quarterback even though son can’t throw to himself and catch a ball, much less accurately throw to someone else yards away. In nearly all of these cases, the coach once had dreams of making it big himself, but ended up with a career-changing injury. Yes, Coach, that really sucks, and I’m sorry about your future in sports, but that doesn’t mean your kid is going to automatically be the next Joe Montana.
Also, in most of these situations, the coach’s kid had the worst attitude on the team. They would often talk back, whine, or pitch a full-blown fit if struck out, defeated, or tackled before they scored a touchdown.
I’ve also watched as parents have screamed at their kids for making a bad play or missing a catch or not running fast enough. Not only do they already feel bad enough for potentially letting their teammates and coaches down, but now they’re getting the third degree from their obnoxious mom or dad for not being perfect. They’re kids, people!!! And they’re learning! The whole point of youth sports is not to win, but to LEARN! Kids are out there on the fields to learn the fundamentals of whatever sports they’re participating in. They can’t be expected to just be natural/perfect athletes just because their moms or dads played at the collegiate level.
This weekend, specifically, one of the big things from the parents that was just maddening to me was that every time their kids’ team was down, they would automatically accuse the other team of cheating in some way. Really? You think a team full of eight-year-old girls are really going to cheat to win? You really think volunteer coaches are going to scheme up a way to do whatever it takes to get that W on the board? I very highly doubt it.
Just because their team only lost two or three games in the regular season does not mean that they won’t lose a game at the all-stars level. They played with different players, they played against different teams, and there’s even the slight possibility that not every girl wanted to (or was equipped to) play on that team at that level.
As unfortunate as it may be, losing is part of the game, also. We, as parents and coaches, must teach our children how to not only win graciously, but also how to lose graciously. They need to learn to be good sports and team players. And while it’s never fun losing, we have to show them that it’s okay to not win every time, as long as they tried their personal best.
We’ve all seen those crazy parents on YouTube who have ended up in physical altercations with referees or other parents, some going as far as drawing weapons. This is NOT okay. And yet we consistently bitch about pro athletes setting bad examples for our children. Maybe they’re not the ones are kids are watching…
Kids don’t play sports to win. They play to have FUN. And playing is no longer fun to them when they have to deal with jackass parents and coaches. Granted, winning is always more fun than losing, so maybe we should start focusing more on the fundamentals of the sports and teaching them the correct way to play so that they can improve, rather than on the bad calls the umpires and referees make, on all the ways the other teams may be cheating, and on making your particular kid the “star” athlete.
I want to know what you think about youth sports. Weigh in, and share your thoughts!