I read a story today called Putting Kids Back Into Kids’ Sports, and I’d suggest you check it out.
I was absolutely fascinated by how it touched on everyone involved in youth sports and what each one can do to improve the state of youth sports. If you question my use of “state of youth sports,” I will simply refer you to the Kansas.com article on the football beating at Linwood Park and also point out the statistic used in the story from experiencelife.com that states 70 percent of kids drop out of team sports by 13. 70 percent are done by 13!
Are you kidding me? You know what that means? We have kids who aren’t having fun. We have kids who aren’t active by 13 years old. Maybe they’re burned out, maybe they were told they wouldn’t ever be good enough, so they quit despite still loving the game. I’ve long laughed along with many of you at the concept of “everyone’s a winner.”
The trophies and medals given to all kids simply for participation. I’ve got a whole shelf of my boys’ medals, some even in toy boxes, because they really mean little to my kids, who are playing for fun and to win and to get that treat at the end of the game. I’ve got another son who has medals and trophies from tournaments, based on the places his team finished. Those aren’t in a shrine, but they are in a special place.
They play because they love it. They work hard because they want to do well and win. I hope we as parents don’t suck it out of them. I hope they don’t run into a coach who kills it in them. I hope that fans don’t beat it out of them.
But how much of sports should be about fun? I’m an ultra competitive person, and I adore winning. I was 8 months pregnant with my youngest and tried to play kickball with my nieces and nephews. But because I wasn’t anywhere near my normal ability, I quit. And missed out on a fun game.
Dialing back my competitive nature is difficult. I’ve passed it on to my kids, and combined with what they’ve gotten from their father, well, we’re not shocked that they are competitive. But I hope they’re having fun. I love watching my kids play sports. I love to cheer. I love spending the whole day at tournaments. I love the confidence I see now blooming in my middle son, who is so often overlooked by others because of his big brother and his too-dang-cute little brother. And yet he’s out there on the soccer field with all the other kids and his brother, and he’s holding his own and his brother is proud.
Sports are amazing. I think every kid should have the opportunity, it’s why I love how the YMCA sets aside money to help those families who can’t afford to involve their kids in spots. It’s why I so admire Bob Lutz and League 42, for reaching out to a segment of Wichita’s population to teach baseball. In sports we see the raw emotions, the hard work, the discipline.
There’s so much good in sports, and I don’t want us killing the love of sports in any kid, ever. But how many kids are still having fun? So let’s take the “fun” aspect out of it. Is it right that we’re weeding kids out of youth sports because they aren’t already elite at 8?
Do kids really have to pick their sports at 5 and then keep playing them? Sometimes you think that’s the case when the coach runs double screens so the same player can score every time in basketball. You might think that’s the case when someone picks up the sport at age 9 and feels like, wow, I’m too far behind to ever catch up.
We have parents who are banking on their kid getting a college scholarship, so they invest thousands into sports. My advice is always to take at least half of what you’ve invested and put it in that child’s college savings plan. We have kids who aren’t playing the games they love because they won’t be high school stars, much less college stars. Are we really looking at 11-year-olds and saying they’re going to be a college star? There’s still 7 more years before they graduate high school?
In that same line of thinking, are we looking at 11-year-olds and saying they won’t be a star, they won’t make the varsity as a freshman? What if that kid quits? What if that kid has a growth spurt as a junior …. but hasn’t played for the last six years because he didn’t fit the mold of other 11-year-olds?
Look at Maize grad Ryan Schraeder, now with the Atlanta Falcons. He didn’t play high school football because he was burned out … and then he had a growth spurt.
Yet we put kids in a box. We say Joe S. is going to be a Division I basketball player, and that’s decided in fifth grade. Maybe he will, or maybe he peaks at 15 because, well, that’s as good as he’s going to get.
The story talks about how if you work hard enough, you’ll achieve it. You know what? If I worked every day of my life from the age of 5 until now, I would not be as good as Serena Williams. We all have our limits, and even if you’re busting your butt, you might not make it.
But I don’t think that means we quit. It’s why I love that the South YMCA has a basketball league during the school year for high school-aged athletes — who still love the game but didn’t make the high school team. I love the pick-up games that continue over lunch at the YMCAs, where it’s the old guys still playing.
Why? Because they love the game.