The subtitle for this post is “An Argument for the Abolition of Competitive Youth Sports,” because I can’t think of any reason for this dinosaur to continue to exist, infecting generation after generation.
[Full disclosure; I grew up playing baseball, from the time I was 8 through college, now my children play, and I’ve coached them in each of the sports they’ve tried. I am a sports guy. I love all sports (playing and watching and especially talking about) – except maybe soccer – and competition. I can make arguments all day long for the important values and lessons sports teach. My kids are athletic – good at most sports, very good at others. 1 is easy going and less driven, the other is ultra-competitive – I was a maniac, winning or losing on the field set the tone for everything else in my life. There, now that’s out of the way.]
The entire system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt, from the inside out. The one that stands in its place is a monster that has grown hideously disfigured. Of course, as it usually goes, the monster is me, is us.
Sports do teach ‘important values and lessons,’ but the vast majority of lessons the adults (including me) teach are important, they’re just negative ones. We teach selfish ambition, pettiness and ugly vindictiveness, not class and character. I could tell stories forever, detailing the experiences I’ve had, the venomous words directed at me, the rage-filled stares and glares dripping with hatred focused on me. Oh, the phone calls!!!
But instead, I’ll just apologize and ask forgiveness for the many times I’ve spoken quickly & harshly. The many times I’ve made decisions about the ability and (much worse!!) character of children that were 6 or 8 or 10, based on commitment and effort – as if who we are at 6 is who we will be at 26 or 46. The number too high to count of times I’ve thought only of the final score at the expense of the lives that had been entrusted to me to care for. I am unbelievably sorry for the damage I’ve inflicted, the friendships I’ve broken, the moments I’ve lost to disordered priorities.
The positives that kids learn can just as easily be learned a few years later, at 13 or 14. Self-esteem? If we are getting our worth and value from a game played every Sunday, Heaven help us all. Friendships? Again, if our teammates a few hours a week are our only relationships, maybe we need the push elsewhere. Physical activity? Seriously – we all need to go outside and breathe a bit more, kick a ball or play catch. Competition? Maybe that can wait. Maybe we don’t need to start to learn comparison and winning and losing until our personalities are a bit more developed, our character a little more solid, our worth a bit more sculpted.
Maybe our kids don’t need to see the grown-ups behaving like animals because of ‘them’ and their playing time. The coaches are always wrong, right? They always are playing the wrong people, making the wrong decisions, buffoons, trained circus animals riding tricycles in circles. The coaches “don’t know the game,” and the officials are much much worse. From the sideline, the politics of the team, league, and universe have all conspired to keep their kid, my kid from achieving his/her true potential. Obviously, this has absolutely nothing to do with the player and absolutely everything to do with me.
The kids we’re so concerned with hear and see us arguing, screaming and fighting with each other – where are the ‘values and lessons’ in that??
So, I have an idea. There is such beauty in sports, in the artistic expression of athleticism, in the introduction of perseverance, the development of skill and coordination. We can keep sports, keep the practices, the instruction, the camaraderie, just eliminate the games. With the absence of victory and defeat and starters and substitutes that aren’t getting enough playing time, it would only be about kids and the game. I know, I know, how would we display our pride and vanity? I’m sure we would discover ways to do it, (cage wrestling or gladiatorial combat, perhaps), but maybe no longer at the expense of each other’s kids.