I didn’t play sports as a kid.
I played outside in the neighborhood until the streetlights came on, every single night and all day long in summer.
I really don’t remember any of the neighborhood kids doing recreational sports until we started junior high. As far as I know, there were no after-school sports practices or Saturday games or tournaments or summer camp sports intensives. There certainly were no kids’ Sunday sports events in the Bible Belt.
I’m not totally anti-sports. I’m sure sports in and of themselves are fine. I’m sure there are lots of positives for kids playing sports. I don’t want to play and I sometimes struggle to get excited with and for my kids.
I have some issues with the recreational sports organizations my kids have participated in.
Our family’s kids sports experiences are a little different since we homeschool and we’re military.
We move around a lot – every two to four years. We don’t have the luxury of really delving in with volunteering, training, learning, or growing with teammates and coaches. We’re never gonna be part of that good ole boy network.
As homeschoolers, we don’t look to the junior high or high school for team sports. We probably won’t live in this school district long enough anyway. I realize that many school districts offer extracurriculars and sports to homeschoolers. We’re just not interested in having our kids participate in anything at a government-run school.
Kids sports seems like a race to nowhere, and it does not often produce better athletes. It too often produces bitter athletes who get hurt, burn out, and quit sports altogether.
The irony about kids’ sports today is that we want our kids to have opportunities for challenge, rigor, and growth without their feelings getting hurt.Julie Lythcott-Haims in How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
The pressure and anxiety of kids sports steals one thing our kids will never get back: their childhoods.
Maya Castro, author of The Bubble: Everything I Learned as a Target of the Political, and Often Corrupt, World of Youth Sports, who says her own experience as a young soccer player was tainted by misguided and misbehaving adults, offers ideas on how adults can improve the youth-sports culture:
- Strive to be a mentor.Castro says parents and coaches have a great opportunity to use sports as a teaching tool for life. “The learning aspect of the game needs to be the focal point of youth sports,” Castro says. “Sports should be an extension of family values and behaviors. Good parents and coaches tie in the ups and downs of competition with the challenges in navigating adult life.”
- Model positive behaviors.Part of the negative image of youth sports is related to parents yelling at coaches, referees, opponents, or even their own kids. “There are enough critics in the stands hurling profanities and insults during a game,” Castro says. “Parents should set the right example for their kid – and for adults who obviously haven’t grown up.”
- Enjoy the moment.Too many parents and their young athletes are fretting the future. “Too often it’s all about winning and getting the scholarship,” Castro says, “but my parents told me there was a time when kids actually enjoyed playing for the sake of playing, and parents won just by getting to watch them play. We need to get back to that. Without it, memories are wasted.”
- Be encouraging.“Celebrate the effort, not just the result,” Castro says. “This goes for youth coaches as well as parents. When kids do some good things, don’t let the mistakes cloud your post-game comments. Be honest in discussing room for improvement, but not at the expense of making them feel like they have to play perfect to get praise.”
- Make education first.Castro and many observers of youth sports say parents have lost perspective by thinking their kid is on the fast track to a scholarship or a pro career. Statistics show few advance that far. “In the meantime, kids are exhausted from travel leagues and tournaments,” she says, “and the way their future through sports is emphasized, education becomes a distant second.”
The military child and youth sports organization CYS is just haphazard (both Army and USAF). I understand it’s all volunteers, but anyone who pays plays and often it’s just a free for all at practices and games.
We’ve had some lovely experiences with track in Hawaii and Utah and Germany. Those coaches seemed really passionate.
Soccer, gymnastics, and baseball have been a bit disappointing.
There are just some problems with kids recreational sports.
Poor organization and planning.
The kids are assigned to a team randomly, with no knowledge or care to talent or gender. Anyone who pays plays.
My teen daughter quit playing soccer at age 12 because it was just uncomfortable and pointless for her to continue playing with boys.
Even my 8-year-old is experiencing some ability issues playing with boys in soccer. It’s not fair to have co-ed teams.
The military kids activities on base have volunteer coaches who get points on their performance reviews for volunteering. Each year, it’s a new coach and new kids on the team. Some of these parent coaches have no clue whatsoever how to coach children or sports at all. Often, not enough volunteers are found until after the season begins.
Schedules changed 4 times for fall soccer, which lasts 2 only months! Uniforms were only borrowed. It makes me wonder what the registration fee is even for – $40 for Peewee (ages 5-6) and $34 for minors (ages 7-8). We will look for another organization to play soccer next year if we even bother.
With the time change, it got dark by 5:30. Soccer practices and games were cut short or canceled because it was too dark to see the ball or other players. There are no lights on the kids’ soccer fields.
There is no education.
Even when the kids begin playing sports at age 3, there is nothing but running around and playing with the ball instead of teaching discipline or rules. Some kids act like they’re forced to be there and pick flowers or cry or refuse to listen.
There are few drills or strategies taught to the kids even at age 8-12. There is no teamwork. There is no actual coaching.
My kids, thankfully, know most of the fundamentals and rules of soccer and baseball. These organizations don’t focus on the rules. It’s all supposed to be fun and sharing and fuzzy wuzzy feelings. My kids come away frustrated that rules aren’t followed and scores aren’t kept. They don’t know what the point is.
We often just have other priorities.
Sports are just a fun past-time for us, an extracurricular activity for my kids. I think it’s important that they get some exercise and learn something about teamwork. But sports are not our lives. And I know some families who are really into it.
We enjoy lots of other things way more than sports.
We focus on academics. I sure don’t encourage my kids to strive for a sports scholarship or anything. We don’t put any emphasis on sports around here.
We like to travel. We’ve missed practices and games for trips. Whatever, my kids are 5 and 8 and life goes on. The coaches and other parents sometimes get a little bent out of shape over this.
I don’t enjoy listening to parents during practices and games yelling at all the kids (including mine) like they’re at some professional event. They’re children and all the fun is taken out of their playing if they’re being screamed at by maniac adults giving them conflicting directions from what the coach says. We look sideways at them and just wonder what they’re like at home.
My kids are confused by the mixed messages of “it’s all just fun and we don’t keep score” yet being hollered at to score goals or make a good play.
Everyone gets a trophy.
This mentality is everything that’s wrong with America.
What’s the point of even trying if that kid picking flowers gets a trophy along with this kid who scored a goal from the midfield?
My kids know when they play well. They know who really cares about the game and who doesn’t want to be there. Who are we fooling with participation trophies?
I loathe this self psychology we’re teaching American kids.
Trophies and awards are for merit. We cheapen it by offering it to everyone, regardless of excellence.
At least in gymnastics and track, the kids only get ribbons or trophies if they earn them. There are clear finish lines and points systems.
Snacks after games.
The snacks kill me.
Why do these kids even need snacks after an hour of outside time?
We don’t reward with food.
And why do these parents think it’s ok to offer my kids non-food as snacks every week?
It’s usually lunchtime after games. We’re heading home to eat real food. I don’t want my kids munching on Doritos and Fruit Roll-Ups and drinking neon Gatorade ever, much less right before a meal.
After the last game, some well-meaning parent often brings store-bought or box mix cupcakes with brightly colored icing.
I always get weird looks when we politely decline the chemicals offered each week. Some kids and parents get really offended.
I’m disgusted by how the parents speak to and about their children.
At practice and games, they brag about punishing their kids, complain about their kids’ behavior, and ridicule things their kids say.
At games, parents compete to holler loudest at their kids, distracting them from the game. They laugh at injuries. They roll their eyes and complain about lack of skill. The children are 6 years old! And we’re all just supposed to have fun, right? Everyone gets a trophy.
One mom called a kid a mo-fo. Others laughed. I was horrified.
Most of the coaches are parents of a player. There are some coaches that really shouldn’t be around kids. They scream at their own child and their teams. They use punishment and humiliation as motivators. It’s inappropriate for 8 year olds. We’ve witnessed some really terrible coaches who want to win at any cost. And the parents on these teams aren’t anyone I want to be around.
Check out this horrific video!
What if kids want to quit sports?
I don’t think the answer is to quit sports altogether.
Your kids might start testing the idea: what if I just quit?
It’s common in the middle of the season, interest slumps, fatigue ramps up,and poor records stare kids in the face.
As adults, we have all been there. Fed up with something, and ready to bow out. But it’s hard to understand from our kids whether their complaints are simple growing pains, or genuine concerns.
And there’s a lot at stake: Sports hold many opportunities for our young people to grow socially, physically, academically, and emotionally. If they quit prematurely, their development might suffer.
- Mental coaching. Every athlete struggles at some point with their mental game and conviction. Even those training for the Olympics. There are 20 mental skills that influence performance – which is why coaching is continuous, and should include mental coaching.
- Are they being identified as an athlete? Or are they sitting on the bench, feeling down about not being recognized as a player?
- Is it purely emotional? Are they relying on just their feelings? If so, you need more objective measurements.
- Is it loss fatigue? If your athlete is worried about the past or the future, they won’t be able to be in the moment, and probably won’t be able to perform at their highest.
Parental influence is the greatest contributing factor to a kid’s environment. If you have the right words, you might help your kids stick with something they really should, or make the best, informed decision they need to make.
My kids are mostly oblivious to the issues I see with kids sports, except the garbage snacks, at which they turn up their noses.
I realize that the volunteer rec teams and military CYS doesn’t exist to prepare kids for anything, except maybe the tryouts for travel teams or prep for school teams. It’s just another service offered to military dependents as a semblance of normal American life, especially when we’re overseas. It’s harder for American kids to join local teams. We’re up against a language and culture barrier. Some kids just might not succeed at tryouts without natural talent or real training – that isn’t offered until about age 10 anyway. The American mentality is that everyone should be accepted onto a team despite having any aptitude or ability. Many local teams don’t want to waste time and resources on kids who will be transitioning soon.
Aaron’s family is obsessed with sports. They live and breathe it. I think that’s great they have something they love to do together. They spend lots of time and resources on sports – coaching, teaching, playing, traveling, watching. I think they have an advantage because they have lived in the same town their entire lives and know everyone there. They can build a real team and grow together. They often win tournaments – even state.
Military kids only get to skim the surface of the world of sports. The athletic services offered on base don’t allow for anything other than recreational play. It doesn’t prepare kids for high school sports nor the real world.