The Problems of Youth League Sports
Today youth league sports are a good thing for all the wrong reasons.
Now before you pummel me, I recognize the many ways these sports benefit our kids. I was a kid who played youth sports. I tended to be porky, so I understand the physical rewards. It is definitely a social exchange; and my mother was glad to have me out of the house for a while!
But the approach to youth sports today is altogether different than when I played.
I compare it to something I observed while an ESL teacher in Japan. I worked in an eikaiwa , a private English conversation school, and there taught all age groups. But I never expected to teach toddlers. My youngest were three-year olds! Of course, this is a prime age to introduce children to any skill; still, it was a strange experience.
Moreover, being immersed in the Japanese culture I began to see how children, essentially, enter the world being prepared for college. It is much the same in China. The work ethic demanded for learning comes with a greater premium than in America. The rewards are obvious in that many of the Southeast Asian nations lead the world in math and science and enter American universities and excel. Still, this way of life has drawbacks not often seen.
Our youth’s approach to league sports today is something like that. Yes, they get to be active, greatly important in the fight against childhood obesity; and the competition and camaraderie can be addictive. But the drawbacks often show by what motivates their participation, including parent’s purposes.
Contributing Factors to the Problem of Youth Sports
Hmm—the chicken or the egg? Let’s start with the egg.
Kids today often approach youth league sports with ulterior motives. (And you will understand that I am not making a hasty generalization because I know it doesn’t pertain to everyone. It just seems to be trending this way.) Of course, the media figures in the issue because sports, in youth minds, are rarely ever about the game alone but also the glamorized means of gaining celebrity; and it’s luring to those who hail from meager backgrounds. (Remember that craze over the Beckhams coming to America?)
So youth get high on stardom and approach league or school sports having it in mind to emulate and be “the next…” How many of my friends tried to be Michael Jordan out on the court, wagging their tongues and posing in the air? There is no problem with this until such superficial emulation begins to adhere in the mind and puts one off his own game and conceivable future in the sport.
I surmise that many kids approach sports with a complete lack of attention given to the preconditions being great involves. Many professional athletes, especially the prominent ones, are at a caliber of physical ability and mental acumen that many of us will never have. No one just gets to be a Michael Phelps or Roger Federer—even with exceptional love for the game and crazy training regimen and God-given prowess. We may get close…we may play on the team, but all of us will never be the Great One.
Moreover, we ignore the statistics that plainly reveal the impossible odds of becoming a professional at all. For most of us to think that we’ll sail at the high watermark is to merely drown somewhere at the bottom of that sea.
Soccers Moms and Volatile Dads
Where to begin! I mean, we’ve invented new terms like soccer mom. The Dictionary.com definition for this word is “a typical American suburban woman with school-age children”! Nothing to do with soccer itself yet a revealing social mutation when we consider parents who keep second schedules to match their kids’ extracurricular itineraries.
We even have demon parents that torment coaches and referees for the treatment of their children in games. As misaligned as our kids appear to be about sports, the parents just might be out of control.
I wonder if there is not hypocrisy working here. Parents allow their children to participate in these leagues and camps and encourage them to be stars. Some parents will support their kids for years. But if kids approach the sport oblivious to masterful preconditions, parents do the same by not considering the time and involved commitment, even money, needed to network and follow their children to the top.
Sport is an industry. Everyone isn’t lucky (or good) enough to be spotted by an agent. I can admire Richard Williams for single-handedly making Venus and Serena the champions they are today. I appreciate him being able to see that these girls could go far in tennis and for taking the gamble.
A Ball and a Skill Set: An Alternative
Youth league sports are grossly overrated, especially when we wish to look to them as career starters. Sports build character in kids that will support their careers but fare poorly in becoming careers. Our youth have a far better chance at becoming any other kind of professional than being professional athletes. (I haven’t even dealt with the possibility of injuries and fallback education, even late-age injuries that plague our teens today because of overexertion in youth league sports.)
I think there is a more worthy alternative.
Should children be allowed to participate in sports? Absolutely—but with condition. You see, my role as a parent is to plan ahead of my child’s desires and needs. My presence in their life purposes to open their way to a successful future.
Why not pair any sports activity with another skill set?
For instance, my son wishes to play basketball. Fine, but not without choosing another skill like an instrument, language, or craft. It creates balance. It limits my child from spreading himself thinly with school work and three sports and a dad in tow. My son could focus on fewer activities and get good at them while maintaining high grades and a balanced family life.
It’s the old adage about giving a man a fish or teaching him how to fish. Learning sign language is fishing for oneself. Mastering carpentry is also fishing for oneself. And should my boy one day become a musician or ambassador, he will surely do it longer than if he were an athlete.
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