Eco-friendly Winter Holiday TipsParenting
The commitment level and stakes that were mentioned in Part 1
increase once All Star season begins. That’s the season, AFTER the season for the best players in the league in any given age group. This team plays tournaments at different parks, starting at the tender age of five. AND, the ultimate goal of the All-Star season is to go to the biggest stage for whatever organization you play for, in our case its the Little League or the Pony League World Series. Let that marinate for a moment, a World Series tournament for kindergarten aged children.
Now, as kids get older and they have been playing for a few years, I get it. Going to a World Series, or even playing for the opportunity to go to the World Series is exhilarating. Those games are exciting, stressful, and electric. But what cheapens it, is the fact that winning the World Series infiltrates the decision making of the regular season, where politics and favoritism rule. Why can’t it just be about having fun and teaching kids how to play the game? Why can’t they explore playing in positions they have never had a chance to play? Why aren’t practices centered around drills and repetition, rather than constant game-time scenarios?
Recently, a parent of one of the players on my 4-year-old’s team, asked my husband if he had considered changing his coaching strategy because, “this is a pretty competitive division.” He suggested that instead of giving each of the players, most of whom are 5-6 years old, equal chances to play all of the positions, he should take the best two players and have them alternate playing the two most important positions for the whole game. He said that method was how one of the other coaches in the division stays undefeated. My husband had to explain to the man the he wasn’t there to go undefeated, because no one cares how many games your baseball team won when you were six. He is there to teach young kids how to play a sport and give everyone a chance.
Toxic sports culture emphasizes winning at all costs, and basking in the status that comes with winning in a land of meaningless recognition. No one wants to teach kids how to play a sport anymore. It’s about taking kids who already have talent or have specialized in the sport since they could walk, cultivating those players, and leaving everyone else out who doesn’t help you get closer to that win.
That is can be damaging, and at the very least discouraging for a kid wanting to try something new or just wanting to have fun. We are all forcing our kids to be a part of this rat race, of who can be the best at the earliest age. Not thinking about what the long term effects are of participating in one sport so intensely, so soon. We all want to imitate that life and behavior we see on T.V. That mentality rubs off on our kids; pounding on their chest when we win, sobbing uncontrollably when we lose. Buying the most expensive equipment, paying to play on the most elite and well known teams at these fancy tournaments. Judging the performance of children, with grown ass men saying things like, “They got nothing on us. We’ll definitely beat them,” about a team of 3rdand 4th grade opponents. What is this teaching our children? What values are we instilling in them by engaging in this extreme system that puts pressure on our children to perform all of the time? This system that cheats them out of opportunities because the league favorites get priority. Paying hundreds of dollars for our kids to play a sport where the teams aren’t even given equal access to a place to practice.
It’s a challenge not to engage, it’s like swimming upstream. My son has been sought after by travel teams since he was 6 years old…SIX. Its where the best talent is, they say. It’s the only way to get scouted, we hear again and again. It’s almost predatory. I fully understand that travel teams and club teams that play year round are meant for exceptional athletes. Their entire purpose is to attract higher caliber players, that are fully committed to the sport. It provides such athletes an opportunity to play in a more challenging environment. But it’s starting earlier and earlier for these kids and has become more about status and reputation than developing young players for the next level.
But due to the climate, travel teams end up saturating a sport, taking the kids with the most talent away from their neighborhood leagues, away from their schools’ sports teams. Now travel teams have become one of the primary way kids get recruited to play for colleges. How does that work for families of really talented kids with potential that can’t afford to play on any of those teams? But if you want your kid to have a future in the sport, what do you do? As our son approaches middle school age, it makes us question our choices. Should we be putting him in travel ball? Should he be playing games and tournaments during the offseason? Are we crazy to be challenging the status quo? Are we inhibiting his development in the sport by giving him an extended time off? The answer to all of those is no, at least not yet.
Playing a sport should never become a chore for your child. If you have to make your child play it, they don’t want to play and that’s ok. They don’t have to play year round to get better. They don’t even have to play year round to be the best. Even the greatest athletes of all time in their prospective sports said they had balanced childhoods and did other things before they committed to the sport that now pays their bills and beyond: Kobe Bryant (may he rest in peace), Megan Rapinoe, Michael Jordan, Mychal Thompson and his three sons who are all professional athletes. Our kids don’t need to specialize from the age of 5 to be astronomically good at a sport. They need room to be kids. They need to feel encouraged. And they need to repeat skills over and over before they get it. They need to have fun!
So if you’re reading this and you have children who currently play sports or you’re thinking about putting them in sports in the future, remember this.
Having fun is the first priority, be supportive and patient especially when your kids are starting out.
- Making mistakes is part of the game, allow them to do so.
- When they’re little, like elementary school, stick to the sport only during the season, allow them to play other sports or do other activities in the offseason.
- Please, for the love of God, don’t make your eight-year-old play the same sport year round. They may enjoy it for awhile, but eventually, they will burn out. Give them a chance to be kids and explore other interests they may have.
- Yelling does not make your children play better. There are more important things in the world to be firm with your kids about, like school or chores, or being a good person, sports should not be one of them.
- If you notice your child is playing like they don’t want to be there, sincerely ask them privately if they do. Make them feel safe to answer honestly and accept it if they say no. On the other hand, if your kid seems like they are getting serious about a sport and want to play it more intensely, travel ball and club sports isn’t the only way to play with elite players. There are camps and workouts and other outlets out there, you just have to keep your ear to the ground.
Fun and balance is the key to building longevity and healthy relationships within the youth sports world. Take care and collectively, let’s make sports fun again!