I have been involved in youth sports for just about 10 years now, and I have seen a lot of good, and a lot of bad during those 10 years. All parents who put their kids in a youth sport, whether it is football, drill, soccer, or any of the other abundance or sports are doing so to benefit their children obviously. Recently, however, I have seen a lot of things that do not seem to have the children in mind.
I know that all of us parents want our children to succeed in everything that they do, but lately, I have seen way too many news reports from all over the country where there have been altercations from parents on the sidelines, or parents and coaches, or coaches and referees. All for a game that after it is over, you will see these kids from opposing teams off to the side, playing with each other having a great time. They couldn’t care less who won or lost the game, because they are focused on playing with their new friends and just being kids.
Before I get all the comments below saying that we should teach the kids that winning is important, I should preface this by saying when I was younger I thought winning wasn’t just the most important thing, it was the only thing. I absolutely hated losing, and in some respects I still do. I am a very competitive person. But the first time after a pee-wee football playoff game, where my son’s team had lost and their season was over, I began to change my view a little. Because there were definitely tears from most of the team, they understood what had happened. But after listening to the coaches, and finding their parents, and getting their cool trophy (more on that later), I heard multiple kids asking their parents if they could go play with their friends in the field near the bleachers.
Not too long after the other team joined in, and they had a full-blown game of Moss going on, where one of the older kids would throw the ball high in the air, and a group of boys would all jump up and try to catch it. No tears, no frowns, just a bunch of young boys laughing and having a good time. I was devastated, my son’s team had just lost their final game of the year, but that wasn’t important to them. And as I saw this time and time again, I began to realize it wasn’t all about winning and losing, it was about much, much more than that. Here are just a few of the benefits of playing youth sports.
Obviously one of the most important benefits is that your children are being active. In a day and age where video games reign supreme, it’s important to get kids outside. What better way to do this than to sign them up for sports? Regardless of the sport, there will be plenty of physical activity.
Depending on the sport, your child may be on a team with kids in the neighborhood, the entire city, or an even larger area. But no matter where the pool of players comes from, even if they go to the same school, playing sports together will bring them closer together. Because do not get me wrong, playing sports can be hard. There’s a lot of sweat and tears, and sharing those with your teammates creates a bond that is tough to break. Plus the kids from around the league that they will meet, your child will create lots of lasting friendships from their team and league.
For those that struggle in social situations, being part of a team will help as well. They may be shy at first, but after a while of being around the same kids they will start to open up around their teammates. Before long there will be sleepovers and birthday parties, because the friendships will not end at the field/court.
Not every kid is a natural born leader, but I guarantee after a few seasons with the same organization his/her leadership skills will grow. Along with this comes just an overall since of confidence and self-esteem that will follow them for their entire life. This will not happen overnight, typically the first season in any sport a lot of kids will sit back and feel out this new situation. The next year, however, they will be the veterans on the team helping the new kids!
Ability to be Coached
This may not sound like a big deal, but being able to be coached will be extremely important as they move through their lives. Being taught young to listen to your coaches will help when listening to their bosses as adults. It will also help them in school, as they will listen to their teachers as well.
The coaches themselves are very important as well. Almost every one of them is donating their time, and sometimes money to be out there with your kids. And it is normally a thankless job, having to deal with a bunch of young children, their parents, the referees, sometimes missing out on time with their own children. While every once in a while you will come across a coach that does not seem to care, in my experience, this is the exception to the rule. If your child has a coach that genuinely cares for your kid (not to be confused with giving them playing time, that’s honestly irrelevant at younger ages), make sure you let them know how much you appreciate them. My son is now a teenager, and probably couldn’t tell you how their team did in any particular season, but still knows his coaches from when he first started.
Winning and Losing
Yes, I said that youth sports were about much more than winning and losing, and I stand by that. But it is a part of sports and in some ways life in general. Working with their teammates towards a common goal can be one of the richest experiences in their young lives. The exhilarating experience of winning a championship is absolutely amazing. On the other hand, losing can be a devastating experience. No matter what, your children will learn from it. Either they get the taste of success and want to have that feeling of winning again, or they are defeated and learn to work harder the next time.
A quick note on participation trophies. I know the common thought these days is that we have raised a generation of entitled brats because they have all gotten participation trophies. I disagree, however. No, I am not a proponent of giving a high school kid a participation trophy for finishing last place in their league. But giving a 7-year old a cool little trophy that they can put up on their dresser and look at and smile? There are a lot of steps between that and the “entitled” generation we have. We are talking about an age group where Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy are still a big part of their lives. Let them be kids, because as adults we know that after you grow up there is no going back!
Starts Them on a Good Path
I fully believe that all kids are inherently good, but we all know that sometimes they end up going down the wrong path that leads to drugs, alcohol and criminal activity. Sports will keep them busy and give them something to do to keep them away from those paths. I realize a 7-year old probably is not doing drugs, but if they start playing a sport that they really like, they will continue to play it into their teen years, and will not want to risk losing their sport by following these dangerous paths. You know what they say about idle hands!
At the end of the day, they are kids. They will have plenty of years to be adults, working 40+ hours a week to take care of their own family. Right now, let them be kids. Yes, make sure they are listening and learning. But let them have fun. Let them act goofy. Is your kid the kid watching butterflies in the outfield? So what? Is your (or your kids) life going to change drastically because of the outcome of a little league baseball game? Probably not! Let’s change the narrative about what is important during these youth years.
Not every kid is going to go professional in their respective sports. In fact, I know you may not want to hear it, but percentage-wise hardly any of these kids are going to make it to the pros. And that is ok. They can still work hard and have all the benefits of playing youth sports. The percentage of kids making it to college on a scholarship is much higher, so sports can definitely have a huge impact on their lives. But colleges are not recruiting many youth fields, unless you happen to be a kid of a professional athlete. So enjoy this time in their lives, and let them enjoy it too. Because trust me, once they are grown, you will miss these times.
Like I said before, I grew up thinking winning was all that mattered. As you can see, however, there is much more to youth sports than just who won and who lost. Yes, it is important to teach them that there is a winner and a loser. But if we as parents do this correctly, everybody will win, because we will be raising a generation of leaders not a generation of entitlement. Just today at my kids’ football game, our team lent the other team 2 players or they would not have been able to play. I have heard about this happening a lot, and I am sure it is not just in my area of the world. That’s what this should all be about. The idea of sportsmanship is not dead, we just don’t hear about it as much as we do about the horrible things that happen at our kids’ games. The media is funny that way.
So the next time you are at your kids’ games, and the coach calls a bad play, or a kid makes a mistake, or the referee misses a call that you and everybody else in the stands saw, take a breath. Don’t yell at the coach or the referee. When your kid looks over to you (and they will, because you are the most important thing to them at that game!) just smile and wave, and let them know that you are there. At the end of the day, that is what is important, your bond with your child and the relationships he or she is creating being on a team.
I know there will be a lot of people that do not agree, and a lot that do. Either way, please leave a comment at the bottom, and let’s have a good discussion. Also, share this with your friends that have kids on the youth level. Maybe they will enjoy this post as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this, have a great weekend!