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Ruining It for the Kids

Researchers at the University of Alabama have reported that overzealous adults do a lot to ruin the experience of sports for children.  They suggest that kids need unstructured play at young ages, and shouldn’t specialize in one sport until age 15. 

They aren’t telling me much that I didn’t already know.  Little Bear wanted to play teeball in the spring of first grade, so his mother and I signed him up for the league near her home.  This was the year after a local team had won the Little League World Series, so every coach had championships in their eyes as they worked with their teams.*  The head coach and assistants on Little Bear’s team were absolute jerks. All but two of the kids on the team hadn’t done much but play catch before, but they were expecting them to know when to throw to first base.  The other two were coaches kids, who had obviously been worked aggressively since the time they could pick up a ball.  Little Bear was the smallest and youngest member of the team, and the coach was continually screaming at him from the dugout to pay attention and stop playing with the grass, or kicking up the dirt, or whatever it is that young boys like to do when they’re bored by the frenetic pace of teeball.  Little Bear wanted to quit after the third game, but I got him to stay through the entire six week season. That was the last time he wanted anything to do with sports.

Coaches and parents have to walk a fine line between pushing young kids to help them excel and being too harsh.  Kids in sports need to be taught discipline, but making 1st graders take a lap because they forget to throw the ball home when there’s a runner on third base is a bit too much.

I’ve also seen parents who put so much emphasis on sports in order to position their child for a scholarship and possibly a professional career.  That’s all well and good if a young man or lady is in high school, but some start the lectures in grade school.  Pressuring kids to perform and excel at a level so much above their age almost always backfires.  

Sports at that age should be about fun, learning, and exercise.  Adults who make it about winning and nothing else need to get a grip and join an adult league.

*This isn’t an exaggeration.  I overheard a meeting of several coaches where they discussed specific players of all ages that they wanted to groom in order to create a new superteam.

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  1. This attitude is why I have NOTHING to do with kids sports. I hated it as a child and I hate it now. If it were up to me, sports would be banned from the schools. As a tax payer, I'm tired of supporting this crap period.

  2. Too many parents are trying to 'relive' their screwed up childhoods and failures (or presumed successes) in sports by forcing their kids and living vicariously through them, whether they want it or not!!!

  3. Its not a new phenomenon either, though I do think its worse now than it was 20+ years ago when I was playing sports.

    Thankfully my parents understood sports were just for fun, and I wasn't expected to earn great rewards or scholarships from it. I did have some issues with my mother and singing, she can't, and since us kids CAN….I forced the issue by refusing the sign up for choir my Junior year of Highschool and she gave up.

    Matt, if they banned it from the schools the club programs would just take up the slack. It would still happen, at least in the schools there's usually limits on what they can force the kids to do.

  4. Ruth, if it was banned from the schools, I wouldn't care who picked up the slack as long as tax payer dollars wasn't used in anyway to fund or pay for it. I am tired of school sports groups being treated like deity over any other groups in school.

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