Hi, this will run in the February 22 issue of the Alameda Sun. (The title is mine, I’m not sure what the Sun will call it.) I meant for this to raise some questions and get some feedback. Although I didn’t ask for comments in the column itself, please feel free to add your own here.
Without a sports background, and without older children, I am not sure just how to approach the whole sports thing. Just what do our kids need to be successful in their future lives, as players, teammates, partners, coaches, etc.? Feel free to chime in with any thoughts or advice.
When my twins were just starting their sporting careers, they played recreational soccer with the Alameda soccer club. When five-year-olds play soccer, it’s basically a free-for-all and no one keeps score. The next year, in the Under Six category, inevitably, one kid gets the ball, drives it down the shortened field and scores. This pattern is pretty much repeated throughout the entire game. There is no passing, the goalie is usually not paying attention, afraid of the ball or doesn’t really get that they need to protect the goal from the advancing enemy. If the teams are lucky, there is at least one kid on each side who is clear on the concept of scoring a goal and the score will stay even.
It’s cute and fun, but at this point no one really expects anything but the experience of getting kids out on a field together and “touching” the ball. During one game, our team had all the kids who understood the concept of scoring, literally leaving the other team in the dust. During half-time, I pulled my scoring daughter aside and said, “This is too much for the other team, let them score sometimes.” The reaction to my comment from the coach and the other parents was… let’s just say, they did not agree with my compassionate point of view.
No one who knows me can honestly call me a sporty type. I enjoy exercise and the outdoors—I cycle, I work out, I jazzercise with the best of them. However, I have little experience (well, none, really) playing a team sport.
For anyone who has read this column before, they know that I did not play sports before high school. My high school experience was confined to the track & field team—mostly field—because you never had to “try out” for track & field. Other than being banned from discus throwing because of an unfortunate event in which the crowd watching was lucky to have escaped with their heads still affixed to their bodies, it was a great experience. It didn’t teach me much about playing in a team, but it was a sport and I was part of a team.
In college, I rowed crew in Ireland for Trinity College for a year and then for one semester at Mount Holyoke. My “team” in Dublin consisted of me and another student named Fiona Little. We rowed a pair, which meant it was just the two of us, fending for ourselves with no coxswain and mostly ending races in bushes along the sides of rivers. I can’t remember who steered the boat anymore, so I can’t blame either of us. We did have plenty of fun after our races at the regattas, however.
Because of this lack of sporting experience, I have some apprehension about the sporting world of my kids. Sure, I watch college and professional games, but I am ill prepared for the life I am leading, with two of my kids, my oldest and youngest girls, playing many team sports. I also must disclose that I have never been a coach, either. Hats off to the parents who have coached all of my daughters’ teams. It’s tough, it takes time and patience and I don’t want to in any way disparage them.
But, you must have guessed there’d be a “but” right about here, I am witnessing events that I don’t understand and need some help clarifying.
What is the purpose of having our children who are younger than high school age play sports? When they started, I was told it was to learn about a sport, about sportsperson behavior, and to help gain confidence. It’s about learning how to work with others, and how to handle themselves under pressure. These are fine life lessons and I applaud the intention.
As they get older, I have learned, the stakes get higher. The games are tougher and the need to win is stronger. I am not talking about the kids’ needs—I am talking about the parents here. By default, we direct our children; we are here to model for them, to help prepare them for life, whether we have the right experience or not.
Let’s face it, most of our kids will not be playing professional sports. And, in my case, that probability (with only girls) is even stronger. So, how much of real life do we have to introduce our children to through the playing of sports? Is it better, earlier in life, to show that you will not always get your fair playing time? That the other “team” will not be looking out for your best interests? What I see on the field lately is that nepotism is alive and well. If you’re not pulling your weight, regardless of your skill set, you’ll be pulled out in favor of the win. Is the point really, in the end, to show them how to win at all costs?
I can’t let go of the mom in me who wants everyone happy and to have both teams walk away feeling like they have all played a part in a job well done. That, during the time before high school, even the kids who aren’t the best, still get to play in the tough moments, because they will most likely not get to play once you have to try out. Like me.