In Sports – Kids just want to have Fun…

Why do kids play sports?  If you ask a 6-year old boy that plays t-ball or a 15-year old girl on a competitive softball team why they play, chances are you’ll get the same answer, ‘I play to have fun’. Yet if you ask parents why their kids play, answers differ greatly. Parents cite their kids play for, the team experience, for the competition, to build confidence — ‘fun’ ranks further down the list. Yet time and again research shows that kids are involved in sports for the fun – not for the competition, or the travel, or the winning.

One such study, conducted by Sports Illustrated for Kids in 2001 found that 70 percent of kids quit organized sports by age 13 because they were no longer having fun. Another survey conducted by a kid himself, a high school senior, discovered similar results (you can read more at Why Do You Play Spots).  I’ve been planning on writing a post about this topic for some time (what kids want out of sports) and after reading an article yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, ‘The Trials of the B Team’ I couldn’t write this fast enough.

Premise
This article epitomizes all that is wrong with youth sports today – overzealous, ultra competitive parents that overlook why their kids play sports. The author of the article, Lisa Bannon, the Mom, makes it clear why she thinks her kids are playing ball. She says this…

“To have your dreams dashed is devastating for anyone, at any age. But to be told when you are in fourth grade that you are basically finished with serious baseball? That’s a lot for a 9-year-old to take. We knew that we had to do something about it.” (Bannon, 2012)

Yes – you read right, this mom thinks her twin boys are washed up at 9-years old. Furthermore, who’s dreams is she talking about – the boys or hers?  Moving on, the story goes like this: The twin boys didn’t make the travel team to the [deep] disappointment of the parents. Thinking the boys would never play competitive ball again, they [the parents] with the group of other parents of the boys who also didn’t make the ‘A’ team, petitioned the league so that they could create their own travel ‘B’ team that competes with the travel ‘A’ teams. Though to the further disappointment of the ‘B’ team parents the season performance was pitiful, with the ‘B’ team losing [very] badly throughout the entire season.

Why it’s Crazy
Who do you think cared more that the boys were cut from the team, the parents or the kids? My guess it’s the parents and, Ms. Barron even admits it…

“The dozen boys who were cut took it hard, but the parents took it harder. We all agreed that it was good for them to understand the demands of high-level competition, but did they really need to absorb this cutthroat culture so young?” (Bannon, 2012)

The disconnect?  The boys most likely would have just as much ‘fun’, if not more on a house league ball team with less pressure and a chance to try other sports and activities than if they played for the ‘A’ team.  The question here is, do children need to travel on an elite team to get the benefits of playing youth sports? To have fun? More importantly did this mom and/or dad even ask their boys what they wanted to do, whether they wanted to play on a local team or travel on weekends to get their butts kicked on a consistent basis? Somehow I doubt it.

Conclusion
Sadly many parents follow this path that leads to stressed out athletes, parents, and kids that are NOT having fun. Parents are not doing their kids any favors by pursing ultra-competitive, elite sports involvement for children under the age of thirteen or even fourteen. House league sports teaches kids values of being a team player, and commitment in a far more balanced and healthy way than does ultra competitive sports that are obsessed with winning and being the best at all costs, including fun.

Update July 14, 2012:  I wrote a Letter to the Editor of WSJ where this article ‘The Trials of the B Team’ was featured. Many readers appeared to have strong opinions, several were published, one was mine – you can read more by clicking here: http://online.wsj.com/public/page/letters.html

Resources
To score or not to score? Toning down youth sports. Vicki Smith, stopgettingsick.com
The Trials of the B Team, Lisa Bannon, The Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: Baseball Players, by zarzoso at Flickr

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