Home > Uncategorized > Early Glory, Early Dismay in Sports

Early Glory, Early Dismay in Sports

November 22, 2013

My niece, who attended college on a sports scholarship, has a keen understanding of how youth athletics is out of control. She shared a post on Facebook by John O’Sullivan, who writes the Changing the Game Project blog. I was unfamiliar with this undertaking until I read this post, and must say I wholeheartedly endorse the mission of the organization:

The mission of the Changing the Game Project is to ensure that we return youth sports to our children, and put the ‘play’ back in ‘play ball.’  We want to provide the most influential adults in our children’s lives – their parents and coaches – with the information and resources they need to make sports a healthy, positive, and rewarding experience for their children, and their whole family.  Parenting and coaching young athletes is an art, not a science, and the information you find here can help you navigate the maze of youth sports, and put a smile on your young athlete’s face, whether he or she is 6 or 16 years old. – See more at: http://changingthegameproject.com/about-us/#sthash.6norSRVc.dpuf

The post, titled “Our Unhealthy Obsession with Childhood Sports” bemoaned the fact that we identify “All-Stars” in sports earlier and earlier and emphasize winning and losing in athletics from the very outset. The article offers several specific examples of this trend and offers several reasons why this is unhealthy, not the least of which is that by identifying “winners” at an early age we are simultaneously identifying “losers”… and the so-called “losers”, many of whom are immature as opposed to incapable, get discouraged and never participate when they are older. The article elicited this comment from me:

Here’s what’s worse: this whole mentality is pervasive in schools as well… and getting worse. We are giving standardized tests that measure performance based on age cohorts which has the same perverse effects as using age measurements in athletics. A kids who tests poorly in kindergarten and first grade kills their enthusiasm for learning as certainly as getting cut at an early age dampens enthusiasm for athletics…

Several years ago (in the mid 1980s) I read the Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman, which described the negative effects of having adults interposing their organizational structures on “play”. He cited examples of how sandlot baseball and playground basketball required children to regulate themselves while Little League and AAU formalized the process. Postman contended, rightly I believe, that this diminished the ability of children to develop conflict resolution skills and led to marginal athletes being excluded from sports… neighborhood kids who otherwise might have played right field in the sandlot games.

Getting back to sandlots and playgrounds is increasingly difficult… I know that before we learned mediation skills as kids we had lots of “pass interference” disputes handled with fights and lots of hard fouls on the basketball court… but we ultimately found a way to play fair and clean because we hated tearing our clothes and blackening our eyes. But unless kids are given the chance to play by themselves without adult supervision these skills will never be learned…. so burn those little league uniforms, lightening soccer jerseys, and basketball t-shirts and PLAY BALL!


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