Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life Lessons in Kid Sports

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We’re in the midst of raising a generation full of kids who feel they’re entitled to have things without earning them. We are developing a society lacking in perseverance and responsibility. Now, don’t get me wrong…hard work and accountability are still out there, just not as affluent as they once were.

There’s not one big reason why this is happening. There are many little reasons.

It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece by itself seems unimportant but if you align all the little pieces together you’re going to create a big picture. Each piece by itself seems insignificant but is so important in the end.
I believe a piece of this sense-of-entitlement puzzle may be how we’re introducing sports and competition to our kids.

Our current efforts to protect our children’s feelings during sports are actually doing them more harm than good. Sports are supposed to be competitive yet when kids are young we don’t keep score because we don’t want the kids on the losing team to be unhappy. Kids are smarter than we’re giving them credit for. They know the intended outcome of any game is to have a winner and a loser. It’s a game and if you’re not keeping score then it’s no longer a game, it’s just practice. Funny thing is, even though the coaches, parents and officials aren’t keeping score, the kids usually are anyway.

So what’s wrong with not keeping score?

It’s teaching our kids to believe winning is just as good as not winning. In life some people win. Not everybody wins, and it’s ok not to win all the time. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. We’re missing out on an opportunity to teach our kids not to be sore losers, but rather how to be good sports. Why does society think we’re doing our kids a favor by waxing over this life lesson? Our job as parents is to prepare our children to be positive, responsible and hard working adults. When they’re adults they need to be able to handle losing. They need to be able to get up, brush themselves off and know that losing is ok and sometimes it’s necessary to learn from mistakes and try harder to achieve their goals.

Everybody makes the team.

I understand and agree with young children being given the opportunity to sign up and play a sport regardless of thier abilities because it's the only way for them to learn about the sport and know whether or not they will enjoy playing it. The problem is we’ve abolished tryouts and “making cuts” for the older kids too-sometimes even into middle school-because kids are upset and feel rejected when they don’t make the team. This used to be an opportunity to teach our children how to persevere and deal with disappointment constructively.  The lesson we’re giving them now is that everyone deserves an equal opportunity to play even if they aren’t very good. This is not reality. Why should a kid practice their skills and focus any extra time and effort into making themselves a stronger athlete if they’re going to make the team anyway, regardless of how they prepare themselves for the season? Real life doesn’t mirror this image. You do not grow up to be an adult and get a job or keep a job just because you want to be part of a company. You have to work hard, strive for excellence and be the best you can be. You have to interview and impress, and if you’re rejected you have to be able to dust yourself off and try again somewhere else. Disappointments are a part of life. You cannot avoid them, you have to learn how to deal with them.

Everybody gets a medal.

Earning a medal used to be a big deal. Maybe you did something that deserved recognition. Maybe you scored the winning point. Maybe you were a very valuable player and deserved an extra pat on the back. Obviously kids who didn’t get a medal wished they had one. I’m sure there were many times when, on the way home from the sports banquet, there were a few kids who were upset about not getting a medal and felt really sad or mad about it and their parents taught them it’s okay to be sad but more importantly it’s okay to be happy for someone else’s accomplishments. It’s okay to praise another human being, let them have the spotlight. A good human quality to possess is the ability to be truly and genuinely be happy for someone else.
When everybody gets a medal everybody is happy for themselves. Not everybody earned a medal, but everybody expects to be given one because that’s the fair thing to do. We’re teaching our kids to feel entitled to things they didn’t earn. We’re so worried about our kids being sad we’d rather just give them something to shut them up rather than teach them how to sort out and deal with their feelings. Teach them how to persevere. Teach them that life isn’t fair and if you want a medal then you have to work really hard, and if you do your very best and you still don’t get a medal, it’s ok. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Maybe your strength is elsewhere.

Giving everyone a medal is celebrating mediocrity.

This nation was built on the drive to be better than the others. It was built by people who persevered. They set goals and attained them. Why would somebody work so hard to earn a medal if they knew they were just going to get one anyway, no matter how much or how little they worked? The kid sitting on the bench all season doesn’t have to practice harder or set goals to better himself if in the end he’ll shine in the glory of a spotlight just the same as the star player.

We are just here to have fun.

Well, duh. But not really because remember-it’s a game and in the end there has to be a winner and a loser. It’s fun, but it’s competitive fun. It’s adrenaline-pumping-heart-racing fun. It’s suspenseful and strategic and has a purpose and a goal-to win! Kids play on the playground just for fun. Kids climb trees and ride bikes just for fun. When kids play tag or hide-n-go-seek it’s for fun AND they want to win. Because they are games, and games have winners and losers.

Sports should teach kids to persevere.

There is no better way to teach a lesson, especially to children, than a real life something-that-is-happening-to-you lesson. If our kids do not understand it’s okay to lose then they will have trouble handling losing. It’s our job as parents to teach them there is nothing wrong with losing sometimes. Life isn’t about fair. It never has been and never will be.


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6 comments:

  1. I agree...but...younger kids should be able to play sports without fear of riding the bench or not making the team. Even when I was a kid (early 80's) if you signed up for rec t-ball or softball you made the team, you practiced with the team, and you had a shot if the game was way ahead to make it into the game. Now there are lots of teams for the 10 and under group of kids that requires just signing up. However, there are also many teams for the over 10 that require tryouts and if you don't make it then you don't make it. I am not aware of any competitive team in our area that has 10 year olds that can just sign up and play regardless of their abilities. My 8yo had to try out for gymnastics at 7, missed the cut and worked harder to get on the team as an 8yo. My 10yo will learn this year what real football is when he plays in the major league. He will most likely ride the bench until his skill level comes up. This is a method I can support - and also cuts down on injuries.

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  2. I agree with you...when kids are really young they should get a chance to play, but these things are happening with older kids and it never used to be this way...even into middle school, and I just don't think it's a good thing at that age.

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  3. Middles school kids??? No way, they have to learn how to deal with rejection. I agree with you.

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  4. By the time you're in middle school and you are playing competitive (not recreational) sports, you need to learn some life lessons about winning, working hard, and what it feels like to fail. My kids are both already familiar with the phrase 'life's not fair' and I make sure to remind them of that anytime they complain about something not being fair. If you grow up expecting it, you're going to be sorely disappointed when you get older, or make the people around you miserable.

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  5. You raise interesting and valid points here for sure. I'm not a fan of everyone getting a medal. I'm not a fan of celebrating mediocrity. My son plays hockey, and they don't keep score, but every kid on the ice knows the score. When it's 15-3 or 9-0, which is often the case, I'm not sure it needs to be broadcast in big red numbers above the ice. I'm not sure, and I'm saying this as a mom whose boy is on the team that won most of the time. They're all little out there, and they feel wins and losses. I agree with so much of what you say, but I also think there are very strange things happening in youth sports. While there is much of what you say above, there is also an intensity that never existed when I played youth sports. Seasons extend all year. Youth camps are run as though they are training the next college athlete. Where is the balance? Does balance exist anymore? Great post! Thoughtful post! I'm so glad I stopped by! You've got me thinking!

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  6. Thanks for commenting Emily. You raise some great points too, and I firmly disagree with how they run kids sports all year long. So many kids who are great athletes get totally burnt out before high school-we desperately need balance, and the intensity dropped a notch or two.

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