When Did We Stop Letting Our Kids Suck at Sports?

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When did we stop letting kids suck at sports? My 43-year-old self is a testament to sucking at sports. I have a long track record of being the slowest kid, the one who tried to hide in the locker room during gymnastics in junior high, and the one who consistently played right field while praying that the ball would never come my way.

Today, I took my son to his first rec league basketball clinic. We signed him up for sports (Yeah, us. This was big!). He is 10 and hasn’t yet been on a sports team. He is in this phase where he wants to try new things. It’s a window that I am trying to get as much mileage out of as possible.

And on the same day, I took my son to his last session of rec league basketball. We got there and one of the first things the kids did was run up and down the court. First, they dribbled with the right hand, then the left. Then ran relay races. Then played a scrimmage.

The tears started in the car on the drive home.

Um, where was the skills clinic? Was I naive to think that they might teach the kids how to play before they started a scrimmage?

I am all about taking opportunities to teach kids resilience. I recently watched Wonder, a movie about a boy who struggles in his new school, and wondered, would I be the mom who helped support her son to stay at the school with all the perils of middle school or would I be the mom who got him the hell outta there?

While I totally think she made the right call in keeping her at his school, I also feel like I made the right decision to cut my son loose and bail from rec league basketball.

And here is where my rant is going to start. I have regular middle-class friends who hire private coaches so that their kids can do sports. One friend is a single mom who hired a baseball coach for her son. Not so that he could be the star of the team—she hired the coach so he could compete at the most basic level.

Another friend hired private basketball coaching for her kids. Again, not so they could win the race, more like so they could keep their little heads above water.

At the beginning of the school year, we got a flyer for a “soccer tryout evaluation.” What the what? Auditions? I just looked at another basketball league, and they also use the language of “first evaluation.”

So again, I ask, when did we stop letting kids suck at sports? When did it become standard to hire private coaches, so kids could compete at the most basic level? What ever happened to teaching and letting kids be kids? Learning through play? And when did we create a world where 10-year-olds are too damn old to get started in sports?

Right now, I am, as they say, “SMDH” and wishing that it was just simpler and easier to navigate this world of youth sports.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Oh man, we are having the same experience with basketball but I don’t think my son realizes just how bad he is…yet. I will say we’ve done karate, soccer and gymnastics for all three of mine and have had a great experience with coaches who teach and encourage. At soccer everyone gets a medal…which is a whole other blog post I’m writing in my head.

  • I am a dad and a coach. I fully believe in encouraging kids to try new sports and to help them to do their best. I also fully believe that kids should be involved in sports because it teaches so much – healthy, active living, discipline, hard work, healthy eating habits, working toward a goal etc. These are life lessons. The carry-over from sports to life is incredible. The younger you start learning, the more ingrained the positive attributes become and the earlier a child is able to see how much his/her involvement in sports is helping in other areas. Again, trying to help create a person that will achieve and be successful in life.

    There are those that have natural talent with sports, who excel young and continue to prominence. They are few. Most become better as they continue participating and trying. Every child has a moment when they achieve something that they didn’t think was possible – yet they did it. That happens at every level and it is important to acknowledge that as a parent or a coach or a friend. Many times you are the one that needs to point out the achievement – as small as you think it may be.

    Everything regarding kids is more organized than when I was a kid. Today, you have to arrange play dates or your kids will have no friends. Parents schedule their kids – play dates, arts &crafts, music lessons, bible school etc. Sports aren’t different. Most kids start participating in some level of sport by 5. I coached a 4 yr old soccer team when my daughter was that age. I hate to say it, but as a parent you really need to be aware of this, otherwise your child will be left behind in more than just sports.That doesn’t mean that you have to hire private coaches to keep your child’s head above water. It does however mean that you do have to spend some time teaching them basic skills beforehand. Most kids have worked with Mom, Dad an Uncle or someone before the age of 10 on dribbling and shooting a basketball. The kids come into clinics with a basic skill set.The coaches are trying to refine the skills usually. In your case, you viewed the last class of the camp. That is the time the kids have to show their parents what they learned throughout the camp. It sounds like the goal was to learn the basics of the game so that by the end, the kids could scrimmage. It likely spelled that out in the description of the skills camp.

    There are lots of kids that struggle with sports. You just keep trying. You work on the skills yourself or with a friend or a parent. You go back and you try again. Your child will be better and will have learned the importance of not giving up and the joy of the accomplishment. Life Lesson.

    • You are so right. The life lessons learned from sports are just so important.
      “I also fully believe that kids should be involved in sports because it teaches so much – healthy, active living, discipline, hard work, healthy eating habits, working toward a goal etc. These are life lessons. The carry-over from sports to life is incredible.”
      I would add teamwork, learning how to win, learning how to lose and try again, learning to encourage others, commitment and loyalty. There are more, I’m sure. When I was a kid, we had so much more opportunity to get together with other kids and just play baseball or basketball or even football. No parental supervision or involvement in these pick up games. I think sometimes the parental involvement can become pressure for the kids. Some kids are going to be miserable trying to play a game they have no aptitude for. Try something else to get them involved….chess team, music lessons…until something sparks their interest. Every kiddo is different, and that’s a good thing.

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