In Defense of Youth Sports
Growing up I was never involved in youth sports. I’m not sure if they weren’t around for girls back in the dark ages, or if my complete lack of interest in anything sports related means they were so far off my radar I just never noticed. My idea of “going outside to play” was sitting inside the house reading a book. When my parents forced me outside I would bring the book with me.
Several of my children are hardcore athletes, three of my kids medaled at the Junior Olympics this year in track & field. They love nothing more than running, sweating, moving their bodies until they are exhausted. And then pushing themselves a little bit more. They are perfectionists who thrive on competition. It’s a foreign idea to me.
These are the lessons that I think my children have learned over the years from their involvement in youth sports:
1. Perseverance. You need to not only work hard, but work consistently. That is the way to get better. There are no shortcuts around the hard work; you must practice and practice and then practice some more.
2. Innate talent only gets you so far. We have a saying in our house– Hard work wins when talent quits working hard. We didn’t make that saying up, but we read it somewhere and decided to embrace it as our own.
3. Good sportsmanship. This takes many different forms. It can mean congratulating the kid on the other baseball team when he hits an out of the park home-run. It can mean helping the football player up from the other team. It can mean saying good job to the kid who ran alongside you at the track meet and inched ahead of you to win by .01 of a second.
4. Handling losses with grace. It is easy to be gracious when you win. It is okay to be disappointed. It is not okay to be a jerk. It is not okay to blame other people for your failures. Examine what went wrong, where you can improve, and formulate a plan. You tell yourself, “Today was not my day.” Then you skip down to #8 on the list.
5. Despite your efforts, things sometimes go wrong. You get injured. You drop a ball. You trip and fall. You step out of bounds. The referee makes a bad call. This is another of those opportunities for building character. You need to ask yourself what you are going to do now. How are you going to react?
6. Team sports teach you how to get along with other people. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Sometimes, as hard as it is to imagine, you will be that weakest link. Instead of feeling discouraged, you need to work hard. How many times I have heard kids say about another kid on a team, “He isn’t very good, but he works so hard it makes us want to work harder.” A true mark of your character, however, will be in how you treat that person who is the weakest link, when you are the strongest link.
7. Friends, acquaintances, random people who you think would be supportive are not. This has been a hard lesson to learn. But on the positive side, it has opened all of your eyes to how you treat your friends. When you hear of their accomplishments, whether they are academic, athletic, professional, or growing an impressive vegetable garden, make sure to ask out about it. You might not care one bit about gardening, but you care about your friends and therefore, care enough about their interests to celebrate with them.
8. Any given day. This is another one of my sayings. (I am beginning to sound like like an inspirational poster here, maybe I should superimpose this post on a photo of kittens.) This means simply that on any given day you can be the most prepared for your event, you could have worked harder than anyone has ever worked in the history of working hard, and someone else can come along and have the performance of their life and beat you. That takes nothing away from what you did. And remember, the next day could be your day.
9. There are only so many hours in a day, you need to figure out how to balance those hours. Truthfully, I am an adult and I am still trying to master this one. Maybe I should have put down those books once in awhile when I was growing up.
Youth sports and athletes in general seem to get a bad rap. We always hear about the pushy parents, the obnoxious coaches, the self-entitled athletes, but I have found those to be the exceptions. The student athletes I know I are busy juggling school and practices that last several hours a day, five or six days a week. They quickly learn to prioritize. These are the kind of kids that I am familiar with. The kids who stay out at a track meet in 105 degree weather to cheer on their team mates, when they could just go home to their air conditioning. When you work so hard for something, it gives you an appreciation for just how hard your competition has also worked.