The Scummy Underbelly of Kids’ Sports

The spring season is still many weeks away. The fields remained closed. Most kids and parents haven’t a clue where the uniform and equipment were stored at the end of last season.

Doesn’t matter.

The posturing, threatening, and grandstanding has begun: parents advocating for their “super-star” to be put on the A Team roster, coaches threatening not to participate due to all the griping–by players and parents, players coming home from school to report that so-and-so said thus-and-such about being on the “best” team.

This is not Division 1 NCAA, the World Cup, or the World Series. This is small town ridiculousness with a sprinkling of magical–even delusional–thinking.

None of the children from my tiny town of 9,000 will ever play Division One anything–never mind the pipe dreams of hoisting FIFA or Commissioner’s trophy aloft.

Ever.

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As it’s impossible to predict the future, you would probably feel pretty confident asserting this: “You never know.”

To that, I say, “You’re wrong. I do know. It’s not happening. Ever.”

And this might be what separated me from my peers when I played and what separates me from some of the parents and coaches of today: I don’t care if they win.

I want them to have fun. I want them to play as a team. I want them to learn skills. If my players do all these things, they very likely will win–and they may lose.

And I don’t care.

Some may see this as a failing as a coach. I’m all right with that. Those who would judge me in that way usually have a vein or two jutting out of a neck or a forehead when they watch their child on the field.

Me?

I’ve got a big ol’ smile on my face. It’s one of the benefits of seeing things as they are: a collection of kids, divided into two teams, and a ball.

14 thoughts on “The Scummy Underbelly of Kids’ Sports

      1. Background: A “Tea Party” is the phrase I used to use when all of the players would gather around the ball in a cluster of kicking feet. I’d call out, “No tea parties!” when I’d see this happening.

        For the record, I “invented” this coaching directive in the spring of 2007–almost two years before the formation of the political “Tea Party.”

        Since spring 2009, when I call out to my players, “No Tea Parties!” I wonder whether people think I’m making a political statement.

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  1. I recall the days of coaching with you with pleasure and a smile on my face. I still hear the same thing from parents I see in the market, “you guys made it fun”.
    As I’ve always said, I appreciate knowing you because I have learned many things I would not have otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s too bad that kids sports can turn out that way. In our super-competitive culture, it seems inevitable, but sad. At least there are still coaches like you who just try to keep instilling fun and learning into it.

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  3. I agree in principal with most of what you say, that we should find a way to keep conversations about our kids’ sports in perspective.

    I don’t think we can say that there will never be an accomplished athlete from Littleton. Is there a rule somewhere that says gifted athletes are only from towns with populations under 10,000? That being said, we can’t allow our decisions about how our leagues are organized with that thought in mind.

    I do think we need to be careful about projecting our adult definitions of “fun” and “learning” onto our young children. I think most kids would say that winning is more fun than losing. Any kid that’s been on a team that has lost EVERY game, even humiliated in a handful, will tell you that the season was not that much fun. I don’t think this means that there isn’t any fun at all in playing a game and losing, just that it can get old, especially if you’re not even able to compete.

    Also, like it or not, there are some kids who take their sports seriously. They watch professional games, they work on their technique, they dream of D1, etc. They WANT to learn, to get better. And when you’re on a team where there is coaching to the lowest common denominator, and the team is not able to be competitive in many games, then from that kid’s perspective he/she is neither learning anything nor having fun.

    I have no answers. I don’t know the magic formula for meeting every kid’s needs. I think if we have to err we err on the side of inclusiveness, balanced teams and relaxed atmosphere, but recognize that there are kids (and parents) who might want more.

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    1. Agree in part and still disagree in part. I have met parents who operate under the presumption that it is essential to prepare their child now for professional level play by rigorous training and a win-at-all-costs mentality. I deem that foregone conclusion as a fallacy and will not approach my coaching from a starting point that I believe lacks logical or evidentiary support. The best predictor of future outcomes is past results. I do not know of one child in my small town who has gone on to play with a professional team. Hence, I’m confident that the future will look like the past.

      I’m not willing to adopt a win-win-win attitude with CHILDREN who are playing a sport. And don’t get me wrong: I like to win. I like to coach a team that bests its opponents. However, liking to win and wanting to win–and taking those steps to enforce a delusion belief that we can control the outcome of every game if only we “believe” we are winners–are greatly distinguished in my mind.

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    1. And in most of these youth leagues, the organizers try to match up “similarly-skilled” teams. This means that the teams ought to win about half of the games and lose about half. A competitive league, with properly flighted teams, should result in a 50/50 win-loss season.

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