“We see these obsessive parents that are over scheduling, over managing and robbing kids of most of their childhood. Even the simplest act of playing that should be spontaneous and free is being taken away. Kids can’t even play with a stick in their backyard.”
As parents we strive to do the best things we can for our kids. When we were growing up there were things our parents did that we liked and things that our parents did that we didn’t like. We become what we are by what we experience in the environment around us. In youth sports we always have a “chasing rainbows” for the “pot of gold” mentality, feeling for our kids and the college scholarship dream down the road. Parents will take their kids off school teams and travel teams blaming the coach for not giving their son or daughter ample playing time and hindering their development as a player. If we love sports and have kids playing organized youth sports we all have been guilty of this “chasing rainbows” attitude. As parents, we must ask if it all worth it? Let’s face it, there is a lot of work and sacrifice involved, but some of the sacrifice we make for organized sports may not be worth it for the majority of us and the development of our kids. Those involved in two or three travel teams know the feeling of just about living in their cars going from game to game and eating those fast food meals almost every other day. Is all this organized sports beneficial? Well, I say yes and no. When my kids played youth sports, travel ball was a few years away. In retrospect, I would have been as guilty as today’s parents signing my kids up for multiple teams. I’m glad I did not have the chance to sign them up for multiple leagues. One of the biggest reasons is I am a huge believer in unorganized sports and games as being a major part of a child’s development. I am so glad that my kids and most of the kids on our block had the chance to play ball in my backyard almost every day. These unorganized sports or neighborhood games are going beyond the wayside for a few reasons. When I was growing up, my friends and I would play a lot of games at our local elementary school. Today, parents are extremely fearful, and rightfully so, letting their own kids go down to the local school after hours when there are no familiar adults around. There are still opportunities today in neighborhoods for kids to play in unorganized youth sports. Today, more than ever, neighbors are always aware of everyone else’s kids in the neighborhood. If anything potentially suspicious might happen, parents will look out for each other’s kids. And with the way cell phones have become a huge part of our lives, neighborhoods can be a safe haven most of the time.
It doesn’t always have to be sports games like baseball or basketball that the kids participate in. When I was young, my favorite pastime in the spring and summer months was playing a game of Ringolevio which is a game like hide 'n seek made up of two teams. The beauty of this game is that there are no props, no time outs, no substitutions, and no time clock. One team has to find the other and when they do, that participant has to go to jail and can only be freed if a teammate takes a chance to free him. It is one of those youth games that is never really completed but everyone loves it! I remember getting called in by my mother. I couldn’t believe the time. I would swear we played for twenty minutes and it turned out we were playing intensely for three hours. I remember another game my oldest brother made up call “Error”. One of us would throw a tennis ball on the roof of our house--within an imaginary twenty foot boundary--and the other would have to catch the ball before it hit the ground. We spent endless hours playing this game. Other then some yelling from my parents (something about too many balls being stuck in the gutter), this game still sticks in my mind as providing some of the most fun in my childhood. The best games kids will play are the games that they create themselves. As parents we must be close to their locale in any particular neighbor’s house. With all the organized sports and teams kids are playing on, I really believe that some kids are missing out on a large part of being a child. With unorganized sports and games, there is an endless amount of benefits for kids. Some of the benefits kids may get from unorganized sports might be conflict resolution, leadership, risk-taking, establishing and following rules, and getting along with teammates. Kids will do and achieve a lot on their own when put into a situation they can create. I understand that things are different today. Both parents are working, and corporations always have goals for them to meet, so work days have become longer. Expenses and taxes are high and it is getting harder and harder to make a living today. I also understand that there are a lot more distractions for kids. The Internet and video games have become a part of our society. Nevertheless, parents need to consider or reconsider how much they want their kids to be involved in one particular sport. Parents must give our kids a chance to play in our backyards and be creative. Travel sports is great and can do a lot of positive things. But instead of playing on three travel teams, let’s have our kids play on one and also play a second sport. I truly believe this will help our kids be better citizens and eventually better parents themselves.
That pot of gold does exist for some, but not for all. Common sense should dictate the choice(s) we make with our kids in and out of youth sports and the choice(s) should always be for the long term.
Marty Schupak has coached youth sports for 25 years. He has written 11 books and produced 26 sports instructional videos. His is the founder of T-Ball America.
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