This piece has an interesting cultural take on what kids’ sports used to be about/for and what they have devolved into. There are many parents involved in kids’ sports who don’t confuse what is happening in front of them with the World Series/Super Bowl/Stanley Cup finals/NBA finals or even the outcome of a game between two local high schools. There are many parents who don’t see berating an 8-year-old as a way to get him/her to improve his/her “performance.” But there are also many parents who have no perspective, who live vicariously through their children, who know so little about sports that they think being on a baseball team that defeated another baseball team 20-17 in a game featuring 15 walks ensures some kind of success “at the next level.”
A former colleague of mine was the MVP of his college basketball league one season and became a varsity high school basketball coach. He said the best way to teach kids to play basketball was to play three-on-three half court at several different baskets with one or two adults roaming around to point out errors such as traveling and double dribbling and to resolve disputes over fouls. He said you can teach them to play full court five-on-five later on. They’re kids. They learn fast. No score board. No score. No stats. No parents present.
I coached girls’ YMCA basketball for several years and found actual Christian principles alive in this program thanks to a woman (former Division I college basketball player) who ran an excellent workshop my first year. Later on, my oldest daughter was exposed to Little League softball at its worst. I felt the coach of her team should not be allowed around children at all (and this was not about sexual predation, although it wouldn’t have surprised me to hear that was going on) and the next year he was president of the entire Little League. Bye bye Little League. During the time I coached basketball, only one parent called me after the season and thanked me for the way I coached and how I dealt with his headstrong daughter. He was the father of a future Hall of Fame athlete who, by the way, came to every one of his sister’s games when he was in high school and didn’t say a word.
I had occasion to be at a party where a lot of men involved in youth sports were present, and the consensus was that the kid who is going to be that Hall of Famer from my hometown or even the kid who gets a scholarship to a Division I university, does not need super-organized, super-intense youth sports. The reason is that the high level athlete has something a lot of other kids have — talent — but he/she has something else that few other kids have — drive. He/she is the kid who shoots 100 free throws outside in the middle of the winter, who shovels off a patch of ice and shoots pucks into a makeshift goal for hours, who fields ground balls by throwing a tennis ball against a wall all afternoon, who doesn’t leave the putting green until he/she has made 45 out of 50 putts from ten feet, even if it’s getting dark. The best player on one of my girls’ teams dribbled a basketball everywhere she went at 11 or 12 years old. Turned out to be a really good ball handler in college. This high level of drive is what everyone who is around a Michael Jordan or a LeBron James or a Cal Ripken or a Tom Brady remarks on — they are maybe somewhat more talented than everyone else, but they work way harder than everyone else. And they have been doing that all their lives. Some ignorant, bossy wannabe in youth sports did not instill that in them.
A glimmer of hope has arisen in my world, though, as more people with small children move into my apartment complex. When the weather improves I notice that a lot of them are playing soccer on the largest patch of grass in the complex. There are no adults around. There is no scoreboard. The littlest ones learn a lot by playing with the bigger ones. These are mostly Latino kids. They don’t have uniforms or play in organized leagues or on perfectly groomed fields with referees and parents on the sidelines. But they do have fun. All the time.
© 2018 Joseph Galligan