Playing Sports should be Fun
This weekend I was in Bothell, Washington, coaching basketball. I really enjoy coaching kids and I think it is something in which many more people should invest their time. For the past six years, I have worked with a club basketball program, the Junior Cascades, and it has been very rewarding. I hope also, of course, that I have had a positive impact on these young players.
There are a lot of theories about what kids should be getting out of sports; how to maximize their emotional and physical growth through competition. I would like to be clear that I am NOT in favor of inclusion games and situations where everybody wins. I think sports are meant to be competitive; there is supposed to be a winner and a loser. It is how the world works. Everyone does not win, hardly anyone wins all the time, things are not always fair, but, if you work hard and compete hard, you will have a good chance of success.
In Washington this weekend, I witnessed some things that really impressed me, but I also saw things that made me ponder. The American teams are quite amazing at a very young age. At the younger levels, their youth skill development is vastly superior to ours. They have teams of grade 4s trapping and pressing, running systems, and doing things that we don’t start doing until grade 7 or 8 at the earliest. My first reaction was to be impressed by what they are bringing to the table at such a young age. However, as I continued watching the games, I began to think… why do we need to be teaching kids this age how to do things outside of the fundamentals? And should we be doing that? When do sports stop being fun and start being serious? Certainly not at age 7 - or at least I hope not! I was watching one young team play with two coaches on the bench yelling at the top of their lungs the whole time and another standing behind the bench keeping stats. This is typical of older age level coaches (although not a style I agree with, but that is another story!), but these kids were in grade 4! Keeping stats of turnovers and missed shots at age 8? The team was playing at a very high level and they won the game easily. It did not, however, look like they were having any fun.
While I was really impressed with the skill level and the level of play, I would NEVER allow an 8-year-old daughter of mine to participate in that type environment. Some things are more important than winning. When I wrote that last statement, I surprised myself as I am hyper-competitive in all things. However, the thing that keeps me playing is not that I always win; it is that I love to play. It is fun. We should be teaching our kids that sports are fun. It is fun to play. Certainly it is fun to win and not as much fun to lose, but the fun is still there and comes from working hard, preparing, and being part of a team. The most important thing is not winning, not above everything.
So, while I reflect on what I saw this weekend, I am glad that our group of 12-15 year-olds had fun. They enjoyed playing the game. We won three games and lost five, but we competed hard and enjoyed the experience. They got positive support from their coaches. They were not yelled at or berated for mistakes; instead, they were made aware of better options, what they could do in the future to correct those mistakes, and commended for working and playing hard.
When teaching our kids about sports and competition, it is important that we ALWAYS keep perspective. Sports are meant to be fun… let’s keep it that way for as long as possible.