March 2014 Member of the Month: The Greatest Tragedy in Youth Today

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I could make the argument that the greatest tragedy in youth today is not bullying. Nor is it the No Child Left Behind Act, Miley Cyrus, or Grand Theft Auto. No, it’s something that we, and by we I mean adults, have done ignorantly. We have taken away something that is so invaluable to child development that it should be a crime. We have infiltrated one of the few oases children have left that should be completely governed by creativity, fun, and friendship. We have poisoned youth sports…

I’ve been around sports my entire life. I can still remember my brother and I, before we were even old enough to ride a bike, playing football against my dad in the middle of our living room. We would go flying into the couch, bounce off the back cushion, and land flat on our backs on the floor in a blaze of glory. Touchdown!

In those days, the word sport was synonymous with game, hence the name Olympic Games. Kids played on the same team as their best friends from T-ball through high school. There was no need for a calendar because we just had to look in the laundry basket to see what uniform our mom was washing. Every kid played every sport. Basketball season turned into baseball season which then morphed into football season. Parents and grandparents laughed, kids smiled, the concession stand was more important than the scoreboard, and old Shine Saric was usually asleep while umping third base.  It was pure. It was entertaining. And most importantly, it was fun.

Unfortunately, over the years, adults have transformed what was once a game into a business. Children went from participants to investments. Parents are no longer fans but agents. And THE only thing that matters is the scoreboard. Fun, which was the foundation for which sports were built upon, has been almost completely squeezed out.

Yet, as adults, we blame the lack of participation in high school sports on kids. We say, “What’s wrong with kids these days? Why can we only get 10 kids on the basketball team? They must be lazy.” Wrong!

We are the problem. Kids aren’t lazy. They have plenty of energy. They also happen to be pretty intelligent. Instead of “work”, which is what the major sports have become, they’ve gravitated toward activities that are still oozing with fun, excitement, and competition.  They play hours upon hours of video games because they’re fun. They can laugh, hang out with their best friends, and still get a taste of competition. The explosion of extreme sports like snowboarding and skateboarding is also a part of this seismic shift. These are worlds in which parents haven’t invaded yet, and because of that, kids are flocking to them.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of witnessing one of the most beautiful moments in the history of sports. I had the privilege of refereeing a dodgeball tournament at Ageless. It gave me a first row seat to see one of the greatest sporting moments the world has ever seen. Forget about Kirk Gibson’s pinch hit, walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series against one of the greatest closers in MLB history, Dennis Eckersly. Ignore Michael Jordan’s 1997 NBA Finals 38 point game explosion against the Utah Jazz, even considering the fact he was suffering from a severe case of the flu and had to have IV’s at halftime.  It was even more breathtaking than Curt Schilling’s “bloody sock” game 6 win against the Yankees.  If I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have believed it.

I saw a kid, with my own two eyes, barrel roll not once, not twice, but three times as he dodged an onslaught of incoming balls. And just when I thought the moment had reached its pinnacle, he, the last remaining member of his team, rose up from the ashes, calmly picked up a dodgeball, stared down his opponents which seemed to number in the thousands,  ignored the decibel-piercing screams of the crowd, and did the impossible.  He banked it in the basket from half court, allowing his entire team to reenter the game and sealed the improbable comeback. It was a modern day David versus Goliath. It gives me chills just thinking about.

Although that was  an amazing spectacle probably never to be witnessed again, the truly beautiful moment, the moment that has made so many of us fall in love with sports over and over and over again, happened right as the ball fell through the basket.  It was the cheers, the smiles, and the unadulterated joy that swept through the children in the crowd. At that moment in time, for a split second, all in the world was right. It was pure. It was innocent. It was beautiful. And guess what? It was created by kids.

Now just imagine how many of those moments, or for that matter how much joy, we have stolen from our children. Think about the valuable life lessons taught by sports that so many kids are missing out on because of us – the importance of teamwork, hard work, and dedication,  how to deal with defeat, how to win with class, etc. How could we be so inconsiderate? How could we be so selfish?

I’ve seen parents scream at their kids during games. I’ve seen parents scream at coaches during games. I’ve even seen parents scream at kids that aren’t even their children during games. I’m not even going to mention the abuse poor referees receive. At what point in time did the price of admission include the right to degrade a human being (most being under 18 years of age) publicly? When did jeering replace cheering? Most importantly, when did sports lose their fun?

So where do we go from here? Hopefully, as adults, we smarten up. We hand the reigns back over to its rightful owners, the kids. We let the coaches coach, the referees ref, and the kids play. We cheer. We laugh. We smile. We tell our kids how much we love watching them play. Heck, we even tell kids that aren’t even our own how much we love watching them play. We give a high five or a hug after a game no matter what the scoreboard says. And most importantly, we only give advice IF our child asks for it. Otherwise, we’re smiling spectators watching a beautiful game they call sport.

And if you’re void of any emotion, if your soul is a dark abyss, here is shocking statistic that will make sense to your analytical mind. The odds of little Johnny playing professional sports is 1 in 16,000 children. 98 out of 100 high school students won’t even play a sport at the collegiate level.  So genius, if you still look at johnny as an investment, you are actually as dumb as you look during his basketball game while you’re screaming at him, his team, his coach, and probably even the other team. Sit down, shut up, and enjoy your popcorn.

So this month’s member(s) of the month are the children- the kids who have been in our in Little Dribblers’, Little Kickers’, dodgeball tournaments, camps, and  kids’ classes. It is you that remind of how beautiful this world can be. Thank you.

By the way, if you’re still not convinced, if you think your child’s skills will regress because you aren’t there to “encourage them”, think again. Do a quick search on the internet, and you’ll find article after article after article from some of the top coaches, trainers, and scientists in the world that all have come to the same conclusion –  parents have sabotaged sports and sadly the children are suffering because of it.

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