Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Rant or Rave: Youth Sports

I have read a few articles that have suggested the children’s sports participation has been declining in recent years.  I believe the cause is two-fold: Lack of interest due to excessive electronic usage and  parents who push too hard.
Growing up, I played soccer, baseball and basketball on youth teams and took lessons in golf and tennis before I got involved with a local track club.  For the most part, I enjoyed it and basketball was my favorite of the 3.  I could hold my own in soccer and basketball but was no better than average.   In baseball, I was terrible and would have been worse in football if I had played.  My only chance to make a school team was in track and cross-country.

Here are my thoughts on youth sports.  Do your best and strive to win but PLEASE DON’T ACT AS IF IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD IF YOU LOSE OR DON’T PERFORM UP TO PAR.  That goes for both kids and parents.  Yes, I was guilty of that especially in high school but even then, I had a strong suspicion that I was held back by hidden medical problems.  The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the camaraderie with your teammates.  Unless you can compete well with boys 3 years older, you have virtually no chance of becoming a professional athlete so your conduct and sportsmanship should mean more than your performance and won-loss record.

A few basic rules:
-In a recreational league at least through Jr. High, EVERYBODY PLAYS.  You can give your best players more playing time but nobody sits on the bench all game unless they misbehave. 
-ZERO TOLERANCE for bullying.  If I ever catch my future stepson making fun of a less skilled kid, he’s automatically suspended from the team and I would encourage the coach to make other bullies ride the pine for at least a game or two.
-For parents, NEVER punish your child for a poor performance on the field.  I want to see kids rewarded for good character and sportsmanship as well as winning.  I do not go as far as to give participation trophies to all.  Only the league champion and runner-up got a trophy growing up and I think that’s how it should be. 

Baseball was my least favorite of the 3 team sports that I played.  The biggest problem was that when facing a live pitcher, it was almost always the other team’s best athlete.  There was one pitcher in my league who often retired the side by throwing 9 consecutive strikes.  I did get one hit against him which was a dribbler that died between the mound and 3rd base.  Also, any pitch that is anywhere near the plate that is not in the dirt or over your head will be called a strike.  In basketball and soccer, you can have some involvement as a defender but you can’t do much if nobody passes you the ball.

With track and field, you’re all on your own competing against others as well as yourself.  What I found most attractive with running is the ability to quantitatively measure your improvement in a manner that is purely objective.  If you take a kid with average ability and have him run just 2-3 miles maybe 5 times per week, he or she will certainly get a lot better.  In my 2nd year as a runner at the age of 11, I improved my time in the 1500 from 7:04 all the way down to 5:50 (equivalent of a 6:15 Mile) with that little training.  In middle school, I was competitive with some of the best athletes in my school including the pitcher who could throw 9 strikes. 

When it comes to school sports, basketball is the toughest to make because there are only 12 players per team and only 5 on the floor at one time.  Even in other sports, you will sit on the bench unless you are darn good.  In cross-country, at least in my school, there were no tryouts or cuts.  Everybody got to run in both dual meets and invitationals.  There were JV races for those who were not among the top 7 on the team. I did crack the Varsity by my Junior year.

 In track and field, everybody got to compete in dual meets but a big invitational was usually restricted to 2 per event and the conference championship was 3 per event.  Also, evaluation of who gets to run is purely objective.  Coach took whoever had the 2 best times so there was no excuse such as “I didn’t get to play because the coach doesn’t like me.”    Seniority might be considered if it’s a close contest between an upperclassman and a freshman for one of the last spots on Varsity but as a rule, if a 9th grader is clearly good enough for Varsity, he or she will run the big meets.  Coach usually limited you to 1 individual event plus a relay for an invitational so a 3rd or 4th best Miler (me) usually still got to go. 

In conclusion, I would strongly recommend some type of extra-curricular activity in school and you really can’t go wrong with track and field.  Swimming would probably be a good choice as well because of the quantifiable improvement.  Overall, despite frustrations over not performing up to snuff, track and cross-country were great experiences for me and could be for your child as well.

No comments: