Where’s the FUN in Youth Sports?

youth-soccerGrowing up attempting to play nearly every sport and settling in on becoming an average high school baseball player, I love watching and playing all things sports… maybe too much at times.

There’s nothing like working hard to achieve a goal, and sports help by providing tangible results that can be seen and celebrated.  When you cash in that big hit, clutch shot, or birdie putt, suddenly all those workouts and sprints with your lungs exploding through your ribs seem worth it.

Now being on the latter side of athletic competitions, due to age and a condition entitled not being good enough, it’s interesting how you see things from a different perspective as opposed to during the heat of a battle.

Now, when going to a brother’s game, helping coach, or just watching for the fun of it, it seems now as if youth sports are less fun than ever.  Pouting. Bad attitudes. Gloves and clubs morphing into projectiles. Tears after a strikeout. Not to say this is the norm or that kids aren’t having fun the majority of the time, but it just seems like games can be somewhat of a pressure cooker… kids trying not to mess up instead of exhibiting the naive, carefree attitude of running around and having f-u-n.

Admittedly, this epidemic probably isn’t any worse now than when I was playing.  It’s just easier to see when you’re not as enthralled in the game (and taking part in the bad attitude game at times).

I spent this past weekend in Louisiana watching my brother and somewhat helping coach all ages of high school players and witnessed countless moments of intensity and frustration, kids seemingly about to crack.

Unfortunately, I think the majority of the problem today starts with parents and coaches who, probably unknowingly, place pressure on the kids to succeed at nearly whatever the cost.  This could be from a genuine desire to see the kid succeed and be happy, or maybe as an attempt to to live vicariously through them… to identify themselves with a child’s success.

A lot of times, I think kids are also taught from select teams and tournaments that their value and ‘belonging’ comes from their ability to perform on the field, and in the grand scheme of things that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In one instance this weekend, the starting pitcher had a rough outing to say the least.  Walk after walk, hit after hit, he was yanked after 80 or so pitches, having recorded 2 outs… (non-baseball people this is no bueno).  Frustrated, he ran straight to the bench, chunked his glove and hat down, sat down, folded his arms and stared straight ahead, almost daring someone to get near him.

Admittedly, I was hesitant and at least wanted to let him cool off before entering the personal bubble he had established.  Then Ross Mitchell (yeah, the pitcher from Miss. State), went and sat right beside him, encouraging him and telling him the positives that he could build off of in his next start, and that he battled, and didn’t mope around.

What once looked like a kid ready to royal rumble with anyone near him, became a jovial teammate, putting his rough start behind him.

I think it’s vital as parents and coaches to see these moments and sports as a whole as opportunities to teach young people lessons much bigger than the particular game they’re playing. For instance:

How to deal with failures… and ultimately, that failure is not final.   While failures at any level of sports are inevitable, it’s important to realize that a more lofty battle is being fought. Christ has won the victory over sin and any shortcomings in this life for us on the cross, and we cling to the promises in God’s Word… namely that Christ has purchased an inheritance in Heaven that is ‘imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,’ that no shortcomings on Earth can take away.  And if we, all of us, can grasp this, it frees us to live every aspect of our life, on and off the field, in response to Christ’s love, and not stressing trying to get everything perfect.. because we won’t.

Working hard to achieve a goal.  This is beneficial in all aspects of life… obviously.

Teamwork…  The ability to play and work well with others is vital because we aren’t created to live in our own world of one, but to engage in the beautiful ups and downs of relationships… Cue the Together Everyone Achieves More cliche.

The reason for playing… FUN.  Important to constantly ask and remind kids that ultimately it is just a game and meant to be played for fun…

Be an Example… and a Witness.  No matter what stage you or your kid may be playing on, there is always someone watching, even if it’s only teammates or opponents.  And if a kid reacts counter-culturally (a positive attitude to something very negative), people will undoubtedly notice and probably wonder why.

This is nowhere near all that needs to be on this list, but I think it is at least some of the high points.  And while I don’t claim to be anywhere NEAR a master on this issue, I think it certainly needs to be addressed and talked about it within our sporting events and circles of influence… that while it’s just a game it can be so much more, teaching points and opportunities to learn countless life lessons for our young people and adults.

Now, let’s go have some FUN!

Also check out http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/youth-athletics for much more wisdom on this topic than I could ever hope offer.

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About Philip Matthews

philipmatthews5@gmail.com @youphilmedotcom
This entry was posted in Sports, Substantial and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Where’s the FUN in Youth Sports?

  1. Reblogged this on Hot Routes and commented:
    This is a really interesting blog post to consider, especially from a coaching perspective. A youth coach’s responsibility is to make playing sport fun first and foremost, and then the result follows later on. Make sure that you’re not placing any unreasonable pressures on your players either, it’s not the end of the world if a match doesn’t go your way.

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