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Coach’s Corner - “Get Out and Play”

By Scott Rosberg

Today I want to talk to parents and children out there who are trying to decide whether or not the child should play a sport. This is especially for younger parents who have kids who are interested in trying a sport for the first time. Parents you may be in the middle of a dilemma. Should our child play a sport or not? Why? Aren’t there all kinds of problems and dangers to think of? Aren’t there bad coaches? Aren’t there sometimes bullies on the team or opposing teams? Should my daughter be playing sports with boys? Should our son be playing sports with girls? Can’t the parents get out of hand at these games? These are some of the questions that can come up when looking at having a child be involved in organized sports. Let’s take a closer look.

First of all, the answer to all of those questions is “Yes.” Now if that turns you off from having your kid play a sport, you better send your kid away to a remote island for your one kid where he or she lives in la-la land nirvana and nothing ever goes wrong, and everyone gets along because there is only your one kid, and whatever he or she wants, he or she gets. Now while I know as a spoiled, little kid I would have loved to go away to that place, I found out really early that that’s just not how things were going to be. I grew up in a great home, with a lot of love, many friends, the things I needed, and many of the things I wanted. Still, I found out that (a) I’m not going to get something just because I want it, (b) there’s a lot of hurt out there in the world with some of it headed my way, and (c) life isn’t always fair. I learned those things in a variety of places, but I learned them over and over by playing sports.

However, I also learned in sports that life can be an incredibly joyful experience. I learned that playing and competing and giving everything you have to an endeavor is a lot of fun. I learned that working and playing with others trying to achieve a shared goal can create the most rewarding relationships and teach the most important lessons. I learned the values of discipline, working hard, and commitment to a team. Most importantly, I learned at an early age that sports were fun! It was a game, not chores at home, or studying for school, or being told to eat my vegetables. And yet through the games, I learned lessons like why I needed to do chores, study, and eat my vegetables. (All right, maybe I’m stretching it a bit with the vegetables analogy, although we did learn nutrition through our sports experience. And let’s face it. If my coach told me to eat my vegetables, it meant more to me than my mom telling me to eat my vegetables.) The point is that many of those lessons my parents were trying to instill in me or hoping I would pick up somewhere along the way, I learned through sports.

So what about the questions in the first paragraph? Those are legitimate concerns that people should have about their children’s participation in sports. The first one I have already addressed. Yes, your kid should play a sport. However, there is one major point to be made here. Your kid should play a sport if your kid wants to play a sport! Don’t FORCE your kid to play if he or she doesn’t want to. The key word there is FORCE. Some kids need a little encouraging. Encourage them. Some kids need a little pushing. Push them. But please don’t FORCE them to do a sport that they don’t want to do.

I am grateful in some small way to my parents for making me take swimming lessons as a kid. And I’m sure it was tough on them to see me crying every Saturday morning that I had to go. However, I must say that when I finally decided I wanted to swim, I swam. It probably would have been that way for me with or without the lessons. In fact, I’m not much of a fan of swimming to this day because it carries a very negative feeling for me. But I know that my parents pushing me helped me learn to swim. Kids do need a push every now and then, and it is up to us to determine when, how, and how much to push them. However, one thing we should never do is push them because it was our sport as a kid and now it is going to be their sport. That is living vicariously through a child, and we must guard against that.

Many years ago my stepdaughter played sports as a young child and on into high school. When she was eleven, she played both soccer and basketball, two sports that I have coached and have strong, positive feelings for. She liked both of them, and I knew they were good for her. If she had come home one day and said she didn’t want to play one of them anymore, that would not have been the end of the world for me (or her), but we would have talked about it. Her mom and I would have listened to her reasons. We would have talked about the pros and cons of playing. We would then tell her she is not going to quit now because she is in the middle of the season, and she should not quit on her team during the season. Then, when the season was over we would again talk and decide if she still wanted to quit that sport. If she still wanted to quit, we would have said, “Fine. We don’t want to force you to play a sport that you don’t want to play.”

However, we would have also told her that if she didn’t play at all in the off-season, we wouldn’t think it would be fair to her teammates the next year to go out again if she decided she wanted to. I’m not saying we wouldn’t have let her go out again the following year, but we would have encouraged her to at least keep playing on her own so that if she were to change her mind, she would at least be ready to play that next year. Then, when the next season rolled around, she could decide what she wanted to do.

Eventually, those two sports no longer interested her. When she got to high school, she started playing tennis and stayed with that for all four years. Again, we did not force her to do it. We only said that if she is going to be a part of that team, she needs to put in time in the off-season (summer) to improve her skills. She did so a bit, and she enjoyed her experience. The key was we encouraged her and helped her at what she wanted to do. We didn't force her to do what we wanted her to do.

The other questions: What about problems and dangers? That’s part of the territory. It’s also part of the territory in life. I have been hurt in various ways many times playing my sports, yet in my opinion, the benefits of playing far outweigh the dangers. Aren’t there bad coaches out there? You bet. In the future, I will address the youth coaches about this in this column.

However, for right now let’s remember that our kids need to learn to deal with all kinds of positive and negative people. Coaches are just one group that falls into this category. We can’t shelter our kids from everyone in the world. In fact, it’s a good lesson for a kid to deal with a bad coach. Also, for every bad coach, there are multiple good ones out there that can give your kid a positive experience. What about bullies? Yep, they’re in sports. They’re also at school, on the playground, at work, and pretty much everywhere, even in sports. But it is up to us as coaches and parents to not allow this behavior into our organized leagues. What about girls and boys playing together? Great!! What a great way for girls and boys to learn to get along and work together. When I was a kid, there was no way a girl would have been allowed on the field or court with us. All that taught us was discrimination, prejudice, chauvinism, and sexism. When my son was playing youth soccer here in Livingston, I would watch the young girls and boys playing together on Saturday mornings at Northside Park, and I loved it! These kids were just playing, not worried about who’s a girl and who’s a boy. I’m sure that some of the kids still have stereotypes and prejudices, but having co-ed youth leagues has chipped these stereotypes and prejudices away. Yes, at some point male and female athletes need to be split. Skill levels, sizes, and strength start to change as kids get older. But while they are young, let’s let girls and boys learn to work and play together because that’s exactly what they will be doing in the real world someday. Can’t parents in athletics get out of hand? Certainly. That is another topic I will cover in the future. Suffice it to say for right now that the positive experiences that a kid will have in sports will usually outweigh the poor behavior of many of the adults who either watch or coach them. But as I said, more on that in the future.

Well, those are just some of my ideas on why kids need to play sports. It’s funny. My parents weren’t athletes themselves, but they saw what athletics did for my life. Later in their lives, whenever I would talk to them on the phone from 1,500 miles away, my mom would tell me about some player or coach or game and ask what I thought about it. There were times when I would call on a Sunday night and she would tell me we couldn't talk for too long because the sports recap for the day was coming up on the news, and she didn't want to miss it. My mom was never like that until I got involved in sports. Sports became one of our common bonds, and I’m happy that we had something that we both loved and could share together for the last twenty years of her life. Seems to me like that is just one more reason why kids should play sports.


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