Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Taking the Fun Out of the Game

It doesn't matter whether you win or lose--it's how you play the game.

Games are meant be fun.

It's all fun and games until someone pokes an eye--
oh wait.

You have obviously heard these sayings throughout your life, whether you've played sports in your youth or have watched your children play sports. How would you feel if you weren't allowed to play because you weren't good enough to help win games? How would you feel if you just watched your child sit on the sidelines because he or she "wasn't keeping up" with the rest of the team? What happened to the learning experience? What happened to the kind of competition? Most of all, what happened to the fun??

It really isn't right for anyone to be subjected to that form of humiliation and that feeling that you busted your hind parts for no good reason. Of course everyone likes to win, but wouldn't you like to give everyone a fair chance to feel like a winner?

When I started playing for recreational teams a little under 15 years ago (Good God, I am getting old), I had been on softball, soccer, and basketball teams that consisted of girls that were really athletic, girls that didn't play the sport exceptionally well, girls that really didn't care about what you thought of their play, and girls that just played the sport because they loved to and wanted to be like their favorite athlete. Now, I don't know if this change has occurred in other regions as well, but within the past five years or so, I've noticed that things become a little more...say, serious and more competitive than usual. Yeah, I understand that recreational teams are molding together and combining teams, but things have gotten a little more ridiculous. Rec teams as young as U-10 are initiating tryouts to get on the team and have their version of "fun." Wait a second, what just happened? These kids are in high school already? Oh no. Oh no no no no no. Isn't that still the learning stage, where there still might be hope for the kids who don't quite get the gist of the game yet? Time out, folks.

I couldn't tell you how many teams I wouldn't make if I was subjected to try out for them. Oh my heavens, let me be the first to tell you: I absolutely sucked at basketball, and at the age in which I played, I really didn't want someone to tell me that I wasn't good enough; I wanted to realize that for myself (which I did, thank the Lord). Despite my faults, I was still put in the game, and I did everything I possibly could to help out the team and I had fun with it. Sure, I wasn't the fastest runner and I didn't have the best shot, but I tried.
You can't expect a child to be born to do something. Shoot, they might not even like it after a while, but you (either as a coach or a parent) shouldn't tell a child that they are terrible at a sport. They should grasp the realization that they either might not be at a high enough level yet or they just won't ever be able to compete at a high enough level and then tell you.
Kids play sports with their best friends for many years and not a lot of them care how good they are, but when they come across a new change and are subjected to trying out, bad things will happen, and the kids and parents won't be very happy with it.

Let's play a game of scenarios:
Scenario #1: You are a 14-year old male that has been playing baseball with your traveling recreational team since you were seven. You're somewhat considered a "late bloomer" because you haven't begun your growth spurt and have a wiry frame. Due to family constraints, your old coach "retired" from coaching your team, and a man who has coached winning teams in another neighborhood has taken the main role. He loves coaching what he calls "elite teams," and will be holding tryouts for your team at a later date. You were given a phone call as to when the date would be, but your best friend whom you've played with for five years never received a phone call despite signing up and paying money to join the team. However, you attend tryouts anyway. Many of the boys that were trying out along with you were brought over from the new coach's other team, and many of them looked very strong and very serious, while you were a very talented, athletic, and heart-filled player. After a long grueling week in which you gave your all, you receive a phone call telling you that you did not make the team. Why? Was it because you were too short? Was it because you weren't in favor with the new coach? Was it because you didn't fit the new standard for teenage athletes? How do you feel?

Scenario #2: Your daughter has played soccer for 10 years with a recreational team, and over the years your daughter's team has undergone a change in head coach, as well as recruitments of new girls from other clubs that all go to the same school, ironically enough. Your daughter has a larger frame, and looks intimidating on the field, but she is not the best runner and does not play on a high school team like the other girls do. As the competition rises, your daughter only plays about 5-10 minutes on the field each game, and is then left to sit on the sidelines and cheer her team on. Aside from this time, she could be at home doing schoolwork and participating in other clubs. The next season, she gets hurt, and after realizing that she would not have the time to participate in other clubs that she enjoys in school, she quits the team. After this event, you hear that two girls that your daughter played with last year signed up and never received phone calls for practice times, and three more girls are recruited in their place. How do you feel?

In my view, this is a very painful reality for many kids and parents, and it's incredibly unfair for the children who are learning how to play a sport they love. However, regardless of how much heart they play with, they might not be considered "good enough" for the team, and they'll never understand what it means to have fun with something that they love to do. Youth sports in this day and age are taken way too seriously, and it seems as if the learning experience is completely ignored--you need the natural talent to succeed. That's not what fun is all about.

What do you think?