I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past year about the role of exercise in the lives of children beyond the field of play. Many stories over the past decade have started to shape a vision that I just can’t seem to shake. One story in particular paints a clear picture of what we/I need to provide to children.
In seventh grade a girl plays for the school softball team and she really enjoyed playing with her friends. She had every intention to play the sport again the following spring but she became ill the week of try-outs and wasn’t able to attend any of the practices and consequently didn’t make the team. Since that time this young lady has never found a sport that she enjoys and has no real physical outlet as she enters the high school years.
The youth sport culture in this country and our area specifically is not serving our children. Youth sports are organized by adults and have evolved into little more than miniature professional leagues. Extreme travel schedules, overt emphasis on winning and competition. The emphasis should be on fun, long term athletic development and sports used as an outlet to build character and life long fitness habits. All of these positive traits will happen when we turn the spotlight on the kids and make it about them. Sports should be fun and a chance for kids to be with their friends while developing new relationships as well.
In the example above is their any good reason why you have cuts in the 7Th grade? If the mission of youth sports is to serve the children that just doesn’t make sense. In essence this young lady was discouraged from participating in an activity that she enjoyed. Instead she was allowed to slip through the cracks and as far as scholastic physical activity is concerned, never to be heard from again. Is that the mission of youth sports?
Our schools have a golden opportunity to embrace a role of fostering a physical culture for our children to grow into but they are failing miserably. The current system routinely rejects hundreds of kids every year. When you get a message that basically states that you’re not wanted is there any wonder why kids run away from exercise/sport and all it represents? There is misconception that all overweight children are not very athletic…nothing could be further from the truth! Many kids have stopped playing sports because it has ceased to be fun for them; it’s more like work due to the pressure placed upon them by parents and coaches. At least with video games they are not consistently criticized and/or rejected.
The more prudent strategy would be for scholastic sports to be more inclusive. At private schools such as Cranbrook and Country Day sport participation is required. That is not to say that every child is granted a starting position or even playing time for that matter. That must be earned through skill refinement and focused effort at practice. Every child that has the desire to play a sport should be given the opportunity to do so at minimum until high school. And then schools should provide more physical recreation activities for the rest of the student body, much like intramural recreation in college.
I also understand that budget restraints are a real factor at many public schools and with the pay to play rules that may not be in the budget for many families. That said I know many schools have booster clubs that fund the athletic programs. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on equipment and facilities every year maybe they could invest a certain percentage of that money on the students… Again what is the mission and who is it set up to serve? I understand that we want our kids to have the latest and greatest equipment, trendy uniforms, and sparkling facilities but they will be just fine as long as they enjoy the experience. The questions that need to be asked regarding the distribution of athletic dollars…are the facilities, uniforms and equipment safe and effective? Once those questions are prudently addressed the focus should turn solely toward the students.
The greatest resource coaches/teachers/parents can provide to children is attention. We are uniquely positioned to guide and educate them on physical fitness and the development of long-term lifestyle habits.
In my practice there is likely a sentiment that I only serve children that want to excel in sports and improve their on-field performance. While a large majority of the children that I coach do come in for that reason I welcome children of all skills and abilities. Because to me children need a physical outlet and it’s my goal to help them find it, bring it out and refine it for their benefit.
I look back over the past 12 years of coaching children and I don’t have any “favorites.” Most would think I would be proudest of the kids that go on to earn All-
State honors and move on to play at the collegiate level because it makes me look good and provides a shiny testimonial. While I am proud of those young adults, I am just as proud of the two brothers with ADD that fight and scream at each other or the boy with mild autism. The sessions with “talented” athletes are a lot of fun and it’s easy to be at the gym on those days. On other days it’s a grind and all I can do is focus on that moment while trying to manage kids that won’t listen, throw tantrums, or just don’t develop on “my” schedule.
I know many parents, teachers, and small business owners and countless others trying to make a difference understand that work worth doing is rarely easy and it challenges you to the very core but specifically for those reasons it’s worth it. It can feel like we aren’t making any progress and we second guess ourselves and ask is this really what I am made to do?
On those days inevitably I will get an email or a call from a parent that the two brothers that are constantly fighting don’t agree on much but they always are excited to come to my class or the boy with mild autism that was timid and didn’t like to go outside of his comfort zone has become an independent young man and gone off to college.
It’s not about wins and losses it’s about relationships and using them to educate and empower kids to take on the world and in my case being fit while they do so.