From the Sidelines
Today on Facebook, a good friend of mine and a former Greenville native, Rob Ullery, had a post that I think should be a learning moment for parents of young people who enjoy athletics. The post hit home to me because as an official, I used to do the Pee-Wee football championship game. Honestly, and this is only my opinion, I think Pee-Wee football is terrible. I have seen too many coaches and parents who are only interested in winning at all costs, and not teaching what they should be teaching; blocking and tackling, what the plays mean, and how to enjoy the game. My friend Rob had this post today:
“One of the top Kentucky high school girl volleyball players who is committed to University of Texas just quit playing last week. Said she wasn’t having fun anymore. But yet we still have parents and coaches who think their kid needs to play nonstop from an early age and then they wonder why they get burned out.”
Now, before you think anything about Rob, let me tell you that he is the director of outreach and athletic training services at the University of Kentucky sports medicine. They provide coverage for 41 high schools, middle schools and 6, yes 6, colleges. Rob knows what he is talking about. Rob has seen it all, and I am glad that he posted this. Not only as a reminder, but more really as a lesson for all of us, parents, educators, and spectators alike.
Kids need to be Kids. I have seen too many coaches who are supposed to introduce the game to young people, think they are Vince Lombardi. At the pee-wee level, they should be taught the fundamentals of the game, given maybe 5 basic running plays that their varsity runs, and 3 pass plays. That’s it. Let them LEARN the game, not overwhelm them with 10 or 20 plays that they will never remember, with nomenclature that most college kids couldn’t understand. KEEP IT SIMPLE! These are kids learning, don’t wear them out!
Parents who WANT their children to play need to make sure that THEIR KIDS want to play. Don’t force it on them. Back when I started, we didn’t have pee-wee that I recall, and I started at the seventh grade level. Think of it this way: if a child plays at the pee-wee level, by the time they are seniors, they will have about 7 to 8 years of football already. No wonder they get burned out! Kids should pick what they want to participate in, not the parents. If they are told they should play as young as possible, they will because mommy and daddy told them too, not because they want to and they think it will be fun. A lack of fun in any sport, leads to burnout, and that is good for no one.
School is about learning, and that includes athletics. You learn a lot about life through school, and athletics are a great teacher of communication, sportsmanship, competition, and learning. It teaches people to be gracious in victory, and defeat. A good life lesson! It makes for great leaders in the future. But, if we starting having young folks drop out of athletics for a lack of fun, then those lessons are lost.
There really is nothing like winning, it is a great feeling, and losing teaches you that you need to try harder and get better, lessons they will have learned when they try for a job, or a career of their choice.
We all need to take a step back and look at what is happening to our young athletes. They need time to grow and learn, not on a timetable that we set for them. Most kids love sports and can’t wait to play, but if they are forced into it, their enthusiasm will soon wane, and they will quit something they really used to love. Too much pressure from parents and others will kill that youthful enthusiasm and joy. Let them decide on their own, and you will have an athlete that loves his sport and wants to compete as long as he can, and that is good for sports, parents, coaches, schools, and everybody.
The future of sports needs kids that want to play and show their talents. Talents that we all get to enjoy, but if a talented athlete quits because it isn’t fun anymore, we all lose that thrill of seeing great players make great plays for our entertainment and their sheer joy of playing the sport they loved until the pressure and lack of fun got to them. Let’s all back off and let kids be kids and pick and choose a little bit for themselves when it comes to sports! That’s the way I see it….from the sidelines.