On Wednesday, I joined my good friend on his new local cable access channel show, Talkin' Sports with Mike Boyd. For the record, it was recorded in a basement in the presence of some pretty awful furniture (pimp couches, as we used to call them in college), but without the lively intro music of a Wayne's World production. It is of course, only available in the greater Ste. Genevieve, Mo area. As of yet, I know of no internet link to the production.
The topic of this week's show was youth sports. I was invited as a board member of our local youth football league. We discussed the pros and cons of the rapid expansion of competitive leagues for today's youth compared to our experiences 30-40 years ago.
My viewpoint is this:
- Sports teams, whether competitive or fun, are a great way to keep children away from the TV, computer or video games and be active.
- A good sense of competition is something that should be taught to children, but in smaller doses at the younger age levels.
- Balancing the fun of the game is very important to building a love of the game.
- Too much of a good thing is bad. Rotate sports with the seasons and don't become locked into following one year round.
- Parents need to be good examples to their children. There's more to life than sports.
Too many parents and sports league organizers believe that by continually pushing the competitive edge to a younger group, they are increasing the chances for those children to develop the abilities and skills to play at the collegiate or even the (jackpot!) pro level. But we often fail to realize that after the initial gain, a plateau is reached as the other communities develop similar programs.
At that point, any increase in the ability of our players is met with a similar increase in the ability of their players, so any gains are short lived. It's the classic Red Queen principle, which is taken from the Red Queen's race in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. The Red Queen said, "It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place." We've created an athletic "arms race".
As a parent, I've coached football, baseball, hockey, basketball and softball. Toward the end of the show, I brought up the local gym hockey league. It's hockey played in sneakers in a town without an ice rink. None of our players will have any real opportunity of going anywhere with hockey. Yet, this somewhat odd hybrid, co-ed game brings out the most joy and competitive spirit in all the sports I've coached.
The games are standing room only, the trophies are huge (like the stanley cup), half the players and many of the parents don't really even understand hockey all that well, but this is what a child's game is all about. It's of course, about winning; but not winning at the expense of the fun. It's not about next year's team or college scholarships. It's not about scouts or the sports' arms race. It's just the unbridled joy of seeing the puck hit the back of the net on a child's face & watching a team of boys and girls swarm to celebrate together with a purity that will never be seen on any collegiate or pro team.
We talked often during the show about the love of the game, and the importance of instilling that in our players. Perhaps, it goes even deeper than that. Maybe it's really about the love of a game; any game.
Early in the movie WarGames, the WOPR computer asked, "Would you like to play a game"? At the end, after seeing the end result of the Red Queen Principle played out in countless nuclear war game simulations, WOPR came to appreciate the enjoyment of the game. The movie ends with the computer asking, "How about a nice game of chess?"
I don't know what happens next for youth sports or where it will end? I would like my boy to have the opportunity to play baseball for his school when he grows up. But if it means that he must join a team that plays a 100+ game schedule and trains year round at the age of eight, then I guess I have a question I need to ask my son.
How about a nice game of chess?