Everyone seems to have an opinion about youth sports. Believe me, I've witnessed some abhorrent behavior by both players and parents that have left me shaking my head and wondering what strange planet I've found myself on. There's a spectrum – hyper-competitive parents on one end and those who have never had the experience of watching a soccer game in the rain on the other. My family falls somewhere in the middle – very involved in sports, but I'd like to think still of sound-mind (neither my husband nor I have ever charged a referee or shouted insults at the children on the other team – both of which we've witnessed).
Those who have never shivered at an early morning soccer game in spring or felt their heart race as their child takes the pitching mound are sometimes prone to calling us who have done both a bit crazy – if not competitive ourselves. Here's the deal – my boys want to play sports. My no-balls-in-the-house-rule doesn't matter because they'll dribble socks like soccer balls and throw wads of paper against the wall to make pretend baskets. I don't know why they're this way, they just are. No, I don't think my boys are going to play professional sports. No, I don't think they're better than kids who would prefer to play chess than race to their next practice. No, I don't think sports are the only way to teach kids vital lessons about life or what it means to lose gracefully. But, yes, I think sports can teach them a lot and, if they're going to play sports anyway, I'm going to emphasize all of the amazing lessons that organized sports can teach them. Among these:
I believe my boys can do anything – if they're willing to work for it. Sure, school grades are among the most easy-to-measure gauges of their accomplishments and hard work, but sports can be equally valuable. If my boys want to improve their skills, or position on a team, they have to work for it. Nobody will do it for them; my husband and I will never call a coach and complain about playing time or their role on a team. If they want to earn their coaches' respect and increase their playing time, they are going to have to earn it by establishing self-discipline and an impressive work ethic. Period – there's no short-cuts.
My children are expected to treat others – especially adults – with respect every single day, but they develop a special relationship with coaches. My boys do not want to disappoint the leader of their team and I have no problem at all if either of them are told to pay attention if their focus drifts off. Being part of a team is an honor that they should never take for granted and exhibiting respect for coaches who are there to teach, encourage, and guide them is among the most important personal characteristics to nurture in children because it will extend to their treatment of people for the rest of their lives.
Sure, I can send my boys outside to play. And, they do...for about ten minutes before they start arguing or come inside to claim they're starving. Practices and games are at least one-hour segments of uninterrupted exercise that my children gladly participate in and look forward to – workouts that strengthen their muscles, get their blood pumping, and fill their heads with fresh air. In a world where video games can transport them to other worlds, sports can make sure they enjoy the one they actually live in.
If you're on a sports team – especially a competitive team that practices multiple times a week – you have to be willing to commit to that schedule. We all have those days when we need a break and want to stay in our pajama pants all day, and I think it's fine (even healthy) to take those mental health breaks to just “be” every one in a while. That being said, we all get irritated if adults treat their commitments as if they come with an escape clause, so we might as well teach our kids to honor their commitments now.
My son recently played a team of boys, most of whom he knew from school. Before that game, we talked about the fact that one team would walk away disappointed and how the winning team handled the situation would determine how their friends feel about themselves. Competition, although a natural part of the process in adolescent sports, should never trump being a good person and uplifting others. Healthy competition is fine, but true sportsmans are the ones who give their opponent a pat on the back and compliment their play. Again, a lesson that will apply throughout life.
In the mind of a young person, they're kind of a big deal. There's a fine line between establishing self-confidence and invoking cockiness, the latter of which isn't tolerated in my house. As much as we celebrate our boys' accomplishments, we hold the butt-kickings of equal value because they remind them that they're not perfect, there's always a team out there that will bring them back down to earth, and they still have a lot to learn. Welcome to life, kiddos.
The relationships that my boys have built by playing sports goes beyond a mutual love of the game. They and their teammates sincerely care for each other – a pat on the back after a rough inning or high-five in celebration a way of saying, “Hey, we're in this together.” And, in those rare instances when I've overheard someone throwing blame for a play gone wrong or goal missed, the coaches have been quick to take care of such bravado. Establishing empathy, team work, support, and genuine affection for their teammates will be the basis on which these kids build relationships for the rest of their lives.
So, yes, my boys play sports. We spend a LOT of time on fields, courts, and in carpools. And, if there isn't an organized activity going on, my boys can be found in the backyard getting another ball stuck in the tree. That doesn't mean that they're without other interests, their love of art, writing, reading and music the most beautiful song to this mama's ears. But, yes, they play sports – not because games are the most important thing in life – because sports can teach them some of the most important lessons.
Let's play ball.
Tiffany wears many hats, but prefers the comfy one from her alma mater that she wears cheering her boys on from the stands. Her resume may read lawyer, author, and freelance writer, but she thinks a description of life juggler, worry wart, and latte-lover might provide a more accurate picture of herdaily life. A scribe at-heart, Tiffany loves writing stories that speak to readers' hearts and enjoys tackling the subjects that invite conversation and debate. With articles featured in 435 Magazine, NORTH, and M Magazine, Tiffany served as Editor-in-Chief of NORTH Magazine after leaving privatepractice in 2015. She has been a contributing writer with the Kansas CityMoms Blog and has appeared on Fox 4's Morning Show, The Now KC, and Better KC to discuss her blog posts and magazine articles. Her first novel, Six Weeks in Petrograd, was published in 2013 and she is currently working with her agent to sell two manuscripts that she's convinced would make fantastic films starring Ben Affleck. You can find Tiffany sitting on the secondfloor of her favorite coffee shop in Parkville, strolling English Landing Park with her husband and two boys, or trying not to be "that mom" at her sons' baseball games. www.TiffanyKilloren.com