As a culture we need to relax when it comes to the social impulse to want to usher kids onto teams, Leagues, clubs, and any other extra curricular activity. This insatiable drive for carting children around to the next scrimmage, game, tournament; contest, club function, etc. may be doing more social, emotional, and possible physical harm, than good.
Parents, who may have an interest in athletics or a background in sports will me more apt to involve their children in organized activities, reconsider holding this notion for the later years. More recently our culture has had a real drive to pressure young people into organized activities because of the fantasy of shaping or molding their child into the next Ichiro, Tiger Woods, or Michael Jordon. This amounted pressure and expectation is stifling to a young mind that just wants try out, on their own volition, interest, and time.
David Elkind who has written extensively on the topic of our cultural crave for “rushing” children into adulthood, addresses this social trend of exposing young people too early to competition and adulthood is “wrongheaded.” Furthermore he states how children can become status “symbols” for parents that may be experiencing dissatisfaction within their own life either at the work place or home and how this pressure to perform “better” can weight heavy on a young child’s mind.
Visiting my sister and her family following the wintertime holidays I was invited to watch my just turning five nephew, play in a soccer tournament. Generally I took an interest because I also played soccer in my youth, however I began playing at a much older age. The soccer tournament was hosted on a farm that had been converted over the last few years into a full suburban field of dreams for soccer mom’s, dad’s and other fanatics. My brother-in-law has devoted many years to the game of soccer, and becoming an assistant coach for his little ones placed him right in on the glory and glamour of the sport. After arriving at the field to catch my nephew in action, (recognized as one of the stars of the team,) my interest turns to distaste when I hear bombastic screams coming from approaching middle age men, watching as the veins on the back of their necks begin to bulge, in an effort to redirect five year olds to, “hurry-up” – “move the ball forward,” or “pay attention to where the ball is…” And I’m thinking to myself, “good god man… they’re only five and they can’t even find where they left their shoes, half the time.” As a teacher and uncle I make an effort to reset the tone with sympathetic shouts of: “You guys got it, just stick to it, and have fun!” or “Alright, way to go team!” Sure not exactly as macho or competitive, but what ever happened to cooperative games, the idea of just letting them have fun, and make some mistakes. And the old adage: “give the kid a break!”
In the end, my nephew’s team “lost” the game, leaving frowns and heads hanging low, with adult coaches taking the moping lead. The WIN mentality and the language of competitive sports is a rotten and inappropriate scenario for young minds. Adults need to take some time out to rethink how the reality of exposing children that leave the values of self-reliance, self directed activities, and cooperation second to none.
The ability to have more youth participation and less infringement of adult expectations, can provoke tightening of rules, assignment of position, exclusion among participants, intrusive thought and judgement among teammates and other wise a unhealthy fixation on “winning.” Emotionally and socially organizations or groups that do not prioritize full cooperative participation driven by the interests and drives of children them selves, do not honestly or with sheer integrity have the full development and success of kids as number one priority. Structured play or games designed in particular by adults that exhibit a mentality of “us versus them” scenario needs to be weighed in at the center of the arena of deeper inquiry if our goal as adults is to provide optimal environments and experiences for a child’s growth. Before registering for another year of little league, soccer, dance class, or any other activity that prides it self around competition measurements of “success,” parents may want to take a critical look of the implications of this or ask some hard line questions: Does the activity thrive on cooperation over competition? Do the children have an active role in decision-making processes and in the sort of choices that benefit everyone involved mutually? Is there a competitive or non-competitive tone around coaches, parents, and other adults? Will this activity cause more stress in the child’s life or in the family? And has the child expressed interest in the subject, sport, or activity? Only then can we start to become better role models for our children.