Philip Gulley, a contributor to Indianapolis Monthly, penned a superb article titled "Poor Sport" in the September 2008 issue. It attacks with razor wit and sage insight youth sports organizations and the adult participants who support them.
The underlying message is that too many parents, in the name of sports almighty, are sacrificing the childhood of their offspring. Isn't society forcing children to grow up at warp speed already?
I am not against organized sports altogether, but as Gulley points out, much is to be gained by letting children form their own "leagues" in back yards and community parks. Much more is to be lost by shuttling them all over the country to compete for vain prizes and glory.
Kids need time and space to grow. They don't need adults micromanaging every minute of free time, pushing them to compete or serving as their "agents."
I remember countless kickball and wiffle ball games in my parent's yard where trees, bushes, buckets, frisbees and sometimes, stumps served as the bases. I can remember being picked last to play 3-on-3 blacktop basketball in the neighbor's driveway. Hey, I'm short, white and slow...but that didn't stop Larry!
The point is, I live in Fishers, youth sports capitol of the Midwest (maybe not it's official title, but one I'm happy to designate). And I could have my 7-year-old daughter in a myriad of after-school activities, including competitive soccer, swimming, diving or gymnastics. She's asked about participating in most of these, but I've made her pick ONE. She's naturally prone to water. I think her biological mother must have been a mermaid. So, I've enrolled her in swim lessons at the local high school. No, not the travelling swim team, just the plain old, swim lesson twice a week for three weeks. From there, we'll see where it goes.
Maybe she'll show a real knack for the breast stroke, and compete one day in AAU, but I'm not pushing it. At this age, I think it's best to let them try a few things first, and then choose. And if they choose not to compete, there's still the neighborhood kickball league.
I'm doing my best to let her and her 4-year-old sister enjoy their childhood. I see enough of their competitive side in day-to-day sibling rivalry. I don't need a bunch spectators and over-zealous parents to enjoy that sport.