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Kids, Sports and Society

Sports are good for youngsters, except when parents are too involved

By Brian Caulfield

Help me, please. I’m of two minds about children’s sports.

I think sports for kids are a great way to build character, sportsmanship, dedication to a goal and a winning attitude. Yet I also think far too much emphasis is placed on sports in our culture, and that karate for pee-wees and traveling teams for preteens send the wrong message and disrupt true family life and values.

Kids and Sports

Still, I sigh with frustration when my 6-year-old son’s T-ball league doesn’t keep score, and wince when the coach says to a bunch of naturally competitive kids that it was “just for fun.” With this “everyone’s a winner” attitude, how will we raise the next generation of exceptional Americans who will kill the likes of Bin Laden? Yet I also think we press kids into organized sports too soon, when their motor skills simply can’t cope with some of the complex movements and they may even pick up bad habits.

I guess you could say that I think youth sports are good for kids, except when they’re not. What is needed, I think, are fewer organized leagues and more unsupervised games. I think of my own youth, growing up in midtown Manhattan, doing things that most parents today would consider rashly dangerous – and would get parents reported to the child welfare authorities. For example: running through Grand Central Terminal playing “secret agent” with cap guns; climbing over barbed wire to get into the schoolyard for weekend basketball; darting between cars to stop a “Spall-deen” rubber ball from being bounced by the bus all the way down Second Avenue; playing baseball or tackle football in “dirt field, under the 59th Street Bridge, and then walking home nine blocks in the dark!

We didn’t think much about leagues or adult coaches because there were lots of older and younger kids playing together, watching out for one another and meting out a rough kind of justice to friend and foe alike.

But such “street-smart” activities are not often seen today. And in the suburbs, where I now raise my two boys, life is based on the car, the organized league, the park with anxious parents looking on. I must confess, I’m a part of this culture, because I would feel like a bad father if my boys fell off the playscape or were the last on the block to wear a Little League uniform.

But I also worry: do we dare let our kids grow on their own? Do we really need karate belts for tots and a baseball league for 6-year-olds? Will our kids turn 21 and finally say, “Hey, mom and dad, let me try this on my own”?

Parents: How do you balance sports, school and family life with your kids? Do you feel pressure to enroll them in organized programs at a young age and protect them from every harm in all they do?

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Brian Caulfield is the editor of Fathers For Good