“You’re kidding me! That wasn’t a foul!”
The irate fan hollering from the bleachers registered his discontent so that all the players, coaches, referees and fans could take note.
“Open your eyes, ref!”
The man’s ire continued to escalate as he paced back and forth, spewing angry rants throughout the game. But this wasn’t a diehard fan who’d paid $120 to see his favorite major league team compete for the championship. It wasn’t a wild-eyed fan of the Chicago Bulls or the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This was the father of a five-year-old playing city rec league soccer.
One of the myths about youth sports that Dave King, Eastern Mennonite University’s Director of Athletics, and I explore in our new book Overplayed is the one that says youth sports instills our family’s values. Too often parents assume that youth sports will instill the kinds of values we hold for our children. Too often, though, that’s not the case in today’s youth sports culture.
1. Loss of community bonds
As their children get more invested in travel clubs, many parent discover that their children’s relationships with longtime friends—in the neighborhood and at church—suffer.
2. Detachment from faith community
Christian parents are sometimes shocked that the children they send off to college don’t connect with a local church. But we’ve often communicated to our kids—by supporting their involvement with youth sports that require weekend commitments that take them away from church—that worshiping together is not a priority.
3. Endorsement of the macho ideal
When our children suffer injury, stress and failure, it’s natural for them to have feelings about their experience. But too often coaches and parents communicate to kids that they need to “suck it up” rather than to experience the upset they feel.
4. Demonstration of poor behavior
We’ve all seen “that parent” or “that coach” who raises his voice at the kids, berates children’s failures and even blows up at the officials. (We comfort ourselves with the assurance, “Glad I’m not as bad as that guy!”) When those behaviors are unchallenged, our kids naturally assume they’re acceptable.
5. Loss of quality family time
Though we can convince ourselves that shivering together on metal bleachers in the biting cold is “family time,” we can do better. While it’s great to support our athletes, we need to make sure we’re finding other times to be together in meaningful ways.
6. Homogenous environments and economic disparity
Does your child’s elite sports league look like the kingdom of God you expect to see in heaven? If it doesn’t—if it’s primarily kids whose families are financially privileged—start asking some questions. And maybe recruit and sponsor a child who might not otherwise have the opportunity.
As parents we really do have the power to make our children’s experience of sports the best it can be.