I’ve always thought that one of the finest lines that coaches and parents of young athletes have to walk is the one dividing healthy competition and content.
Most parents have good intentions when it comes to raising their children. They want them to grow up and be, not just token members of society, but actual contributors to the greater good – doctors, teachers, policemen, journalists (seriously), etc.
So many parents turn to athletics to help instill some essential traits in their children. Teamwork. Competitive prowess. Humility. Work ethic. After all, competition is everywhere in our lives from our workplace to schools and the athletic fields.
But at what age do we separate participation from competition? At what age do we decide that everyone doesn’t get a trophy and that only the best are rewarded? Some will tell you that any five year old should be shot down if they aren’t the best of the best. Others want to pacify parents and fragile children through high school graduation. Think about it – some sports have third team all-district honorable mentions. What are the requirements for that?
I find myself juggling these questions after a Saturday night marathon of Hollywood’s newest reality TV series – “Friday Night Tykes,” which is a clever play off the hit movie “Friday Night Lights.”
If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you catch a couple of episodes on the Esquire network.
A brief rundown of what I saw:
*A coach tell a group of eight-and-nine-year-old players to “hit them right here (in the head) and I don’t care if they get back up.”
*I saw one kid, eight or nine years old, motionless and face down. He had injured his back. No worries, the next Vince Lombardi sprinted out there and rolled him over as quickly as he could. I’m not sure that’s proper procedure for neck and back injuries.
*Another coach to his team: “let’s rip their damn heads off.”
*Another coach when a player became sick during the game let the kid know he needed to go throw up, get back in there and “quit his damn crying.”
It is quite the dilemma, isn’t it? Football is a violent game and it requires violent minds to execute the nastiness that we all admire every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. It is lost on so many that the nastiness starts at an early age.
It’s almost as if these parents and coaches are forcing their kids to grow up before they are 10. Why? They are only afforded the innocence of being a kid once in life. What’s the hurry?
There is plenty of time for the real world. I understand the importance of preparing children for life and I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I’m not a sports psychologist and I’m certainly no parent of the year. But the common-sense test tells me all I need to know – this is a little too much a little too fast.
Over the years, at a local level, too, I’ve noticed coaches are quick to yell, scold and punish players for an error but the ability to teach the game (this goes for all sports) appears to be absent.
I watched a baseball coach make a coach-pitch player do 10 pushups for missing a ground ball. But he never taught the proper mechanics of how to field a ground ball. “Just get your butt on down there,” he would yell. These are mechanics that are still drilled meticulously at the high-school level. Yet a six year old should just know these things? Well if he doesn’t, I suppose 10 more pushups will show him.
If that doesn’t work, maybe he should run laps around the field – that will make him a champion.
I think we become lost in our goals and ambitions for our children sometimes.
A five-year-old kid doesn’t need to hoist a trophy that rivals him in weight and bask in the sound of “We are the champions” coming from an oversized sound system to be satisfied in life. A postgame juice and cookie will calm the “agony” of defeat at that age and will likely drown the details of victory, too. The same goes for a nine-year-old.
Think back – did you win any championships at nine years old? Does it really have an impact on you today?
Instilling in our children a desire to win and the proper work ethic that is required to attain that desire is healthy for our society.
But when does it go too far?
-Josh Peterson is the editor of the Manchester Times. He is a Tennessee Press Association award-winning writer and photographer. His column, “From the editor’s desk” won TPA first-place honors for best personal humor column. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at 931-728-7577 ext. 105. Follow him on Twitter @joshpeterson29