Thursday, June 13, 2013

Let the Kid's Play

Leave it to adults to mess up a good, fun kid’s activity. What activity am I talking about? Take your pick; sports, livestock shows, music competitions; I have even seen it in peddle pull contests. We adults go way beyond coaching, supporting and chaperoning and take over. We have to get involved and take all of the fun out of it.
We treat each game like it is the final game of the World Series and we view our kids as the next Michael Jordan. Often adults stand to the side of a youth event and argue and complain about either the coaching, the umpiring or, in the worst cases, the other youth. Instead of doing what we should and that is being encouraging, supportive, responsible adults encouraging the kids and enjoying the moment. Please don’t think I am absolving myself of any of this, I am as guilty as anyone of being that overzealous parent.
I have seen all of this from three unique perspectives, as paid staff/a volunteer coach, as an official/judge and an involved (and at times over involved) parent. My wish for everyone is that they could see the world of youth activities from each of these vantage points. I promise it will change the way you view youth activities. Let me share with you some observations I have made.
 Youth become involved in activities for one of three reasons; 1) they enjoy the activity, 2) their friends are involved in the activity, and 3) we parents push them to become involved in said activity. I hope if your kids stay involved in anything it is a combination of the first two reasons and not the third. It is OK to push your kids to try different sports and activities, but we parents must recognize that our kids may not have the same talents and interests as we do. It is hard to admit that something we enjoy just may not be something our kids like.
Sports are a recreational activity; recreational activities are something we do for fun. Please don’t take the fun out of sports. One thing I have told my kids is that when a sport ceases to be fun, it needs to cease. I am all for learning how to play the game, learning the fundamentals and finer points and most of all to have an appreciation for the sport, all o f this makes the game more enjoyable. As parents and coaches we need to make sure it is still fun.
Kids look to their parents and coaches as role models and they will follow our lead. I know, this is not exactly an earth shattering observation but it is one we need to be reminded of. Our ethics and sportsmanship directly influence the youth around us. We need to promote the idea of honesty and fair play above all else. This has even greater implications in the livestock show ring where our actions and our children’s actions can directly influence our livelihoods.
The idea of being a good teammate and team first has eroded through the years. I suppose we can thank professional athletics for this. The focus on the super star and winning above loyalty has made their way down into youth sports. There needs to be a level of dedication to the team and to the team’s success above one’s personal achievement. We seem to value a me first, look at me, take care of yourself at all costs mindset. It seems to me that we lose a lot when there is no loyalty to a team or teammates.
Finally, there is far more good in youth sports and activities than bad. I look back at my experiences in sports, 4-H and FFA fondly. I learned a lot in those activities that have benefited me as an adult. I hope when my children are adults they will look back at their involvement the same way. I also know that I enjoy watching my children participate far more than I enjoyed my own participation. There lies the danger.
We must take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are doing all of this for the right reason and in the right way. If we falter in any way with our answer then we must take a step back. Finally, please remember, as a responsible adult, to put the focus on positive development and keep fun as a focus in all youth events at all times. If we do that, true success will follow.

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