Letter 20 - Rethink the Win- For the Love of the Game



It's all fun and games... until it's not

Rethink the Win – Bring Back the Fun
I came across an article in Athletic Business that introduced me to a website called “Rethink the Win” – the current state of youth sports.  Toxic environments, extreme pressure, and kids no longer enjoying playing.
It got me thinking about the start of the school year, youth and high school sports, and our own very first recreational basketball league starting later this month.
When kids are asked, the #1 reason they get involved in sports is because they are fun, and the #1 reason they quit sports is because they are no longer fun…. and on average it’s at about 12 years old when they decide to hang up their cleats and put away their gear.
So, where might we’ve gone wrong, what pressures and expectations have we burdened ourselves and our children with?  How did it go from family fun to 3rd graders trying to get college scholarships?  When did we start to see the signs of burn out in a 10 year old to even worse - ACL tears and tommy john surgeries for our pre-teens? What is going to happen next and does it have to get worse before it gets better? – it shouldn’t have to.
Crazy tournament schedules, traveling teams, school teams, late night and early morning practices, three sports in a weekend… the list goes on as to what we are asking of our kids and doing for our kids.  On a Friday - one parent takes little Suzie up to Seattle for a weekend tournament while the other takes little Johnny to Eugene – after dinner on the road, meet back up on Sunday night and start the week all over again. 
Everything has an affect and its taking it’s toll.  It’s all fun and games… until it’s not.  Is there a way to pull back a little without disengaging in the youth sports world all together?  Find and make time to ensure kids get the down time needed to re-energize – to engage in unstructured play.  Make fun the priority again!
If all of that seems crazy – you haven’t heard the half of it.  With all that being said, what seems even more crazy than anything else are the people/parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles… in the stands.  The amount of rage, hatred, and spittle that can come out of some people’s mouths is distressing.  Crazy schedules don’t look so bad, when fans lose their ever-loving minds on volunteer high school aged official at a 7-year-olds basketball game.  
People will berate, degrade, lambaste, and chastise the other team, the other coach, their OWN coach, and their OWN team, fellow people in the stands, the refs, the school officials…. You name it, and we’ve witnessed people do it… and its embarrassing.  
Parents are getting into fistfights and banned from watching their own children play because they cannot control themselves – over what? A kid’s game – something that is supposed to be fun.
Kids see this behavior.  Adult actions can be the reason that kids quit or even worse they will emulate us.  What kind of role model does that make us?
Taking that into account that it’s getting harder and harder to find and keep good quality coaches.  And, I know for a fact that local sports leagues struggle to find board members to keep leagues running.  Who would want to be a referee when no matter what, you are 50% right and 50% wrong depending on which team you are rooting for when something happens.  These amazing people are who make the sporting world go round, do not take them for granted.
Something I do know about coaches, referees, and youth sports board members is that they care – a lot – they are the ones that put their hands up when someone asks for a helping hand (I picture the hunger games - I volunteer as tribute).  Your leagues and teams wouldn’t be here without them.  They are the ones who put their regular lives on hold during a season, leave work early so your kids can have practice or games, and come home late after the last kid leaves and the gear is picked up.  Gratitude, appreciation, and thanks can go a long way – those volunteers are more valuable than gold during any season and the impact they have on your children’s lives can be with them for a lifetime.
So how can we swing the pendulum back to the reason we started?  Bring back the love of the game and the fun and excitement it can provide.
I have no easy fix.  All I have is three suggestions and you can directly relate them to youth sports or on a wider spectrum you could even take them as life lessons –
  1. Before you complain, volunteer
  • See what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes (it’s not easy), take time to help change and better something – be a part of the solution
  1. Examine what you tolerate
  • What we allow is what will continue, let’s change the culture
  1. Scrutinize your priorities
    • In order to say yes to something, you usually have to say no to something else.  Remember what’s important – health, family, and fun – keep that in mind when making choices
On the smallest scale of change, something as simple as a tweak in a week night conversation… instead of saying “did you win” … ask “did you have fun?”… because that’s the goal, right?