The question comes up from time to time within my family about the value of sports when it comes to kids. I have four older sisters, three of which are or were teachers at one time. The argument of teaching kids about competition and how to lose are sometimes at the forefront. Personally, I think it’s a sin that every kid gets a trophy regardless of whether they win or not. Life isn’t like that. Not everyone gets the gig or a raise. The argument about building self esteem just doesn’t wash for me. I think you can build more esteem by teaching a kid to bounce back from defeat and overcome that feeling of being let down. How you react to failure and
adversity is a skill that needs to be taught at an early age (if you ask me anyway). That’s not to say we shouldn’t be pumping our kids up and reminding them about how great they are, but I think we forget that losing isn’t the end. It’s just part of the journey.
I personally believe that there are countless opportunities to teach our kids life lessons through sports. And if you’re not careful, sometimes you can learn a lesson or two yourself in the process.
Case in point: I was coaching my son’s soccer game over the weekend and had a bit of a revelation. He had struggled in the first half and was playing somewhat passively. His tentative approach had him out of position a great deal of the time and he was growing frustrated that he wasn’t getting the ball very often. I kept encouraging him during the third quarter to go after the ball more when the opposing team had control and to take the ball from them. Basically, telling him that if he wanted the ball, he’d have to fight for it. I reminded him that the other team wasn’t just going to hand it to him and his teammates weren’t going to pass it to him if he wasn’t open.
We talked about awareness and opening his eyes to the big picture and recognizing where he needed to be in order to be the most effective. What did he need to do to help be a more productive and valuable member of the team at any given moment? I told him, get your head up and eyes wide.
Early on in the fourth quarter, the action happened to be taking place directly in front of me. The other team was moving up field and my son was standing in front of the guy who had control of the ball. My son was just kind of standing there looking like he wasn’t sure what to do. I was close enough to yell to him and encouraged him to go for it and take the ball from the other guy. And sure enough, he pressured the guy and got a foot on the ball and broke it free. He then proceeded to dribble toward the opposing goal and made a beautiful pass that set up a shot. From that point on he started getting right in the thick of things and started playing with more ferver. His energy and confidence grew each time he managed to gain control of the ball and eventually he even scored a goal.
A few of his teammates had taken notice as well and began to emulate his actions. Suddenly the entire team began to play with more intensity and were controlling the ball better. And don’t tell me winning doesn’t matter to a seven year old. They had no problem reminding themselves and anyone who’d listen who won and what the score was which quickly turned into a lesson on good sportsmanship and being a gracious victor.
As we got in the car, I started thinking about work and a couple of personal goals I hadn’t met. And then it hit me. I’d been living life the past few months like my son was playing soccer in the first half. Waiting for things to come to me and wondering why no one was passing me the ball. Yet I hadn’t really done much to put myself in a position to get the ball. I’d just kind of been standing there waiting for something to happen. And sadly, that’s not how it works. I looked at my son and the other kids on the field and eventually entered this week determined to step up my game and make a stronger effort to put myself in position to score.
From social skills to approaching adversity and challenges, I do believe sports are a valuable tool. But like any tool, it’s important to understand how to use it and the dangers of using it incorrectly. It’s also about balance and understanding when it’s time to back off and not take it too seriously. For us the first rule is to have fun and get exercise. But honestly, appreciating the value of both success and failure are vital aspects of growing up. It’s the cornerstone of what athletics are based upon; winning and losing. And like it or not, a big part of living a life of contentment is learning how to deal with both success and failure. So many life lessons can be taught through athletics and if you’re paying close enough attention, you can likely learn a little something yourself along the way.