Kids and Sports: Why Aren’t They Having Fun on the Field?

Kids and sports, the idea sounds so simple. Kid says “Mom and Dad, I want to play football.” Mom fills out the paperwork, Dad writes a hefty check and poof, the kid’s signed up for a sports program.  Mom goes out and spends $200+ more on gear that’s not included. Kid wants extra stuff to do even better, and mom falls for it. Dad buys even more. Kid’s happy and can’t wait for practice to start. Get ready, your life’s about to revolve around sports now!

Kids and sports just happened to you.

Doesn’t sound bad, right?

Problem is, it’s not always that simple. In theory, the sports program sounds good. The coach is good. The x-factor though? The parents.

Ask anyone who’s enrolled their child in a for-pay sports program. They’ll all have a story of at least one parent who thinks their child is the team, the one parent who yells constantly or the one parent who talks smack along the sidelines. Some will also have stories about the parents who got violent or started fights.

If you ask most of those people, they’ll tell you that the reason they almost left the team was the parents.

Childrens’ sports are supposed to be about the kids. The kids are supposed to have fun and they’re supposed to learn about the game. They need to learn how to win and lose graciously. Team work, unity and cooperation, these are skills sports are supposed to teach.

But are kids learning them?

In the last 28 years of parenting, I’ve had a lot of experience with kids and sports, with little of it being positive. I see super cool stories on the news about kids coming together to let a special needs kid score. Stories about teammates slowing down in a run to pick up a fallen runner from another team. Kids giving up the score because it’s so discouraging to the other team. I just haven’t experienced them myself.

What we’ve seen is pretty run of the mill stuff. Parents yelling “It’s ALL ON YOU, JOEY!” when there are 8 kids out on the field. Parents cheering for 7 out of 8 kids on the team. Moms standing on the sidelines inviting all of the kids to a party at her house…except for one or two of them. In front of them. Coaches reaming out kids or completely lacking in positivity. “On that home run, you should have fun faster.”

These things are so discouraging, and not just because we pay to be a part of this stuff. It’s discouraging because of what it’s doing to our kids. Our kids are losing their fire and their passion. We can’t fool ourselves — they see the stuff going on around them. They’re smart and to think anything less is discrediting their intelligence, which is just one more part of the problem. They see that their participation is no longer about them, which just adds more needless pressure.

It’s about the kids.

Our kids deserve the opportunity to play sports and have it be 100% about them. We, together, need to help them to retain the love and/or interest of the sport that caused them to want to sign up in the first place. Coaches need to remember that they all deserve to play, they all can learn if we give them a chance, and that letting one or two kids run the show isn’t helping anyone. Parents have to rein in their yelling and remind themselves their child is just one part of the team. (If you want your child to be the star, maybe an individual sport would be a good idea.)

A parent who berates her child publicly is doing more harm than just embarrassing the kid at that moment. The parent who berates someone else’s child is just a bully, a bully teaching their kids how to be a bully. A coach who favors one or two players is teaching those kids that the rest as lesser players, and the rest of the kids are close to giving up. Why try if there’s no payoff? Why not invest your time and money into something that is helping more, like a personal trainer?

Sports organizations put forth a good set of guidelines.

  • It’s about the kids!
  • Everyone plays!
  • We’re here to have fun!
  • We’re here to learn!

But how much of that is really happening?

Let me share some about an experience we had. Hefty price tag. Lots of extra expenses. Excited kid anxious to learn, have fun and make friends. Good initial meeting. Positive lead coach. Then it digressed. They cancelled games. Yelling parents. Rude parents. Most disjointed group of parents I’ve ever seen in all my years of being a sports parent. Kid got anxious to get a chance to play. He grew tired of getting leftover parts. Kid is unhappy about playing a sport he loves. Negative feedback. Lack of playing time. Little learning occurred and he started to feel more like just a number so the team can play. Kid isn’t even sure he wants to attend anymore. Kid losing confidence. Parents tired of all the driving just for the few bright spots. Kid ready to quit.

I’m not sure who is more disappointed, my son or I. But this isn’t about me.

This is about him, and all other kids out there striving for good experiences in playing sports.

So what do we do? Kids and sports can be a better experience for all.

If it was up to me, parents would not be allowed to yell other than anything positive. Let the coach do the critiquing, play calling, whatever. Save your anger for home and remember, this isn’t the NFL, NHL, NBA, etc… Remember your behavior rubs off on all the kids, not just your own. Not all kids are gifted with athletic ability, but there’s no need to make them feel bad. They’re out there trying, which is way more than most of us attempt. Some of these kids have dreams, and crushing them isn’t anyone’s role. They want to learn and if you’re going to be involved at all, help that happen. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do need to be nice. If a kid isn’t given the chance to learn, how can he progress?

Lastly, it’s not all about winning. If you want to win, join a fantasy league. Join your own adult team. Just don’t be so competitive that no learning takes place. Anxiety, stress and pressure isn’t successful for any of us.

I’ve taught all my kids to not quit something once they’ve committed to it, but as life goes on, I realize that it’s an unrealistic goal. I’ve had to quit some things that initially meant a lot to me. Sometimes you have to say “no, I have the freedom to make choices to remove the bad things from my life” and it’s okay to do that for our kids, too. I hope my son doesn’t quit but if he does, I won’t hold it against him. It’s not his fault and I don’t want him stressing for something that is entirely avoidable. I don’t want him feeling like he has to do something that makes him unhappy solely to be a number. It’s not his job.

There are things you can do.

If you’re in an uncomfortable situation with a child’s sport organization, talk to the coach. If that doesn’t work, talk to someone else in the league/organization. Remember that most, if not all, of them are volunteers, but we still can speak up. Just be kind. Being bossy or rude doesn’t work. If you’re comfortable, speak to some other parents.  You may not be the only people feeling that way.

Kids and sports isn’t always going to be fun but it should be a good time overall, with benefits and positive reinforcement and an outstanding collection of Under Armour shirts he will wear regardless. If that isn’t happening, look around to see what you can do to make that happen.








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