Sports – Do kids really need them?
Just the other day, I was in a situation where some old friends of mine were seemingly trying to convince me to enroll M in some sort of organized competitive sport. Something like soccer. So far I’ve been pretty firm in my decision not to do it, but I guess I was surprised to be in a situation where there was actually an attempt to persuade me to do it. In fact, just the thought of M joining some sort of team frankly makes me sick to my stomach. I’m almost afraid to admit it because I know that as I write it, people will be poised and ready to email me and say how I’m so wrong, so anti-American, so anti-apple pie, etc, etc. But I really hate team sports. So there.
Now I was quick to be clear with my old friends – if ever M or J genuinely asked me if they could join a sport, I would certainly consider doing it. But otherwise, I don’t see any reason to go in that direction voluntarily.
Here are some of the reasons why I don’t plan to enroll M or J in a competitive team sport anytime soon:
I don’t want to have to watch the games. I know, totally selfish of me. But I’ll admit it anyway. In our family, we don’t watch sports games. I went to a Yankee game once as a child and was totally bored except for the moment a ball came flying into the audience and the idiot in the row in front of me stole the ball from the air 6 inches before it would have been caught by me. A 40 year old man stealing a ball practically from the hands of a 7 year old. I also attended many swim meets in high school, but that was just in devotion to a boyfriend who dumped me a year or two later. I could have been learning how to accomplish time travel, but instead I wasted hours sitting in chlorine-saturated air, watching people swim back and forth a million times, for some guy.
Competitive sports don’t fit into our lives. Part of the reason why we are homeschooling is that I want M and J to live their lives, and be a part of our lives, all the time. I don’t want to jump on the soccer-mom bandwagon and start carting them around to a million extra-curricular activities every day. Considering our “curricula” is our life, I’d be carting them around to something that is totally outside of normal life. Not that doing something outside of the normal isn’t sometimes fun, but driving back and forth to soccer practice doesn’t really seem like it would be fun for anyone right now. Which doesn’t mean that some day, soccer might be a part of M or J’s life. It just isn’t now. Again, if my kids someday have a love of sports games, I suppose that will become a part of our life. But I see no reason to usher it in right now, unprompted by us or our children.
You can learn the same lessons in real life that sports supposedly teach you, and you’d probably learn them better, and in a less artificial way, if you learned them in a real-life endeavor. Let’s take “teamwork”, for example. I don’t think you need sports to learn the value in teamwork. Why not join Habitat For Humanity instead? Or work, alongside your family, at a homeless shelter perhaps. Those activities teach you teamwork, and they also give you the satisfaction of knowing you did something real to make the world a better place. And building a house can be just as fun as kicking a ball around. Heck, we engage in teamwork every day just at home. It takes the cooperation of the whole family to keep the house running, and M and J learn that every day in a thousand little lessons, none of which I plan. I think it goes along with our whole homeschooling philosophy that M and J will learn those lessons much more meaningfully if they are not doing it in some institution that functions outside of life. And sports teams often resemble institutions, just like school does. And they are often filled with kids that go to school and believe in school. Kids that look to a teacher or coach to tell them what to do. Kids that follow the rules and believe that pink isn’t for boys. Kids that believe that it is important to win. Are these beliefs catching? If so, please forgive me if I don’t choose to sign my 4-year-old up to be bombarded by it just yet.
Competitive sports don’t give you lifelong opportunities. Most of the people that I know that participate in organized competitive sports are high school students, or sometimes college students. It is an activity that is very much associated with school. After school is over for these kids, not many of them continue to do competitive sports. I was talking to an acquaintance recently who is a member of the military and who works at a military academy. He was telling me that even in the military, they are seeing the value in other, non-competitive physical activities that will give recruits hobbies for the rest of their lives. Hobbies like bicycling for fun, hiking, mountain climbing, jogging, etc. These are activities that adults can readily do for fun, and will more likely be carried through people’s lives. So why should my homeschooled child be unduly concerned with participating in an activity that is mostly associated with schooling and will cease to be an issue for him once the “school years” are over? I sincerely doubt that my son, at the age of 40, will curse me because I didn’t cart him around to soccer once a week when he was 5. And yes, I do know a few adults that participate in competitive sports. But they are few and far between.
Competitive Sports = rewards and punishments. People cheer when you make a goal. They say, “Good Job!” When you missed the goal, people sigh, they show their disappointment. No matter how you cut it, there are winners and losers. Now, I know there are a lot of sports teams for kids that claim that they don’t focus on winning, but I basically don’t buy it. You can throw a party for both teams and pretend that there are no winners, but when it comes down to it, one team made more goals than the other. And isn’t making the goal the whole point? I believe that’s why they call it a “goal”. And obviously some fall short of that goal. I don’t like it. As a family, we don’t use rewards and punishments. (See Alfie Kohn).
We do athletic activities that the whole family can participate in. We do things as a family. We hike together. We go camping together. We run around the house and chase each other. We garden. We take walks in the evenings. We swim. Why would I want to voluntarily drop off my 4-year-old and surrender responsibility for him to a stranger? I believe that it’s important, especially in the early years, to keep your children continually close to you, at least as much as you are able to. M and J are rarely away from me and I like it that way. I believe M needs to know that his parents are right there when he needs them. Drop-off programs are not for us. (see Hold On to Your Kids).
I’m attuned to my kids, and I don’t see an interest. I suppose if I happened to have a kid that wanted to spend whole days kicking around a ball, I might consider asking someone to teach him more about something like soccer. Maybe. But I don’t see M being drawn to it. I’m not convinced that many 4-year-olds are naturally drawn to competitive sports. Yes, they love to play with balls and run around and climb. I do, however, see plenty of parents around who are practically programming their kids to be competitive and do sports. Parents that start teaching their 2-year-olds to hit a ball with a bat, or parents that start cheering the minute their baby gets a ball in a basket. No wonder the kids are so interested in organized sports – they are pandering to their parents’ cheers and learning to please practically from birth. There are some kids who are genuinely kinesthetic learners. But I suspect the parents of those kids often misconstrue their child’s need for learning through motion as a need for competition. I believe you can learn just as well through yoga as you can through soccer. And nobody loses in yoga.
I could probably come up with more reasons, but I don’t think I have to go on.Â I know my kids might ask to be a part of a competitive team some day.Â But right now, we’re going to continue having fun, tossing around a ball whenever the urge hits, and not playing the winner and loser game.Â And someday, if my child is truly interested in a team sport, I suspect I’ll watch the game with at least some interest because I love my kids, and I’ll know it is an interest they are truly drawn to.Â I promise. (and if I can’t summon the interest myself, I’ll at least pretend )