Thursday, August 27, 2009

Caring Too Much

The premise I write from is that athletics and athletic excellence is worthy of care and connecting with. But as I reflect upon the scandals associated with pre-college and AAU basketball, I realize that like all of life, this virtue can be carried too far. We can care too much about athletics and the often this victimizes our children.

I remember the first time I coached T ball for my kids. Someone would hit the whiffle ball off the T and eight kids would run and squeal towards the ball. Of course no one was guarding first and kids squabbled over who got the ball. It was chaotic and fun mayhem-it had little relation to baseball or softball. You could see the joy in the kids just like you sensed the joy when they first ran the field in soccer, learned to jump and summersault in gymnastics or heave the ball towards an oversized basket and watch it roll in.

Our kids connect to sport first from joy. Many love the feel and energy of the activity. MNY love basking in a parent's satisfaction at watching them play. Many love learning to actually master something and do it well. Slowly a culling and separating occurs, but it occurs earlier and earlier. Parents get impatient with "playing" and want to see "winning." Kids take their cues from parents and want to win too. As the initial differences in talent first play out, parents want their kids to play with like to like and get more challenges.

Things start to change for parents and kids. Kids slowly feel their identity and esteem tied up with how they do in sport. In some cases, it may be the only thing they are good at or the only place they can escape to. It may be what they feel their parents judge them by. What starts as joy and play soon evolve into competition and joy. Then it evolves into pleasing others, competition and duty.

Parents preside over this in most cases. Sometimes it is to enjoy seeing their kids excel. Sometimes it is fun to be with their kids on the road and to enjoy the company of other similarly crazed parents standing in the pouring rain sinking in mud as soccer players slide around in a mud bath. Somewhere along the line, it gets a little different. Parents start to identity with the kids or the kids start to play for the parent's ambitions, not their own. They internalize their parents desire for them to get a scholarship or become a pro or redeem their own frustrated athletic ambitions.

When we care too much, children become athletes too early and parents change into managers. These are not good for the kids or parents.

(photo courtesy of Photosearch)

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