If you’re a kid in the U.S. talking to an adult to whom you have never spoken before, you know that an extremely predictable set of questions is coming your way.
“What’s your favorite subject in school?”
“What do you like to do?”
“What sports do you play?”
The question about school makes sense — every kid has to go to school. The question about what you like to do also makes sense, as everybody likes to do something, and most people are keen to discuss their passions. The sports question, too, is a logical one to ask a kid. After all, how many kids in America have never played a sport before? But some of the answers the sports question can elicit from a kid warrant more scrutiny than they typically receive.
“I play on a year-round AAU basketball team and I play baseball too.”
“I do cross country, track, and lacrosse.”
“I do gymnastics and club soccer.”
More often than not, kids will be multi-sport athletes, and many of them play sports competitively. The time commitments some competitive sports entail are inordinate. A top-level 10-year-old club soccer team will practice four to five days a week, with games every weekend and sporadic tournaments occurring throughout the year. Kids are usually expected to arrive early for games, sometimes an hour in advance, and games are frequently an hour-long drive away. It is no different with competitive cheer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, football, or any other sport.
What is odd, then, is how many kids are involved in high-level sports. One would think that for parents to be complicit with driving their kids all over the place and sacrificing their weekends for the sake of a youth sports team, they would have a good reason for doing so. Maybe they’re convinced of their kid’s ability to earn an athletic scholarship or become a professional athlete. Maybe they think that their kid’s childhood will be significantly enriched by the camaraderie and discipline fostered by high-level sports.
But if every parent of a kid who plays a high-level competitive sport had to justify their child’s expenditure of time on sports, would most of their answers be justified? I seriously doubt it.
Go to a few AAU basketball games. Regardless of how old the kids are, one consistency will make itself evident: inexorable shouting emitted from the sidelines. The source of that shouting? Parents.
Anyone who has played a youth sport, competitive or otherwise, is familiar with the trope of the sideline coach. That one parent who somehow knows exactly what their kid should be doing at all times, and who feels obligated to stridently vocalize their analytical prowess from the start of the game to the final whistle. At some games, parents who are not sideline coaches are the minority.
The prevalence of sideline coaches at youth sports games is indicative of a trend: lots of parents want their kids to play competitive sports so that they, along with their kids, can bask in the glory of a win, and so they can vicariously experience all of the emotions sports evoke. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Parents should be allowed to be proud of their kids, and if they can derive some happiness from watching their kid play a sport, then good for them.
“It’s like pretty much watching yourself,” said Kai Galia, a BHS senior who has been playing high-level competitive soccer since he was in elementary school and whose dad has always been vocal from the sideline.
Galia has never minded his dad’s presence at his games, and why should he have? Playing soccer always brought him joy, and sharing that with his dad was never a problem. But there are plenty of parents out there who push their kids into playing high-level sports without asking if their kids actually want to be playing competitively.
“You shouldn’t be wasting your time just because your parents are forcing you to play something,” Galia said.
Galia noted that in Switzerland, where he lived for one year towards the end of elementary school, his teammates were far more spirited.
“Over there, they want to play the sport. They want to go pro, they want to be like their idols,” he said. “The kids have more passion. They want to win the game.”
Until parents stop being more passionate about their kids’ sports than their kids are, time will continue to be squandered driving to practices and games, and Swiss soccer fields will continue to be more passion-filled than American ones.