Keep things in perspective
Aug. 3, 2015
by Jenni Sebora

Do we keep our children too busy in structured activities these lazy days of summer? Do they have time to hang out with friends, read a book, do some chores, or spend time with family?

Some children thrive with structured activities more than others, but it seems, especially with tweens and teens, that there is an overzealous amount of expectations by adults in children’s lives.

Whether it be parents or coaches, they want the youth to hone their skills and increase their ability, so they can shine on the court or field. But who is it really for?

It is summer, yet it is filled with practices in the morning, games in the evening, and working out during the day. For some young people, it is moving from one practice to the next sport practice, and then games in the evening and on weekends. Is there time in the day for rejuvenating?

Is it getting to be too much? Is there too much emphasis on winning?

It seems that it is the parents and coaches on the forefront. Winning means recognition. When parents live vicariously through their children, this can take the heart out of the activity for the athlete.

Many, if not most, kids would rather play on a losing team than sit on the bench on a winning team. Making the game and activity about hard-core training takes all the fun out of the game, and for some kids, burnout can occur, as well as a dislike for the game. Some youth quit or want to quit.

Kids are involved in activities at an earlier age, which can mean playing hard earlier, which also can lead to burnout and injuries.

Experts convey that this earlier involvement and playing and practicing earlier and more intensely have led to more injuries in young folks.

We, as the adults and moderators of our children’s activities, have to keep the balance of hard work and overworking in check.

In youth sports and high school sports, we also have to remember that it is just that – youth sports. We need to keep fun in the activity. Many youth who participate in a sport are not, as we say, “die-hard” athletes, so if fun is lost, so are they.

Sometimes, parents’ expectations seem out of place. Are their children really going to the Olympics? Actually, coaches can have this same mentality. It is about their sport, and they forget that it really is about the youth.

Most kids who quit activities do so because they are no longer having fun and experiencing enjoyment. Experts tell us this and so do kids.

Not everything is about fun, and hard work is not all that fun. If the element of fun is taken out, and it is just about hard-core training, participation by youth will diminish and interest will be lost. These are young people.

I participated in cross country, and track and field all four years of my undergraduate college career. My college coach remains a role model in my life.

I ran at the national level, and earned All-American honors in these sports. I worked hard, but even at the college level, it was about more than just track and field and running.

Our coach was a mentor. She would ask us questions about our classes and our families.

Our practices would be hard, but fun was infused. There would always be laughing and joking at some point in the practices. She would also change things up. We would play soccer or other sports that would keep our cardiovascular up, yet add some fun and spontaneity.

If someone had an injury, she would always make sure it was taken care of – it wasn’t just the attitude of “you have to work through it.”

She took an interest in each of us as people, not just runners on her team. I don’t remember one athlete quitting during my track career. We were a family, and we supported each other. Participation on these teams was such an integral part of my college years, because of the friendships formed and role models gained.

I don’t ever remember my coach yelling, other than when we had exceeded our own expectations for a race or practice. She would exude such excitement for each of us and our individual growth.

She was a short, energetic woman who, because of her ability to connect and treat us as individuals yet instill a team philosophy, was respected. You don’t need size or a tough demeanor to bring out the best in people, or a team or class.

There are great benefits to children’s/young people’s involvement in sports.

Sports offer physical and emotional well-being, time management, discipline, leadership, and teamwork. These are all wonderful benefits, but we have to be careful and mindful that our kids’ involvement in these activities is for, and about them.

You can win and still have fun. Winning is more than just what number is on the scoreboard, and which team or person is ahead.

Remember, the lazy days of summer are almost over, so let kids rejuvenate and enjoy time with friends and our families.

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