Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Lessons from the back of the pack: the purpose of sports

20 years ago I finished my career as a collegiate runner and have been thinking about the things I learned at that time. This is part five of my series, Lessons from the Back of the Pack. 

A few years ago Nike had a series of commercials called "why sport?" They all followed the same formula with a story and a funny line in text on the screen at the end. The most famous one featured a woman alone in a cabin in the woods who is chased by a guy with a chainsaw and hockey mask. She takes off into the woods and easily outruns him. The text at the end said "Why Sport? Because you live longer."

With my boys getting old enough to start taking an interest in athletics, I have started to think about the role of sports in our lives. There is a small group of people with the ability and work ethic to make their living through sports, but for the rest of us, what purpose should they serve? I contend that the purpose of sports is to make you better at other parts of life. When I am physically active, I am a better person. When my boys are worn out from physical activity, well, they are too tired to fight with each other, so that is a win. Sadly, humans like to take something good and mess it up. We have done that with sports.

Youth sports are supposed to be fun. Kids are supposed to learn sportsmanship and hard work. Unfortunately, too often parents and coaches take things too seriously. My nephew has been a Soccer referee for years and tells crazy stories about parents and coaches acting like complete tools at their kid's games. That will suck the life out of a group of children really quickly.

Another problem that has come up in recent years is specialization of youth sports. Kids are expected to start young and play the same sport year round. A friend was telling me that his daughter wanted to try softball but found that all the teams were made up of kids that had been playing for years and there was no place for beginners. She is 11 years old. Many experts have said that specialization is not good and that kids should play different sports during the year but it looks like it will take a while to change.

Despite my lack of athletic gifting I still love to participate in a lot of different sports and I feel more alive and happy when I do. I will pass that on to my children so that, even if they end up in the back of the pack, they can feel the joy of competition and trying your best. I want them to understand the purpose of sports and enjoy them as much as I have.