The kids asked me after my Princess Disney Half Marathon if I won. I love the possibilities of youth. After all it is a race, their mom is awesome, of course she won. There's that pesky truth we know as adults: Someone is always faster.
I try to explain to them the nuance of success. The woman who won the race holds the American record for the half marathon. Her record is 1 hour and 7 minutes. There's a lot I can do in an hour and seven minutes, but running 13.1 ain't one of 'em.
So I didn't place, I didn't come in the top ten, but I did finish in the top 1/3. Which I think is pretty cool, but the kids are about the win. Not place 7,383 out of 19,317 runners, not even including the 5,000 runners who weren't able to finish the race. My kids don't understand what an accomplishment that is. Instead they pat my back and say, "Better luck next time."
As a culture we are obsessed with results. We sign our three-year-olds up for baseball, soccer, ice skating, hockey. We practice, we talk about focus, we pretend if they just work hard enough they will be that one rising star. We take away their playtime, school time, and family time, all for the sport. All so they can be a winner.
But that isn't reality.
Reality is most of us will be middle of the packers. We'll be okay at sports. We won't be stars, but we won't suck either. We teach our kids that the win is what is important, not the fun of sport itself. We focus on results, and not growth. We focus on the wrong things. And because we focus on the wrong things, when kids hit the wall of their own athletic development, a lot of them stop competing. They stop moving.
I don't think I have ever won anything. When I ran track, I never won a heat. In basketball I kept that bench nice and warm for the real players. In cross country I was pretty close to last place. I was an inflexible gymnast. I could keep my head above the water in swimming. I could hit the baseball, dodge the ball, but I was not the person people clamored over to have on their team.
And it didn't just stop in sports. I could sing, but I wasn't the best. I was passed over more often than not in the school plays. I had to work my behind off to keep first chair as a trumpet, but that was because the kid who was the best switched instruments.
In college I realized even the things I enjoyed, I wasn't great at.
And for a lot of years I quit everything, because I wasn't good.
Sports and other hobbies are not about the game or competition, they are about learning more about yourself and having fun while doing it. I often hear from my daughter, "I'm just not good at it." And my answer to her is action. To keep running and showing her just because we aren't good, doesn't mean we can't do it.
Recently someone posted an article on Facebook called, The Only Six Words Parents Need to Say to Their Kids About Sports—Or Any Performance. It was a timely read for me because I was in the middle of watching my older two kids play basketball. I watched parents complain about the scores, I watched coaches yell at kids for not "getting under the hoop." I watched kids come off the court upset because they didn't win the game. I saw kids getting paid for baskets. I saw coaches complaining about the refs. I saw a bunch of kids learning the wrong thing about sports.
One thing I didn't hear enough of was, "Did you have fun?" or better yet: "I love watching you play."
The article reminds me that life isn't about the win. We aren't professional athletes. I am never going to be a Boston qualifier. I will never win a race, let alone my age group or gender. But that doesn't stop me from running or even racing. There is nothing more exhilarating than lining up with 20,000 other runners at three o'clock in the morning to run. And 19,999 of us will not win the race. Because ultimately the goal of running it isn't about beating the person next to me; it isn't even about beating myself, it's about having fun.
I wish we taught our kids to enjoy sports the way they were meant to.No more organized baseball leagues. No more parents teaching skills. Just kids, out in a field, throwing a ball around. Just kids swimming in the pool on a lazy Saturday morning. Kids riding a bike on a sunny day. Just kids making up their own rules to a game they love. Saturdays and Sundays would be their own. Weeknights would end with the sound of parent's voices calling their kids home.
When adults got hold of the little league world, we ruined it. We turned it into the results driven culture we are obsessed with. And the kids can have fun despite our best efforts to ruin it. But soon, the kids who aren't the best, who aren't the stars, fall away.
And they are left with disappointment. Feeling like they didn't match up and they failed.
Parents: Stop the obsession with sports. Let your kids play for the sheer joy of it. They don't need lessons, they don't need coaching, they don't need pressure. They need to have fun. They need to grow. They need us, to get out of their way.
Do you agree? Should kids play organized sports, or should we let them discover the fun on their own?
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