Friday, March 20, 2009

Pros and Cons of Organized Youth Sports

Both of the short people are on teams right now. Big shorty is playing soccer and little shorty is in little league. I was an athlete back when and I wanted my kids to be involved in team athletics, but I'm not a little league parent and I'm finding myself more and more ambivalent.

On the plus side, we need to make physical activity more a part of the lives of people in this culture any way we can. Childhood obesity, diabetes, and all sorts of public health problems are rampant and fun exercise is a good thing. Additionally, it teaches kids that they can do things that are hard, they can push themselves, and they learn to find that extra-reserve to give it that extra kick when they needed it. I believe that these lessons helped me in grad school.

You also learn to be part of a team, to play fair, to work hard, to win with dignity, and lose with grace. You learn how to deal with jerks and to depend on others.

But, on the other hand, there is a stratification in this culture that puts people at the top who probably shouldn't be there. Youth athletics is an early indoctrination into our jocks are tops social structure where prowess on the field translates into social capital. The worst of our patriarchal culture is openly transmitted. There are starters and scrubs and the kids who end up as bench warmers are often the ones whose self-esteemed was already getting whacked. The "win baby win" ethos that destroyed our economy and foreign policy is there in miniature and the kids of jerks tend to be little jerks.

You do come away at the end of the day and wonder if what they picked up was on balance better or worse. So, with youth athletics, do the pros outweigh the cons?