I’ve been wrestling with some big questions lately: Why do we put our kids in sports? Why do we as adults continue to—or not to—play sports, including running? What does it mean to have fun?
Linda Flanagan addresses these questions in her book, Take Back The Game: How Money and Mania are Ruining Kid’s Sports—and Why it Matters.
Flanagan, a runner herself and former cross-country coach, started asking herself the same big questions about sports and fun. It all started with her kids and the demands on the family to participate in sport, which caused her to first pause to abstract out and ask herself: ‘What are we doing?’ And then after pausing to reflect on her ambition to not only improve her family life, but kid’s sports too.
When I talk about sports here, I’m not talking about the school playground or neighbourhood fun, I’m talking about structured, organized sports from t-ball and baseball to hockey, swimming, skating, soccer, and yes, even track and field, just to name a few. Again, it’s not the pick-up games that spontaneously happen at the park, it’s the sports you sign your kid up for and sometimes have to pay a lot of money to participate in. It’s the pressure to put your kids in extra camps and private lessons, having the latest and greatest equipment, and emphasizing competition instead of the wholesome values that sport can bring, including community, commitment and compassion.
Why do we put kids in sports? According to Flanagan’s research there are a multitude of reasons we might think about putting our kids in sports, including the belief in the future doors it opens, like scholarships to prestigious institutions. Character building, the idea that sports are intrinsically good and foster healthy psycho-social-emotional wellbeing. Sports are good for our physical health, yet the number of catastrophic and overuse injuries continues to rise in our youth. While all of these factors could be positive and beneficial to youth, unless we ask ourselves the question—‘Why am I putting my kid in this or that sport?’—then it’s all too likely that the negative, harmful effects of sport can come true. And as Flanagan points out in her book, most of these are a myth.
As I reflect back on some of the challenges in Canadian sport recently, most notably the gymnastics and hockey scandals, I cannot help but wonder in what direction do we go first to make sport a thriving, healthy environment compared to the toxic environments that have dominated headlines?
Similar to Flanagan, I believe that coaching is part of the answer to this problem. Think about coaching for a second. As Flanagan says in her book, ‘One of the greatest paradoxes of youth sport today has to do with the individuals we put in charge of training our children—the coaches…Few are training properly for the work….For something we claim to care so much about, we don’t do an especially effective job at putting qualified people in charge.”
Think about it for a moment, who is coaching your child? Do you know what qualifications they have to coach your child? What about yourself? Ask yourself those same questions.
In the mean time, I’ll keep wrestling with these big questions and I’ll continue to find the fun and the play in my running. Join me on April 4th at 7pm EST where you can ask Linda all your questions about her book and kid’s sports.
Register for Sasha’s Stories Episode 3 with Linda Flanagan: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/sashas-stories-episode-3-with-linda-flanagan-tickets-596148314657
Want to ask Linda a question: https://forms.gle/9YkMFysvbbvxtEVF7
Need to buy her book: https://lindaflanaganauthor.com