Is ‘not being good enough’ causing many kids to withdraw from sports?

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By Sabrina Almeida

Several studies, the most recent being the one done by True Sport Foundation and Vital Signs, show a steady decline of kids’ participation in sporting activities. This trend is not particular to just Canada but is reflected across North America and around the world. While we might blame video games and the Internet for it, another bigger reason often goes unnoticed. ‘Not being good enough!’ Coaches’ emphasis on securing the “best” talent and “winning” leaves many average (and less) players out in the cold. Even house leagues that claim to be all about the participation and love of sport tend to favour those with some “ability”.

When my boys first joined a Mississauga house league soccer club, they found themselves on some of the worst teams. All because their talent was not proven yet. The morale and self-esteem of those 16-odd boys slid lower and lower that season as they lost game after game.

Being new to the league scenario at that time, we couldn’t understand how or why the talent was not evenly distributed. On the final day of the league championships, which one of our teams miraculously reached, all was revealed. Many of the club’s coaches dropped in on games scouting for players they could include in next year’s team. Although my boys continued with the club for a number of years, most of their team mates bowed out. Can you blame them? After all these were no A-league players looking to make the national team or aiming for scholarships across the border.

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Year-after-year we saw the same game play out. I remember one parent getting really upset with the coach as her son was benched for most of the game (and season) in favour of those who would help the team win. The coach was unapologetic about his approach and said that it would encourage the boy to do better. At the end of the season he gave the team a lecture on how he got a US scholarship and could help them do the same. Complaints to the club fell on deaf ears. They didn’t care. They had more enrollments than team spots and were happy to let one go. So many were already on the waiting list.

Even worse was the fact that children who found themselves at the bottom of the pile often ended up with coaches who knew nothing about soccer. Playing against teams with all-out-to-win coaches was also frightening experience for the kids. These aggressive individuals literally bullied referees and lesser-knowing opponents to get their way. So much for setting an example for their team and the young players. The only lesson to be learned there was that the bully gets his/her way.

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Not being good enough is a terrible feeling that no child should have to endure. That’s not what the spirit of sport is about. In a team of 16, how many Peles, Messis or Ronaldos can we expect to see? More importantly are they the only ones who should be allowed to play?

With organized sport at the school level virtually dying out and only the best players making the school team, house leagues are the only other opportunity the majority will have to play on a team. Shouldn’t it be about the participation and experience rather than the talent and ability? Also, kids who are new to the game or competitive sport can hardly be expected to shine in their very first season, no?

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Why are we surprised that kids’ lack of interest in playing sports? After all every individual needs to feel valued and good about what he/she does. Also, with parents having to cough up bigger sums of money each year and drive their kids to venues far and wide, isn’t it likely that such negative experiences will make drop sport altogether?

Perhaps we ought to take a long and hard look at the emphasis on winning, and more importantly were it should be applied.

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