While I was watching my daughter play basketball a few weeks ago, it struck me how much fun (most of) the kids were having. The kids who were playing were excited to be out on the court, they enjoyed each dribble, pass, and shot. It was all exciting to them.
And the kids on the bench were either totally enthralled by what was happening in the game, watching intently as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals, or, they didn’t care one bit about what was happening on the court, and they were climbing on the pull up bars or making fart noises with their underarms.
Either way, they were having FUN.
One of the coolest things that I’ve seen is my daughter’s response to when her teammates score. She jumps up and down with this weird, skipping fist bump every time one of her teammates makes a shot. I’m proud of her for that.
She doesn’t get the ball very much (and I don’t care) and she probably has made one shot all year. But when someone on her team scores she is SO excited for them, and for her team.
And I thought back to my coaching experience last year, and about how there were so many players that were constantly complaining, or disappointed, or no longer seemed to enjoy playing basketball. The simple fact that they were on a team playing was no longer enough to elicit joy. There were expectations, and frustrations, and judgements. These came from the coaches, their parents, the fans, and even themselves.
I wondered to myself (and also to my wife, who, because I often wonder weird things out loud, just said, “yeah….” and waited for me to start wondering to myself again):
“What happens to these kids?” and then I answered my wonder with, “WE do that to them. Parents, adults, coaches. WE mess that up”
I mean, how do we get from loving every dribble to wanting to quit a sport altogether, due to burnout?
How do we go from awkward, skipping fist bumps that celebrate our teammates to arguing about who had more points, or trying to outshine one another during games?
I’m no expert, and I don’t know it all, but I have a significant amount of experience coaching basketball. After one game I tried to give my daughter some defensive pointers, because she was playing defense just like this:
She never moved, save for rotating at the waste. Kids were zooming right past her, and she just stood there with her hands up and watched them dribble right by her.
When I tried to coach her up a little bit about her defense, she stopped me right away,
“Daddy, that’s how you play defense…That’s what the coach said!”
I didn’t say anything else.
The last thing she needs is to hear me discredit the coach at 7 years old. Her coach said something and it doesn’t matter that I have all these years of experience coaching. HER coach said that is how to play defense, so that must be the way to play defense.
Nevermind that she looked like an arthritic, 1980’s, senior citizen’s jazzercise instructor.
Her coach told her to do it, so she was going to do it.
I’m proud of her for that too.
But where does THIS go?
At some point, kids and parents start engaging in what my friend used to call, “supper talk”.
We get around the dinner table, or in the car on the way home, or in the stands, and talk about how stupid the coach, teacher, or boss is. Or how he isn’t maximizing their potential. He hatin’, frontin’, stressin’, beefin’ or any other number of foolish ‘ins. By the time some kids are in middle school, they are already very comfortable questioning and disrespecting their coaches and teachers.
AND… I’m not saying, “kids these days”. I’m saying the opposite… Parents these days…
I think we need to be very careful not to guide our kids down this path, and not to steal their inherent joy. And when they start to lose it, because of outside influence, or “growing up” or whatever else might affect it, I think we need to help them hold on to it as best we can.
I’m really just curious, and I don’t have a real answer, as to what happens to the joy and enthusiasm that kids have when they are playing at a young age.
I know some of the answers. All kids aren’t the same and some are already arguing and complaining right away, no matter how old they are.
Competition kicks in, and suddenly kids are battling for roster spots, playing time, and college scholarships. I understand that.
When I watch my daughter’s games, I constantly hear parents yell, “Shoot it!” “Just shoot it right now!” “Don’t worry about anyone else on the court, shoot it every single time you touch it no matter what anyone else on the court is doing. You and you alone deserve to score!!!”
Okay, I’ve never heard that last one. But I feel like some parents have come close.
I think if it were left up to the kids, they’d probably like to pass and share. And if they didn’t, then maybe we could teach them to share, rather than trying to teach them to DOMINATE!! at 8 years old.
I get that it’s a competitive world out there, and that we need to teach our kids that, so they can survive and thrive and be their best and all of those things.
But I wonder if part of the reason that they hit 17, and don’t really enjoy playing, or don’t know how to have fun while competing, or don’t know how to be a good teammate, is (partly) our fault, as adults. Namely, as parents.
Chuck E Cheese used to be a place where a kid could be a kid. It was also a place where you could overpay for some really terrible pizza.
I haven’t been to Chuck E Cheese in a while, but I think that maybe we are running out of places where a kid can be a kid.
I see it in sports.
I see it in my classroom, and I’m part of the problem.
There are so many standards, and tests, and requirements to hit, that most of the time it feels like it is a, “hurry up and learn!” mentality.
I don’t think that’s best for anyone. And as challenging as it is to teach, I think most all of the kids really do want to learn.
Even the kids who aren’t going to be Star Students any time soon, want to learn.
They just don’t want to hurry up and learn.
They don’t want to pass a benchmark, or hit our “numbers”. They just want to learn, and to be a kid.
There is a time for growing up, for sure, but it’s a gradual process, and one that shouldn’t be rushed I think. Especially in the name of scoring more baskets, or crushing everyone around you, or scoring high on the benchmark test.
It’s a good thing this isn’t an advice column, or answer column, or “ask the expert” column.
Because I don’t have any of that on this topic.
I’m just pondering out loud…
I think that every chance we get, we should remind ourselves that kids should be kids.
And we should let them.