There were two articles in the Washington Post this morning that show a huge problem in the world of sports today. The first was the front page article about excessive celebration penalties in youth football. I have no problem with rules regarding excessive celebration, but some of the “excessive celebrations” penalized were chest bumping a teammate and pointing to the sky. That’s excessive? Really? We’re telling high school kids they are not allowed to have fun and show their emotion when something good happens on the field. I guess we are so concerned little Johnny on the other team’s feeling might get hurt. We can’t have that. We must quell all individuality so no one feels bad. The next article was in the sports page and actually is a rule against taunting, but coaches fear individual referees will take the rule too far and penalize any show of emotion. Add into this all of the rules that have turned the NFL into the No Fun League and what you have is a world of sports where emotion and personality are not welcome. Adding to the problems in sports is a youth sports culture where kids learn from the beginning that it is all about wins, losses and in many cases the coach over the kids. If these trends continue, I believe we will see many parents and kids deciding sports is just not worth the stress. We need to get fun back into the world of sports. After all, isn’t it still just a game?
It has always been my opinion as a youth sports coach that the job of the coach is to prepare the kids for the next level of the sport. This job is more important than wins and losses, but if done right, should lead to more wins than losses. Part of preparing the kids for the next level is teaching them to play the game by the actual rules of the game, adding in the more difficult rules gradually as they get older. At this point, the kids I am coaching are 2 years away from high school sports. I believe that by this time they should be playing by the same rules they will face when they try out for high school sports. Two times this baseball season we have played games against an organization who wanted to take two rules out of the mix: balks and dropped third strikes. In both games the teams had problems because rather than teach their kids proper pitching motions and how to catch a ball, they decided to just drop the rules so they wouldn’t have to deal with it. What does that teach the kids exactly?
I also see this in the basketball league my son plays in. They will not allow the kids to play real defense because they are afraid some kids won’t succeed if they have to really play the game the right way. This is actually the official reason given to me by the head of the league. Keep in mind these kids are in middle school and on many areas would be playing for a school team already. Rather than working with the kids to help them succeed in the game the proper way, we change the rules so they won’t feel bad about themselves. Is this really the life lesson we want to be teaching?
I believe the best things about youth sports are learning teamwork, getting exercise and teaching the kids a work ethic. We lose the third one when we tell the kids that instead of working hard to get better, we will change the rules instead.