Even if you are not a sports fan, if you have turned on the TV in the last two weeks chances are you have seen something about the college basketball play-offs. Fondly referred to as March Madness, this play-off structure allows 68 teams to compete for the title of best in the land. I love watching the tournament because it is unpredictable. Of course, you have your traditional power house teams where their players use the tournament as an interview process for the NBA. But the majority of players that take the court are playing for the love of the game. They take all their passion and grit and pour it into the game they are playing. The result is that many times the underdog wins and to watch the pure joy on the team’s faces, is unlike any other win in sports.
In relation this tournament, “madness” is a good thing. It’s tied to the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament. Too often though I see another level of “madness” that happens at sporting events in the stands with the parents. There’s always at least one parent who is cheering a little louder, and a little more negatively, than the rest. They shout at the referee/umpire, or the coach and sometimes even the young players. Those parents are hard for me to listen to because it seems as though they’ve forgotten the ages of the kids playing and that we are all supposed to be playing for fun. In talking to one mom this week she said “Does that really still happen?” In my experience, yes, unfortunately it does still happen, there’s always at least one, but why?
Sports is a huge part of our culture and cheering on a favorite team is part of everyday life. But when our kids start playing, it becomes clear how much emotion sports brings out in people. As parents, we worry about our kids; will they make friends? We are excited for them; will they have fun? We are afraid for them; will the coach treat them fairly in their playing time? We get frustrated for them, knowing they can do it in practice but when the pressure is on during the game, will they freeze up? We anticipate the rewards of their success; will they learn the skills to be a good player? We want this to be a great experience for them and when it comes to sports, having a great experience, we have high hopes for their success. They don’t have to be a professional athlete, but wouldn’t it be nice if they could at least get a scholarship? Our parental visions and fantasies can easily start to get the best of us.
In an article posted by CNN, they found that seventy percent of children leave organized sports by the age of 13. The article also quotes John O’Sullivan from Changing the Game Project "As I say to all the parents at my parents talks, 'This isn't a sports issue. This is a wellness issue,' " said O'Sullivan, citing how this generation is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and it's due to inactivity. "We know all the benefits of activity from better grades to less drugs, less pregnancy, more likely to go to college and on and on and on and yet at the same age when most kids are walking away from sports is that critical age where if they're active then, they're likely to be active for life." Wow, when you put it in those terms it’s easy to see that this is about a lot more than winning and losing. The article also goes on to say that one of the reasons many kids quit is the pressure they feel from their parents. Kids shared that the car ride home was their least favorite part of the game because they knew they would get grilled with questions by their parent.
The unpredictability and competition side of sports makes it exciting to watch. But when it comes to our kids, sometimes we have to remind ourselves of all the other benefits to participating in sports. Sports is a chance for them to learn and grow not only their physical skills, but their social skills in a team environment and maybe most importantly, a chance to continue to develop their own unique personality. They get to try new things and see how with practice you can improve your skills. They don’t have to be the star of the team for sports to help them improve their self-esteem that comes with a great play. Sure, these are all pretty obvious when you stop to think about them, but it’s all too easy to get swept up in the emotions on the sidelines. So as the spring season starts, let this be a gentle reminder to leave the “madness” to college basketball. Go out and watch your kids have fun.
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I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.