Playing for the Right Reasons: Sports should be about more than making varsity and getting the right jersey
Sports, like a friendship, can be entered into with ease. As youngsters, we can bond over something as simple as liking the same flavor of ice cream. Athletics can be very similar in its innocence of joining and participation. For example, my friends are joining a sport and l like being with my friends. I join the sport. Pretty easy.
I love basketball when my dad is the coach, when I get to start, when I make varsity, when I get my favorite number, when we win, when I get to shoot a lot, when I am All Conference or when I get to play my position. Now, we have to ask: Are these heartfelt reasons for playing a sport?
As we advance through this activity, it can and does change. At some point we set qualifiers on our happiness surrounding the activity, and consequently that happiness is directly tied to those very conditions. These conditions can be wide-ranging, but often take a similar path. So our love, our commitment, our reason to participate is tied to a series of conditions.
For example, let’s take basketball. I love basketball when my dad is the coach, when I get to start, when I make varsity, when I get my favorite number, when we win, when I get to shoot a lot, when I am All Conference or when I get to play my position. Now, we have to ask: Are these heartfelt reasons for playing a sport? Is this a foundation on which long-term happiness can be built? In all honesty, there isn’t a player alive who has not used one or more of the above qualifiers to explain or rationalize his or her participation in a sport.
Now as adults or coaches who have experienced athletics, our view is a bit wider and holistic. You will not find many who will list getting their favorite number or making varsity as a reason for playing a particular sport. Instead, we gravitate towards being a member of a team with our classmates and in the end being part of something bigger then ourselves as reasons. So we enter the arena with wide eyes and high expectations. Furthermore, if you follow this path for any extensive period of time you will experience the great and good that athletics has to offer. Moving forward, you will encounter loss and disappointment: They are part of the drill, but with those two experiences comes the ability to cope (hopefully without the overzealous protection of a parent). In the end, you will make memories, and you will forge long-term relationships with your teammates and even competitors. You will witness sportsmanship (both good and bad) to the highest degree and learn about sacrifice and dedication.
So how do you converse with your blossoming athlete about such wide-ranging subjects? It is never too early and it is never too late. Along the way make sure you mention being a leader, being a great teammate, and being coachable. Make sure you are transparent with all that comes with the particular sport. Kids are resilient. Kids are smart – and at the end of the day, what they need most from their parents is support. They will survive all the highs and lows that playing a sport presents and be a better person for it.
Scott Berseth has had many experiences as a player, parent, and coach in the Chippewa Valley.