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Why Is Playing A Sport Important?

Parents, Athletes, Coaches May Have Different Answers

As a parent, what is your sports philosophy? Every parent has one, but very few stop to think about it. Instead, we get wrapped up as parents in schedules, nutrition, transportation, keeping our children playing sports and making sure the sports program in which they participate is best suited to their needs and talents. Every now and then, though, parents should pause to reflect on this larger question. If they don't, they risk losing the forest for the trees.

Many people do not understand the basic nature of the question. It is not asking something along the lines of "what is a winning philosophy?" Rather, the question for parents is really twofold: first, What value do you believe sports provide society in general, and second, Why, specifically, do you want your child involved in sports?

You might be surprised how many different answers there are to these questions. Your answer to one may not be consistent with your answer to the other. Your child and his or her coach might not answer the questions the same way. If different philosophical perspectives exist between parent and child, between parent and coach, or between child and coach, there is bound to be conflict. I've seen it at every level from recreational youth league programs all the way to the pros.

As I see it parents answer the question about the value of sports to society and to their child in three ways: that sports are valuable to society (and hence to their child) because they build character, or because sports provide recreation, or because sports are good for health and wellness.

Philosophy 1: Sports Valuable Because Build Character

One of the most popular sports philosophies is to valuing sports because it builds character. Those who ascribe to this philosophy offer many reasons for the character-building qualities of sport, ranging from fostering the development of social skills such as teamwork, cooperation, and leadership to teaching personals skills such as self-discipline, work ethic and coping with disappointment.

Sports are seen as having a positive impact on a child's personality, character and makeup. While numerous studies comparing athletes to non-athletes on a variety of characteristics and personality traits are cited as proof of the character-building qualities of sports, the truth is that the results are far from conclusive and besides the point. Whether modern day athletics do or do not build character, the underlying question remains unanswered.

For the past 25 years my firm has worked with professional sports teams to helping them select players who demonstrate certain characteristics on and off the field or court. Our experience over the years has been that teams which emphasize character in the selection process have fewer problems in the locker room and also tend to win more. We have applied what we have learned to young athletes (12 and older) to help them assess their mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses and provide them and their parents feedback, including suggestions for improving the characteristics necessary for peak athletic performance.

The athlete's responses can also be used to generate a coach's report, so the child will have a better player-coach relationship and sport experience. Thus, we feel that sports can build character but that it is a process that must be deliberate and started early.Parents who subscribe to the belief that sports build character have to take many steps to insure their child's athletic experience will make a positive impact on their character. Parents need to make sure the coach is a good role model. Exhibiting good character goes beyond things like no cussing or yelling. It also includes the coach's reaction to player mistakes and defeat, conduct during practice and the general attitude (win at any cost v. do your best).

My oldest son started playing soccer for a coach who was highly acclaimed by many parents and even some other youth coaches. Intense was my first impression but I kept an open mind as he talked to the parents about his program's mission and strategy. It sounded impressive as he stressed that our child's best interest came first but that "serious" soccer was a close second.

It didn't take long to see he did not mean it. My son would be withdrawn, quiet after practices. When prodded, he admitted he was not having much fun and was not learning much because he was given peripheral roles during scrimmages and drills.

Then one day, he came home very upset. He said the coach railed at him that the reason he'd never be any good was that he wouldn't quit swimming to devote all of his time to soccer. The coach ended by saying my son was a waste of his time. We learned, too late, that the coach was not a good role model for our son.pagebreak-->

Parents also need to be concerned about the sportsmanship of fellow parents and players on the team and the culture and goals of the program and the league. If it is very cut-throat and parents are more concerned about their child possibly getting a college scholarship than the welfare of the participants, I'd think twice.

I remember a dad on my son's soccer team who acted out and griped about the players and coach when we lost, which was most of the time. I asked why he was so angry, since he once told me he believed sports builds character. He responded with a question: "How does losing build character?" I was ready to list five ways off the top of my head - it teaches youngsters how to deal with disappointment, it provides numerous "teaching moments" for both coach and parent, it provides an opportunity for players to come together as a team, etc. - but I didn't say a thing because I knew he wasn't in the mood to listen.

Philosophy 2: Sports Valuable Because Provide Recreation

A second sports philosophy to which some parents subscribe is that sports have value for their child because it is recreational. Experts holding this view value high participation of all citizens in some form of sports or recreational activity. One has to look no further than to municipally-funded programs such as Parks and Recreation for examples of this philosophy in action.

A sign that a program has adopted a recreational philosophy of sport is that it places a high value on giving all players equal playing time and emphasizes athletes "having fun" and de-emphasizes winning. Parents who believe in this view are usually a bit more casual about sports, winning and competition. The parent of a very gifted athlete may feel conflict when coaches and recruiters court their child.

f you are a parent who simply wants your child to have some wholesome fun and be provided some recreation, then you should rethink signing your child up for teams that have tryouts and cut players. You will want a coach who believes in playing everyone and having practices that are instructional, but also fun and not grueling.
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