Kung Fu Panda is one of the best family movies I’ve seen in a long while. It had something for everyone, even us grownups! Don’t let the PG rating scare you – nothing inappropriate for small kids at all, although I suppose this depends on how you define "appropriate". Let's just say, nothing made me think "small kids should'nt be here.
The movie leaves you feeling good but offers up some wonderful messages I couldn't help but pass on about youth sports. But don’t worry, no spoilers are about to come. I’m sticking to facts already existing in well known summaries of the movie.
The hero of the story is a lovable panda, Po, who dreams of Kung Fu greatness with “the Five” but fears he’ll end up like his dad and make noodles his whole life. His dad, by the way, is a goose! Doesn't seem to matter to Po....
The village is threatened by an evil Kung Fu warrior, Tai Lung, whose only mission in life is to get back at his master, Shifu, and get the great Dragon Scroll - said to contain great power and secrets. There is only one who can defeat Tai Lung, the Dragon Warrior, and it turns out to be Po, to everyone's surprise, including his!
ShiFu found training Po difficult. All the methods he used to train “the Five”, his most famous and powerful students, were not working with Po. One day, however, he realized Po could be strong and agile when motived by food - Po's true love. Before long, Po had become the Dragon Warrior.
Po was given the Dragon Scroll but to everyone's surprise it was blank and like a mirror. Po left, confused and now uncertain that he was the Dragon Warrior. He came upon his father in the village to told him something interesting: secrets become powerful because of what people believe. All of a sudden Po understood. The power of the scroll was to reinforce the strength within the warrior. Po now had the strength of 1000 warriors as he went off to defeat Tai Lung, which he did, of course.
The thing you need to know about Tai Lung is that he was actually raised by ShiFu, just like a son. ShiFu became consumed by Tai Lung’s successes and kept pushing him and Tai Lung kept wanting more. Before long, a monster was created and ShiFu didn’t realize until it was too late. He told Tai Lung so in their final confrontation: “I blame myself for what you’ve become”.
The Moral and Youth Sports
What does this have to do with youth sports? Everything! We have a youth sports culture that takes pride in convincing kids there is a “dragon scroll”. And, we have coaches who think that the way to get that scroll is to have a "winning team". All too often, kids are excluded for not having "the right stuff" without even being given a chance. In reality, many of those kids are really like Po and all they need is a coach, like ShiFu, to help them realize their own sports destiny, whatever that is. The goal should always be to encourage each child to meet or exceed their personal best - that is each child's Dragon Scroll. How those successes come together on a team is honeslty less important in the end. If coaches do their jobs, each and every child will feel like a "dragon warrior" on the team - a star in their own way. And, each and every child will get to play. No more bench warmers.
You may be dream of your child playing soccer, or lacrosse, or tennis…but those dreams are not what matter. What matters are our kids’ dreams and those are the dreams we need to get them to talk to us about so we can help find a way to empower them to make those dreams come true – for sports, for the arts, for life.