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Youth sports are a BIG DEAL in boy world, at least here in the U.S.
In many places, boys begin organized sports — T-ball, pee-wee hockey — as young as 3-yrs-old. By the time boys are 10, many family weekends revolve around tournaments. Parents socialize in the bleachers and on the sidelines; boys, in athletic complexes, hotel lobbies and pools. And in many high schools, sports involvement is still a big determinant of who’s hot and who’s not.
COVID-19, of course, temporarily paused youth sports and gave families time to pursue other passions — or took away families’ identify and reason for existence, depending on who you ask.
An article in the Apr. 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal, A Dad Fights to Bring Back School Sports. His Son Moves On., explores this dichotomy and the craziness of youth sports better than any other article I’ve even read. (You can see some article excerpts below.)
The Cliff notes version is this: Dad, his athletic dreams stifled long-ago, is gung-ho about his sons’ involvement in sports. He pushes them — for their own good, he thinks, but as a reader, it’s pretty clear that Dad’s ego is all wrapped up in their achievement as well. Which brings up the one question I think all boy parents must ask themselves (and honestly answer):
WHY ARE YOUR BOYS PLAYING SPORTS?
Is it because they want to play? Great! If so, you’re totally okay with letting them quit when they don’t want to play anymore, right? No? Then you’ve got some more work to do.
Is it because you think athletic achievement is the path to a scholarship? Think again. You’d probably be better off investing the money you’re currently spending on team fees, sports equipment and travel into a college fund.
Is it to learn team work and resilience? Great! But…is sports the only way to learn those skills?
I’m not telling you to skip youth sports. Between them, my four boys have played baseball, basketball, football, soccer and golf. (At least one dabbled in track too, in middle school). They — and we — have had some amazing experiences via sports. There have also been some less-than-great moments, including trips to the emergency room and urgent care for sports injuries and years of listening to the same dad loudly critique and criticize his son’s play in at least two different sports (and watching the son’s face fall, and their father/son relationship deteriorate).
Balance is the key — and incredibly elusive in a country that goes ALL OUT for sports. Because organized youth sports are so big, it’s almost impossible, in some places, for kids to find friends to play pick-up basketball or kickball; everyone is out of town at a tourney.
You need to do what’s right for your family, and what’s right for your family probably won’t be the same as what’s right for mine. Just promise me one thing: Before you sign your son up for another sport, ask yourself, WHY?
Here’s to building boys!
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IN THE NEWS
“Nearly three out of 10 children have no interest in returning to the primary sport they played before Covid-19…parent responses indicated their children preferred unstructured play—driveway hoops, bike riding and pickup games they organized—rather than activities run by adults.”
“When his middle son Hudson was miserable in his first youth tackle football season, Mr. Walker said he tried to make it seem as if cramps and throwing up were a good thing, making the boy stronger and faster. Hudson wasn’t convinced. Mr. Walker bought his son an Xbox gaming console to keep him playing”
Before the pandemic, sports took up most of Gage’s free time, and he liked the competition. The pandemic-canceled seasons left him to find other ways to keep busy. He discovered snowboarding and took his first part-time job. The pause also helped him figure out what he wanted to study in college.
“Sports, Gage said, ‘was our whole entire life. We never really got a break from it. I got kind of bored of it to be honest.’”
Maybe missing football “wasn’t such a bad thing for me. “I probably matured a little bit during quarantine.” – Gage Walker, age 17
“Our standard schools operate on the assumption that all children of a given age should learn the same lessons, in the same ways, at the same time. That assumption is blatantly false, and it leads to endless agony.”
“Schools, almost by design, are factories for creating anxiety. Imagine that you are a sensitive child who, for one reason or another, is not quite up to your peers in catching on how to sound out words in school reading lessons… You are called on to read, aloud, in front of those other children, who all seem to be better than you. You freeze. You want to scream, you want to run away, but you can’t…”
“As a society we have accepted the premise that the earlier we start to teach something the better the kids will learn it. This premise has been repeatedly shown to be false”
Trying weed or beer should never be shrugged off as an unavoidable part of adolescence.
“If we as parents understand that the process of becoming a young adult is all about separating from us (they’re still listening, they’re still allowing us to guide them) then, when it comes to risk, our job is to help guide them towards positive risk and guide them towards risk that might be more emotionally or intellectually brave.”
“Parents who have a consistent message of total abstinence, until it is legal, [their] child is going to be less likely to have substance use disorder over their lifetime.”
“Parents who are hoping to teach moderation or have a permissiveness around drinking, their teens are more likely to go on to be heavy drinkers or have substance use disorder.”
“What many news outlets called a rise in claims or an increase in emergency-room visits was actually a rise in the percentage of claims or visits. … the absolute number of insurance claims related to intentional self-harm among teens decreased by 2 percent compared with the previous year, and the absolute number of teens’ mental-health ER visits decreased by 15 percent.”
“Suicide tallies from around the country trickle in over months, and we don’t yet have a complete picture from last year. What we do know at this point, however, doesn’t suggest a new dimension of calamity.”
“Jonathan Singer, the president of the American Association of Suicidology.., cautions against drawing a straight line between pandemic shutdowns and suicide rates among teenagers. He believes there were indeed teens and adolescents at higher risk from suicide last year, or who died by suicide, because they felt cut off from their friends, or were in an abusive home, or found a parent’s firearm. But other kids might actually have been protected from harm by being out of school”
Tyler Black, a suicidologist, “likens the rhetoric regarding school closures and teen suicide to the moral panics linking video games and violence.”
“It’s not a schools-are-closed, kids-are-killing-themselves problem…That makes it look very simplistic, and like reopening schools is going to solve it. The problem is that there isn’t an easy fix.”
“Bigorexia, also known as muscle dysphoria or reverse anorexia, is a type of body dysmorphic disorder. It is defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) as a preoccupation with the idea that your body is too small or not muscular enough.”
A person with bigorexia “may view themselves as puny even if they are objectively muscular.”
“With an eating disorder such as anorexia, it’s usually easy to see if someone is in trouble. They often look emaciated and unwell. It’s harder to spot someone with bigorexia as they usually look very fit.”
“If your exercise is having negative consequences on other areas of your life, you’ve got a problem.”
ON BOYS podcast
On Building Boys
…Boys who don’t like to play sports, or who aren’t good at them, are terribly disadvantaged growing up in a culture like ours that prizes physical prowess and a confident, macho bearing. There isn’t much we can do as parents or educators to alter the natural drive for social ordering among children, but we can at least eliminate practices—such as allowing kids to pick teams in this manner—that both expose and exploit the vulnerability of these non-athletic boys…
Jennifer again — Please consider financially supporting Building Boys. Click below and switch over to a Paid Subscription. You’ll receive Building Boys Newsletter in your inbox every Monday morning.