The last couple years, my oldest son, (nine years old) has had the privilege to play on basketball and baseball teams through his school. I think it’s wonderful that at a young age, Elijah is learning the power of teamwork and the foundation of skills he’ll need to play these sports through high school (if that’s what he wants).
I have to admit that I get a little surprised when I overhear parents talking about college sports scholarships, and working toward having their kids get one. (Umm, excuse me, they’re nine??) That’s a big commitment, in my mind, and a lot of pressure to put on little kids. Maybe it’s just me, but I am not ready to push my kid on to the Olympics or college scholarships. (And maybe it’s just them – and their genes – since I kinda don’t see them getting there, even with intense training...) And thus, so far, we have avoided private clubs and leagues – preferring to stick with teams and classes through his school or the Y.
I want my kids to have fun playing sports. I want them to play their fair share of the game versus sit on the bench. At this age, I personally don’t think it matters if they score a basket or hit a home run – as long as they’re having fun and giving their best. So far, Elijah seems to have some “skills” – though, far from being an all-star jock – he has fun and seems to hold his own on the teams. (Yet he’s also frequently humbled from the fact that I, his mother, can still beat him in a game of h-o-r-s-e.)
I was a swimmer in high school – not because I always wanted to be one – but because I didn’t make the volleyball team. By high school, sports are competitive and that seems to be the right age to be so, and to be honest, I stunk at volleyball, really. I liked playing way more than the ball liked doing what I intended it to do. I showed up to my first swim practice in a bikini. (In hindsight, how embarrassing!) I had never owned a pair of goggles, and swam without any of the proper form. Yet, since I was joining a swim team at a high school that didn’t even have a pool, the team had no cuts. And so, I became a swimmer. By sophomore year, with some great coaching, I was swimming varsity. (No small feat on anyone’s part.)
I guess my point is that when kids are little, sports should be fun. And that as they get older, coaching and training makes all the difference. Teamwork, responsibility, respect and hard work are essential to developing a young athlete – regardless of how good they are or will be. And those skills are beneficial to life on the court and off. And I really treasure the fact that these skills are taught and reinforced in the youth sports programs at the Y.
Elijah recently finished up a basketball skills class at the West Suburban YMCA. Often a timid child, walking into his class full of unfamiliar faces the first day was clearly unnerving for him. I hung around to give supportive smiles and thumbs-ups. He shortly came to me on the sidelines and complained of a headache. I sent him back to his class – to be honest, not really believing him – discerning that this “headache” was likely from angst more than anything else. He played for a bit more – but again complained. Not fond of torture, I allowed him to excuse himself from the class to go home. To my surprise, his new teacher, “Coach Jaz,” sent each and every child over to him to say “goodbye,” “nice job,” and “see you next week.” And see you next week he did.
Shy again at the beginning, by the end of class he was clearly comfortable and having fun. Coach Jaz knew each of the kid’s names, and had them learning each other’s. She spoke to them with a kind authority, and instructed them not only on basketball skills – but on working together, being proud of one another, and audibly recognizing each other’s accomplishments. There was not a single other “headache.” This class was not to be missed. And we were sad when it was over.
His school league has just begun again, so we’re in the midst of a new team, familiar faces, and hopefully more wins this year than last. But as soon as it’s over, I can guarantee we’ll be looking to see if Coach Jaz will be teaching another class.