Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bad Sports or Not Enough Sports: What's the real problem?

Did anyone read Robert Lypsyte's article, "'Jock Culture' permeates life'" in
USA Today last Thursday? His central point is: "A 'winning is everything' notion
starts in the littlest of leagues. Lessons of hard work and fair play give way
to 'gain the edge at any cost.' But what happens when this type of thinking is
adapted by CEOs, police officers, or politicians?" (USA Today, Thursday April
10th, 2008, pg 11A). Is the desire for immediate gratification permeating all
aspects of our culture? Are the some of the negative lessons of sports stronger
than the values of families and schools?

These are particularly worrisome questions as we are seeing parents with young
children in sports devote most weekends to games and travel looking to provide
for their children and gain the "competitive edge." But as Lipsyte recognizes,
his most significant point is about the kids who are "weeded out" of sports at
young ages. Many sport experts suggest that youth will drop out of sports at
high rates by the time they are 13-years-old. Often the number one reason for
dropping out is that children no longer are having fun. In fact, the elephant in
the room is that not enough kids are playing! Mohoney and colleagues (2006)
conducted a social policy report on organized activities and revealed that in
contrast to what many folks believe, an alarmingly large majority of young
people are not engaged in any form of organized activities at all. Many of us
know that the highest rates of delinquency in children and adolescents occur
between the hours of 2 and 6 PM. The biggest problem for our country's youth is
that we don't have enough teams, fields, coaches, teachers, and activities
available for them. Either the programs are too competitive, too expensive, or
simply nonexistent. Physical education alone has been dropped from many public
school programs.

Yes, as Lipsyte and many others suggest (me included), our efforts should be
directed to the teaching of character in the context of sports to build strong
leaders for the future. But even at a more base level, we need to fund programs
and resources so our children have a place to play and are coached by
character-driven adults. As we mention in our book and my colleague Dr. Steve
Durant often says, "Sports don't build character - People do" (Ginsburg, Durant,
and Baltzell, 2006). But until there are resources for more kids and their
coaches, we will continue to see a sharp split between those who are good enough
to play and able to afford it and those who lack either the talent or
opportunity.


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