I was in elementary school when I started playing basketball. My dad signed me up for a recreation league when I was in second or third grade. This league wasn’t anything crazy – my team practiced one or two nights a week and had a game or two on the weekends.
Basketball was pure fun for me. It was an opportunity to have a blast with my friends and spend time with my dad. I quickly fell in love with the sport. However, as I approached middle school, I began to realize how many people were better than me. I was cut from my seventh grade team, further emphasizing how much more I needed to improve in order to catch up to my peers.
Today, kids are introduced to sports earlier and earlier. Parents and coaches push children to be stars at young ages. As a result, it is becoming more and more difficult for children to be multi-sport athletes, or participate in more than one activity. Players are directly and indirectly pressured to commit to one sport or another because if they do not, they will not be able to keep up with the other athletes. It is better to be exemplary at one sport or hobby, than it is to be “just okay” at multiple activities, right? After all, all of the superstars of today’s sports started young.
Sidney Crosby started playing hockey when he was two years old, and skating when he was three. Tiger Woods became known as a golf prodigy when he was two and appeared in “Golf Digest” when he was only five. Freddy Adu was drafted into the D.C. United soccer team when he was a freshman in high school.
I am not trying to endorse the absence of competition. The “everybody gets a trophy” mentality is in no way beneficial. Let’s face it, in life, not everybody wins. Children are going to have to face disappointment at some point in time, and if we shelter them from that, we are not adequately preparing them for the future. The challenges of today’s competition are fiercer than ever, and for the most part this is a good thing. As a society we want to keep raising the expectations for future generations and continue to strive to become greater. However, the question is, when must we draw the line? When does our fixation on success rob the players of their love of the game?
While I myself have continued to pursue my passion for basketball, and now have the wonderful opportunity to play at the collegiate level, I know of numerous people who have walked away. Exhausted from the constant demand to improve, succeed and compete year-round, many have lost sight of why they began playing in the first place. They have forgotten about the joy of scoring that winning goal, making that big tackle, knocking down that three-pointer in overtime. They have lost sight of why playing a sport is so much fun.
Mia Hamm reminds us that “Somewhere behind the athletes you’ve become, and the hours of practice, and the coaches who have pushed you, is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back…play for her.” Especially in today’s cutthroat competition, players should be reminded, whether through coaches or other teammates, about how much they love playing. After all, nothing is better than participating in something you truly enjoy.