The death of amateur sport?

The death of amateur sport?

Recently, I have been reconnecting with amateur sport at the youth level through my daughter’s activities. And from what I have seen over the last three years – I don’t like what is happening. Nor do I understand why it is happening.

If you have been involved in amateur sport (for youth) in the last decade you are aware of the changes:

  • Everybody plays
  • Practice times are restricted
  • No score is kept
  • And the power is now in the hands of the players not the coaches

Five years ago, my friend (who was an amazing football coach and ex-pro football player) was fired as head coach because, while he lectured a player on the field for directly disobeying the coaches, he put his hand on the youth’s helmet. The Club President told him his action was threatening to the player! (As a side note – the president did not sanction the child for his blatant actions of disrespect on the field).

I was watching my daughter play volleyball at an event this week that included teams from four schools. What I saw was appalling (if you are a person that remotely cares about the value of sport).

  • Nobody dived for a ball, in fact nobody even moved for a ball – if it wasn’t coming to where they were standing, it hit the ground.
  • There were no leaders on the court trying to get the team to work
  • There was no one on the court even concerned about what was going on
  • While the children were “playing” the game – no one was actually trying (the way I would define trying as an athlete)

And the worst part – no one was coaching the kids! While the coaches cheered the players on, I can count on one hand instances when coaches pulled a child to the side to tell them what went wrong or how to do something better. “Nice try” became a euphemism for “that wasn’t the right way to do it”.

I sat patiently trying to embrace the new amateur sport until there was an occurrence that finally made me give up…

At one point in the third match, my daughter’s team was down 18-10 – but they gradually started to make a comeback (mostly by accident). Eventually the girls tied the score at 18, and then proceeded (again mostly by accident) to lose the next five points.

In my day this would be an amazing part of the game – the players would have been involved, the parents would have been cheering, and the coaches would have been active (and losing their minds!).

The entire gym would have been engaged in the game! Back then, we were – to use a banned word – competing, and it was fun, it was exciting and it taught me skills I would not have today without those experiences.

This week however, during the comeback at my daughter’s game:

  • No one acknowledged the score (I am still not sure why they even kept it – the scorekeepers were embroiled in a conversation unrelated to the game and made by my count 6 score keeping errors in the one game).
  • On the bench the girls weren’t watching the game, they were talking amongst themselves. On the good side according to the new sport model – they were “getting along”. On the bad side they didn’t have a clue about the game.
  • And on the court it was complete walk-through as usual. No cheering, no energy, no urgency – and no competing.

It was a social club for 12 year olds, set in a gym.

It is clear we aren’t teaching “sport” anymore. We may be teaching sport-specific skills during practices, but we have watered down the rules of the game so much, that the kids are missing out on all of the subjective benefits that sport contributed to the generations that came before them.

We are, instead, providing “opportunities” for kids to socialize in fields/gyms. The focus is on the social interaction and we are more concerned with whether the kids enjoy the experience than if they take any value from that experience.

I am not just speaking as a parent that is upset with the way my daughter is being coached. I am a level three certified football coach that has coached various ages of players for over 30 years. At this point in my life, I am now coaching 12 year old girls’ soccer. I understand what I am being asked to do as a coach by the sport – under the guise of “long term athlete development”. But I would submit that we are no longer concerned with athlete development. We now seem to be more concerned with the following:

  • Fair play
  • Everyone playing equally regardless of their effort/attitude
  • No competition, no competing
  • No results, no score keeping
  • No mistakes, correction replaced by mindless encouragement
  • No expectation on children to make an effort – understanding that everyone is there to “play”

I worry for the next generation. Kids already expect everything to be handed to them. Sport at this level exacerbates this problem by allowing them to think they are playing the sport, when in fact they are just showing up.

I know I am better today because my coaches taught me when I was a kid that:

  • The only way to get better was to practice harder
  • I will not succeed unless I give my maximum effort
  • Outworking the other person, usually means you will do better than the other person
  • A great team beats great individual players every time
  • Showing up is only the start of the process
  • Goals, when they are created together, mean something
  • There is a proper way to win, and a proper way to lose
  • Leaders come from helping  people work together toward a common cause

How do our children learn any of this if they aren’t even asked to compete? How do they learn the value of making an effort if you can’t place any expectations on what they do? How do they learn how to react to uncomfortable situations – when we refuse to put them in those situations?

My first year of football at 9 years old, we lost our first game 109 – 0. Our coach walked us through what happened, he explained why and he helped us figure it out. In short, he used the situation as an opportunity to coach more than football. At the end of the season we played that same team and lost 35-27. It was like we had won the Super Bowl! It was one of the best moments of my sport (let alone football) career. It taught me so much about so many things.

Sadly it is a moment (both games) that would never happen in today’s sport. We are more concerned with creating bubble children to protect them from sport – rather than letting them gain the valuable benefits/lessons that sport provides.

I mourn the loss of that opportunity, every day that I go to coach my girls.