To Play Or Not To Play

An article ran in the Wall Street Journal yesterday called Why I Don’t Want My Kid To Play Team Sports.


The author, a sports writer named Jeff Pearlman, explained that he was turned off to team sports in 1982, when his shy, un-athletic brother was benched for three-quarters of every soccer game, and only played the minimum number of minutes the coach was required to play each kid.  It did a number on his brother’s confidence, he explained, and because of that, he doesn’t want his kids playing team sports, just individual ones.


I read the article with interest, because, as you know if you’ve read this column with any regularity, my son, too, has struggled with team sports. He’s played soccer, baseball, flag football and basketball, and he’s not particularly good at any of them. In basketball, when the coaches have to make one kid sit twice because of the substitution rules, my son is the kid.  In baseball, he bats eighth. In football, he does the snap. In soccer, he plays goalie a lot.  


He’s dropped out of football and basketball, but he still plays soccer and baseball, a) because he needs to get exercise somewhere, b) because I’ve always believed that important lessons about teamwork and having people depend on you are learned from being on a team, and, most importantly, c) because he likes being part of a team and bonding with his friends.


But Pearlman argues otherwise.  He writes, “I want my kids to run track and cross country - where the ultimate goal is to accomplish your personal best. I want them to learn an instrument, to master a craft, to join the drama club. I want my son to be a 'science nerd.' I want my daughter to write poetry. I don’t care if they win and I don’t care if they lose, as long as they try and as long as they’re happy. We place such an unhealthy emphasis in this country upon victory, without stopping to ponder the end game. Yes, medals are nice. Trophies, too.  But, really, what’s so important about being the best? Why are we so focused on the result, while forgetting the value of the journey?”


And that’s where I lost him. I know that there are lots of coaches out there who care about winning over all else.  I’ve seen them, and I get it.  But I also know that there are lots of coaches out there, like my husband, who coach because they want kids to learn a skill, and to enjoy playing for the sake of playing.  Or like my son’s soccer coach, who praises him after every game just for trying hard, even if he barely touched the ball.  Or the basketball coach he once had, who forbid anyone else on the team from shooting until my son made a basket. 


These are good guys, who are in it for the right reasons.  Not all coaches are using the 1982 playbook.