This past week I began working with a collegiate women’s softball team and had our first meeting. As I spoke with this group of young women, ages 18 thru 22, we discussed when they began playing softball, as well as other sports. Most had begun between six and eight years of age and had eventually gravitated to softball as their primary sport by age 12. During our discussion, I asked them if any of them could remember going out to play or practice on their own with their friends without a parent supervising the practice. None of them could remember a time when a parent was not around either coaching or supervising the practice. This conversation validated and reinforced some of the concerns I have had about youth sports for a while. I have written about it in this newsletter and discussed it on my weekly radio show. My show can be heard every Sunday morning, from 7 to 8 Central time on Sportsradio 810 in Kansas City. The web address is: www.810whb.com.
Obviously, in today’s society, things have changed quite a bit since I grew up. I am 55 years old and can vividly remember going up to the grade school around the corner from my house with my friends after school. We would play baseball, football or basketball until it was dark and then go home for the night. There were no parents or adults around telling us how to swing the bat, throw the ball or block an opponent.
We just played for the fun of it. We chose sides, wanted to win, but most importantly had a good time doing it. So what has happened to today’s youth? One key issue is safety. Today, much more so than in the past, this issue exists for kids. But, do we always have to have an adult supervising the practices? Can’t they just be there in the car or on a bench reading a book, not coaching or supervising? Do we always have to give them our input and instruction? Have you as a coach, ever had a practice where you just let the kids play and not coach them? Another key issue pertains to video games, computers, cell phones, Ipods, and every other technological device that will keep kids from playing outside. These are great distractions from playing outside and some of the newer video games can be played for hours on end without an end to them.
My concern with this issue as a sport psychologist is that I have started to notice more and more that many of the young people I am working with have serious issues with self-confidence. Although there are a lot of reasons why self-confidence can be seriously impacted, I am finding that a lot of these young people have issues with it because they don’t know how to solve problems on their own. They have always depended on a coach, teacher or adult to guide them through. Whenever they strike out, miss a shot or throw a bad pass there is always someone there to tell them why and what they need to do to change it (unless they have a coach who degrades them and that is a whole other issue). Since self-confidence means believing in yourself, it is pretty difficult for this to happen if someone else is always there telling you how to do it. If you have a child playing sports think about how much time they have for themselves. Are they always going from one practice to another, or do they have time to play with their friends without being supervised? I think if we can give our kids more time to play on their own, they will access their own imagination and be able to be develop a stronger and higher level of self-confidence as they get older.