Give the Kids Their Games Back!

Q. Your opinion of after-school sports is really off-the-wall. The fact that adults are involved in these programs doesn't make them bad. You make it sound as if all the coaches and parents care about is winning, when that's not the issue at all. These programs give kids an opportunity to learn athletic skills, the value of teamwork, and how to play according to certain set rules. They give children opportunities for exercise as well as a chance to develop talents that will add to self-esteem. Really, what's the harm?

A. If winning wasn't of primary importance in the minds of the adults involved in after-school sports programs, then at least three things would be different:

First, if one team showed up without enough players to field a complete squad, they wouldn't have to forfeit the game. The other team would simply field an equal number of kids, the rules would be modified to suit the number of players, and the game would go on. If that sounds familiar, it's because that's the way matters of this sort were handled when kids ran their own games, not so long ago.

Second, every child, regardless of talent, would play. No child would ever "ride the bench" for an entire game, or even most of it. Coaches would be there simply to supervise - to assure that everyone played and no one got hurt - not to direct.

Third, very few adults would show up to watch. Those that did would bring books to read or get together with one another and talk about current events. Little, if any, attention would be paid to what the kids were doing.

In short, the game would belong to the kids. It would be of the kids, by the kids, for the kids. But despite the stated intentions of the adults involved, that's not the way it is.

And contrary to conventional wisdom, sidelines full of cheering parents do not self-esteem make. All that yelling and screaming does nothing but turn what should be play into performance, and put children under pressure to play well so as to please a mob of adults who obviously have a lot at stake here.

Children discover what we call self-esteem (what I prefer to call self-competence) by discovering that they are capable of standing on their own two feet, of running their own lives. To the degree, therefore, that children are given opportunities to be self-reliant, self-esteem comes into being. Given that adults control every single facet of these programs, the children involved in them cannot possibly be discovering self-esteem. It has long been my contention, in fact, that these programs are manipulative of children and therefore put their self-esteem at risk.

The supposed benefits you mentioned are, of course, what everyone would like to believe. Most of the adults involved in organizing and supporting these programs have too much of themselves invested in the outcome to see what's really going on, much less admit to it.

"So, what, Mr. Smarty-Pants, do you suggest as the alternative?"

Why, that all children's sports programs be school administered and therefore supervised by trained, qualified staff, that they be intramural in nature until at least junior high school, that the games be immediately after school, and that adults be discouraged from attending. That's all.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist, nationally-syndicated columnist, author, husband, parent and grandparent. For more information, visit

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