Relax everyone, all hope is not lost.
If you haven’t been looking, America’s “toughness” is being questioned. No, this isn’t a blog about “Making America Great Again.” This has nothing to do with politics, the presidential election, or foreign policy. This is about our youth. More upsetting, this is about how we are raising our youth. If you have children or are involved with youth sports at all, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Some have famously referred to it as the “wussification” of America. Others simply say that today’s children have gotten “soft.” This nanny-state proclamation isn’t exactly new, every generation claims it. Remember your parents telling stories of how they walked 5 miles to school, uphill, in the snow...with holes in their shoes? Exactly.
But this is different, and you don’t have to look far to notice. Just stroll to the local little league field or head down to a youth soccer game.
Organized sports are making our kids wimps.
Actually, let me correct that - parents organizing sports are making our kids wimps (I can already hear my sister saying “not hockey!”). You know what I’m talking about - everyone gets a trophy, no one is allowed to lose, everybody has to play, no one is allowed to be cut...and so forth, and so on. I have called it the “Participation Trophy Era.” They have even made commercials about it.
It’s not realistic - everybody wins? No one loses? This isn’t real life. We can’t eliminate adversity. And worst of all, when we try to it only sets our children up for even greater failure and disappointment down the road when they realize colleges and employers don’t give out ribbons for trying.
People are starting to get fed up - how did we get here??
Remember playing stick ball or wiffle ball in the street? The car was first base, the sewer was second base, the tree was third. Or what about lowering the rim and having your own dunk contest? Manhunt anyone??
No umpires. No coaches. No parents.
If you got into an argument over a call, you had to work it out...or fight it out. We made up our own rules. We learned important social skills. We used our imagination. We didn’t keep stats. We weren’t terrified of failing in front of our parents or coaches.
This is happening far less today because by age three children are playing organized sports. From tee ball, where NO ONE can ever make an out and every single hitter has to score every inning (yes, I’m not kidding, this happens), to soccer where everyone plays and no one keeps score... If there isn’t a permission slip that needs to be filled out, a t-shirt with a local company sponsor on the back, or a check that has to be signed, our kids don’t play anymore. Study after study is showing that organized sports at a young age has major effects on child development. And it gets worse as they get older - travel teams, private lessons, sport specialization, overuse injuries...the list goes on and on. I can write about this topic for hours. By the time they get to high school, the damage is unfortunately done. They’ve been coddled. I had almost lost all faith that this trend could ever be reversed…
Until today. Today, I went sledding.
My fiance and I went to Holmdel Park to conquer “the hill” with my niece and nephew. What I saw restored my faith in our youth, and maybe most importantly, their parents.
No one at the top of the hill collecting permission slips or emergency contact information. No one checking sleds to see if they met required speed-limit standards or if they were approved and certified by the “National Sledding Federation.” No one separating sledders into weight classes or making sure they safely waited 30 seconds after the previous group before they sped down the hill.
What I saw was complete and utter chaos. And I loved it.
I saw grown men barreling into groups of small children. I saw kids sprint to get a running, head-first start down the slippery hill on their super-fast sleds as parents captured the footage on their iPhones. I saw a young girl get pelted with a snowball as she raced down the hill, and her mother LAUGHED!
It was no-holds barred. It was reckless abandonment. And it was awesome. Everyone was having fun - parents, kids, even uncles. It almost felt like everyone was enjoying the release - like we all needed a reprieve from this all-too structured world.
Was it out of control? Yes. Was it dangerous? Probably a little. Could someone have gotten hurt? Absolutely. In fact, I would be shocked if you told me no one got hurt today. But I would argue that what I saw today was no more dangerous than what is happening on every field and court across America in youth sports. Especially when you consider the rise in sport-specialization, more children experience overuse injuries, need more surgeries, and more often “burn-out” mentally and emotionally from their sport.
So, you know someone complained today. Someone went to the park ranger and asked for stricter rules and regulations. Someone was upset because their little Timmy was cut-off by little Johnny.
But before we start requiring helmets, before we start demanding sled “air bags”, can we just enjoy this small victory? Before a mom organizes a sledding league or a dad gets their kid private lessons because he may be the next Olympic bobsled star, can we just take a breath? Let's pause, take a step back, and see today for what it was worth.
A good, old-fashioned snow day. I know I will.