The Tackle

Sports for kids would be a great experience if parents could control their emotions, but that is like asking a person who has never been skiing before to just relax as they look straight down from the top of the mountain. Relaxing just isn't in the cards.
All seven of my children played sports while they were growing up and I can tell you that there is hardly anything that can compare to the joy, frustration, triumph and disappointment of watching our kids compete.
Whatever we can do to prevent child abusers from abusing children in organized sports, I'm all for. Throughout the last several years, the phrase "background checks" has been floating around as if it's a panacea for making sure youth sports leagues are doing the right thing.
When youth sports began way back in the late '30s, it was so kids would have something to do during their time off from school in the summer. With the advent of all-star teams, on a team with 15 players, 14 would be left with no baseball for the rest of the summer.
We adults tend to think we have all the answers when it comes to youth sports. We adults can pontificate all we want, but the thing that should matter most in youth sports isn't the sport, it's the youth.
Sadly, sandlot games have pretty much evaporated though, a casualty of the travel team frenzy that has been sweeping through communities for quite some time now, disrupting recreational programs and saddling children with a mind boggling schedule of practices and games.
Parent brawls, coaches who belittle athletes and the kids who are suffering from injuries, eating disorders or stress and exhaustion. It can leave a parent wondering: why is it valuable for my child to play youth sports?
I still run into people to this day who share with me the impact my dad had on them as a coach. Over 30 years later the impact he had through coaching us and our friends is still there. That is a tremendous responsibility, but an even greater privilege.
Our kids don't have to hit the game winning shot to be heroes, but rather by showing up, working hard and being accountable, they become heroes. And sometimes that isn't reflected in the final score.
Don't expect to win any games, they said. Some of the boys have attention issues, they said; several chronically misbehave. Some lack "talent" or are slow footed. And we think so and so is selling weed, and, oh, by the way, we don't think a woman should be coaching a boys' team in the first place. I had a different perspective.
Does it matter if their child gains that sense of mastery from a violin instead of a football? At the end of the day, I believe it's not the activity that's important, but what you get from it.
Children who play sports learn to express their feelings of disappointment when the team does lose, a vital skill for developing resiliency. Sports give children the opportunity to learn to work together with others toward a common goal and a framework for developing the skills they will need later in life to achieve those goals.
What is the line between encouraging/urging greatness in our children and sending them over the edge, emotionally, with our words and actions? What is the difference between pushing and abuse? What if a "good job" is the best they can do? What if it isn't?
Coaches are often teachers, mentors and guides. The impact of a good coach is not limited to the pitch, ice, court, or water, as what they teach us has the potential to shape how we see ourselves. They inspire and instruct, teaching us not only how to play better, but also how to be better.
Our intentions are good, but the end result can be surprisingly toxic.
Sports provide the chance to learn teamwork, persistence through adversity, and basic human respect for oneself and others that could literally save lives from Ferguson to Fallujah.
When a sport is transformed into a highly competitive, win-at-all-costs activity, with one's parents foaming at the mouth while yelling at refs, who wants to play anymore?
Sport at its best requires athletes to give more than they thought they could -- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. And because of that, whether we're experiencing sport firsthand as athletes, or secondhand as fans, it is, as Reid said, "life with the volume turned up."
Out on the field, Michael's good friend dribbles all the way down the field and shoots. Even though the boy misses, his face is radiant. I'm sure the boy's confidence grows three-fold at that moment. I want so much for Michael to experience that feeling. I'm thinking about getting down on my knees and begging. "Please, Michael, do it for me; your friends need you, your coach needs you..."