Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Unfit for the Masses

WPR's modus operandi is to bring on a guest for an entire hour, or perhaps two guests of opposing views, and devote as much time as possible to listeners' questions. This does necessitate a lot of listening to a lot of poorly thought out and ill-prepared comments and questions, but by the end of the hour a good collection of popular opinion is married to professional opinion and this turns out to be a decent reflection of what people are thinking.

Today one hour was devoted to sports and children, opportune after that last post.

Everyone weighed in, except the kids. First came the old grumps like me extolling the virtues of the bucolic 50's, when we made our own fun. The "expert" responded with that concept that creeps steadily into our collective consciousness―that pernicious, petrifying piece of pragmatism that feeds the darkness settling around us―that it's a new world somehow, and that we are suddenly not safe―our children are not safe. Children were never safe, but now the interviewee's child plays "on his own" and so develops ability to construct socially "on his own" in free play portions of practice, but for safety's sake within eyesight and earshot of five or six adults. Right.

And then came the "Why does everything have to be so competitive?" crowd, the extreme exercise in missing the point. "My son is eleven and says this is his last year," and "My daughter just doesn't seem to be enjoying herself, she spends most of her time on the bench because the coach is so intent on winning." Winning isn't everything, but doing something well is. Doing something well generally translates into winning. Isn't that a tough bit of logic? In a backhanded way, this is one of the things youth sports does well. "You suck, kid, don't waste any time looking for something you do do well!"

That's a lot of welling in do do.

Somewhere a high school school coach had the time in his bleak, underpaid and overworked existence to listen to the radio and chime in with the inevitable, "Sports build's character." There's no denying this. Leaders learn to shine, and followers learn to subordinate their ego for the common cause. This is fantastic experience to prepare one for organizational cooperation that will be expected in later life, and quite a learning one for those on the receiving end of such character―for those subject to its humiliating and sometimes violent ends. But very, very few will participate in these roles into their teens, these players at varsity levels will be populated heavily by fortunate children, for whom the transportation, equipment and interest needs for the extreme schedule they will be expected to maintain can only be met by a more leisurely parental lifestyle than most enjoy. Thus this character building, though heavily funded by everyone, is quite undemocratic..

And then, "They need the exercise." Youth sports isn't about exercise, certainly not as a mass movement (sorry). Sure, the swimming and cross country teams are in shape, all twenty of them. Exercise isn't about winning, exercise is just about exercise. You don't need a 4 million dollar sports center to get some some exercise. and you don't need four assistant coaches. You need self-awareness. You need encouragement. You need philosophy.

Fitness is an expression of the self, and will never be a widely successful result of a system that is designed to subjugate that awareness. The strong-bonding elitism inherent in organized sports serves to clear the gridiron of the masses and has nothing to do with the overall fitness of our youth.

For some, the local soccer field is best to be a competitive training ground, for others a serene playing field of socialization―so goes most of the argument.

What it will never be is about health.


At 2:33 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

Wish I could have weighed in on NPR's forum but waiting to go on the air is mostly a waste of time. Tried to respond to a local right wing talk show subject one time, was put on hold for ever, gave my opposing pitch, said they would call back for sure in 15, did in 30 to say-no thanks.Guess I wasn't excitable enough.
Youth sports and its myriad underlying philosophies has evolved for sure, not sure for better or worse. Participation used to be about learning and enjoying the game and yes, probably not about the exercise, which was taken for granted.
Enter in personal trainers, club teams and Prop 9 and suddenly we have 2x the participants, with the young ladies doing their thing in an ever widening number of 'games'; softball, volleyball, soccer, crew/rowing, lacrosse and badminton.We have so many sport teams here in CA, it makes your head spin.
You can follow a rough chronology to see how the young participant evolves;
Stage 1: 5-8 years-it's about socialization, basic skill training and yeah, get some exercise, before feeding them some sugar after practice.
Stage 2: 9-12 years- skill training and fitness steps up, social time less a factor, future stardom and scholarship dreams start to materialize in both participant and parents.
Stage 3:13-18 years--a thinning out process occurs, participants limited to the highly skilled or athletically gifted and those that don't make the team lose interest not only in the game but in fitness as well. (Unless, of course, you are paying $1-2K per year for a play-for-pay club sport.)
This is unwritten tragedy, flipside of sports; you're not good enough to make the HS team? Then you shouldn't be seen out on the sandlot/court. That's for serious athletes and by the way, we've reserved the time.
I introduced two kids to sports; the son started T-ball at age 6, dropped out at age 11, wasn't his thing.Took up Scouting and backpacking, went into the Air Force at 22 and now says is in the best shape of his life. I believe it,after walking my socks off on a little 8K stroll in a west Germany woods.
The daughter started soccer at Stage 1. By Stage 2, had quickly emerged as the athlete of the family.As a HS freshman, she ran X-country in the fall, played club soccer in the winter, frosh soccer in the spring and ran varsity track,also in the spring.(This was her wish, no push from mom or dad.)Developed exercise-induced asthma her sophmore year, dropped all competitive running and switched to crew/rowing exclusively her junior year.Crew is a very strenuous, training intensive, yet little known activity well suited for both young men and ladies.Near the water, the asthma doesn't kick up as much.She drove herself 1/2 hour each way to practice 4-5X per week and still manged to get her homework done and maintain an A- average.Those attributes, without a doubt, helped her get into UC-San Diego, a highly sought-after school.Now, a college junior, she works out 2-3x per week and if she had a mind to,still would run a 10K or paddle 30 miles to Catalina like she did last summer. (Ah, to be 20 again!)
So, I have no doubt my kids have the fitness bug for life. But, they are not real keen on competition, for which I applaud.They would have cringed and complained if we as parents had acted like the type A (for asshole) parent you spoke about in your previous post.
"Just let us be kids, Dad."


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