Athletic Support: ‘At What Age Should Sports Stop Being Fun?’

Dear Athletic Support: These days it takes dedication by the whole family, 365 days a year, for kids to play sports. It’s all about travel teams and exclusivity. And we wonder why kids sit in front of electronics for hours on end. At what age, in your opinion, should sports change from a fun game for kids to a serious college-prep activity? —Pay To Play?

Dear Pay: Recreational sports should always be fun. Period. The best athletes know this. They find ways to make all the grueling practices enjoyable. Otherwise, they’d never stick it out long enough to become the “best.”

Judging by the letters I receive each week, I’ve come to believe that grandparents are some of my most devoted readers. So if you’re a grandparent, and you’re watching your grandkids burn out on sports, there’s good news—you can still save them.

“Poppy,” my grandfather on my mother’s side, taught me how to throw a spiral. He also taught me how to tackle: “You got to get ‘em by the ankles, E, and spin like a gator.” The thing about Poppy’s training—it was always fun.

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Dear Athletic Support: My dad constantly yells at referees while I’m playing basketball. There was a college scout at my last game, and every time my dad started screaming at the officials, I was even more embarrassed than normal. I couldn’t help but wonder if his poor display of sportsmanship could somehow cost me a chance at a college scholarship. Have you ever heard of this happening? — A Good Sport

Dear Sport: First off, I think it’s high time you had a talk with your dad. Sit him down and explain how his berating of the officials makes you feel.

This won’t be easy, but here are few talking points that might help: Tell him his over-the-top methods are actually hindering your game. Many times, I think parents fool themselves into thinking they’re actually helping when they let loose on a referee. Like, somehow, if they scream loud enough, they can impact the next call. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Officials are human. They’re prone to anger and resentment, just like the rest of us. To make matters worse, they’re giving up a substantial amount of time to come and officiate games while barely getting paid enough to cover their travel expenses. So, when some unruly parent starts heckling them from the stands, there’s a good chance a ref might try to retaliate.

If that doesn’t get through to your father, tell him he really could be hurting your chances at earning a scholarship. These days, college coaches scour social media pages, looking for any warning signs regarding an athlete’s off-the-court life. This also extends to their family.

In a sport like basketball, where there are usually fewer than twenty players on a roster, a coach gets to know his players intimately. This also means the coach will get to know his players’ families. If your dad treats the refs like this, how will he treat the coach? Coaches, like officials, are not perfect. They too are going to make the wrong call, and when this happens, how will your dad respond?

These are all questions a college coach will consider before offering you a scholarship. If you’re serious about playing at the next level, make sure your dad is too.

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