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May 25, 2014

It benefits us if kids stick with athletics

DUNCAN — If you’ve been paying attention to the evolution of youth and interscholastic sports, you know there’s all sorts of data indicating as children move up in levels the attrition process accelerates and participation numbers thin.

Some kids lose interest, others grow frustrated because they can’t accomplish the skills and some find sports just aren’t their thing.

“Pushy Parent Syndrome” also intensifies when young’uns get to the 9 to 12 age range, and that results in some kids dropping out of athletics before they reach the age to participate in junior high and senior high sports.

Still, if kids have a good experience in the beginner levels, one that’s kept the activity fun and inclusive, a majority will continue progressing through the levels. And that’s a good thing, because kids don’t mature at the same pace emotionally, intellectually, physically or in skill sets.

Kids know who the best athletes are in their peer group, but they don’t realize things will change as they get older. That’s why it’s important for parents and coaches to encourage them to stick with it.

Adults should stress the concept of following through and finishing what you start, and “hero examples” work well in that process.

Tell your kid about athletes like Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio to become an Olympic sprint champion, or Oklahoma’s Mickey Mantle, whose high school career was interrupted by osteomyelitis. Remind them Michael Jordan was cut from his junior high basketball team.

Point out older kids around them, especially a sibling or relative, who didn’t let being small or slow or not physically gifted stop them from having a rich athletic experience.

As kids move into higher levels of youth sports and start school sports, it’s also imperative to keep reinforcing fun and inclusiveness. The objective is to keep as many young’uns as possible involved long enough to see how they develop as athletes and, more importantly, as human beings.

People not drawn to athletics or those who think American culture is too obsessed with sports will question or ridicule that last sentence. They find little redeeming in athletics, which is a shame — and short-sighted.

We probably are overly focused on athletics in our society, but Americans go to extremes in nearly everything, then we eventually find our way back to the middle.

I’ve spent nearly 60 years in the World of Perspiring Arts; as a participant, spectator and fan, sports journalist and even a coach. I’m convinced a healthy attitude toward athletics and positive experiences in sports are important to the human experience and in building our society.

Only on rare occasion does participating in athletics create a person’s character. Parents and other adults  build character in our youth. But sports does enhance character traits.

Researchers say kids who participate in organized sports do better in school, have better interpersonal skills, are more team-oriented and are generally healthier.

Moreover, while playing games young’uns learn how rules work. They see how groups need rules to keep order, that the individual must accept the rules for the good of the group and that rules entail a consideration of the rights of others.

Sports offer a unique arena in which kids can successfully exert their talents. Sports engage a child as a complete human being; all facets, not just physical but also social, cognitive and psychological, are engaged in striving toward peak fulfillment.

Sports also involve kids working in an ongoing community composed of their family, their peers and their peers’ families, their adult leaders and those who find enjoyment and entertainment watching the events.

Athletics offer young folks an exhilarating, satisfying, rewarding way to participate in a larger world not generally accessible to non-athletes.

All those factors work to the good of a society. In fact, they’re essential in a thriving culture.

That’s why it’s vital that as young’uns move up through youth and interscholastic sports, the adults involved stay focused on the positives kids draw from the athletic experience.

That’s tough to do, though. As kids progress in sports, competition intensifies and some of the rewards — recognition, scholarships, a career, etc. — become less esoteric and more tangible.

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