Dear Nadine, My husband wants my daughter to play soccer. He says it’s good for the soul. My daughter says she’s not sure. Should we encourage or back off? — Caught-in-the-middle Mum, Excelsior
It’s September! Start your kids’ school year off right and sign them up for a sport. Playing sports is not just good for kids’ bodies and minds, it’s good for their (team) spirit, too!
According to the Child Study Center, about 20 million kids aged 6 through 16 play organized, out-of-school sports, and approximately 25 million youth play competitive school sports.
By participating in sports, kids get fit. (It’s a way for kids to get that minimum daily hour of exercise recommended by the Center for Disease Control to combat burgeoning childhood obesity.) Kids learn to listen — to their coaches, their parents, their peers. Some learn tactics, others’ tenacity and teamwork. Some learn focus, which may be why kids who play sports perform better at school — and some learn to have fun. Kids learn that losing doesn’t have to equate with failure, and failure builds champions. But most importantly, kids who play sports learn about themselves.
I was 14 when I got that late night call. Would I play in the big league — for the Swindon (UK) Town Under-16’s netball team? (Note: Netball is a version of basketball, without the backboard). They had a tournament — tomorrow in the Isle of Wight — and they were a player down. They were desperate (everyone else had declined) and would I do it? How could I not?
We left at dawn, and we stood courtside at noon. Mum had promised sun and sea — her optimism propelled by the nostalgia of childhood memories spent playing along the Isle of Wight shoreline, but the weather had different ideas. By the opening whistle, an arctic wind had risen from the sea, twisting tornado style around the netball courts, pummeling my legs to mauve and slapping at my hands ’til they stung. I ogled the posh Puma tracksuits that roved the courts, wishing I was in one. But I didn’t own a tracksuit.
Still, I thought, if I didn’t look the part, I could at least play as if I belonged on the Swindon side. I was a newly minted (demoted) wing defense, a position I’d never associated with action. So when my opponent dived across the line to snatch the ball from the air and lobbed it like a grenade into the goal area, where their shooter struck gold, I was dumbfounded. Humiliation stung me into action. I gritted my teeth and with new resolve, gave battle.
Netball is everything that basketball isn’t. It utilizes short, sharp passing to move the ball down the court, confines each of the seven players to specific areas and permits just two shooters to score. A great netballer is fast, dexterous and resilient enough to go one-on-one for the entire game — and have oxygen to spare. And so I leapt and lunged, reached and reacted, and dodged and darted. But no matter how hard I threw, no matter what tactic I used, I was outrun, outsmarted and outshone all the way. And I had a side-stitch! Not surprisingly, we lost that game — and every game that followed, too.
On the way home that evening, snuggled deep into a corner of a comfy 30-seater bus, I snoozed. The apprehension that had sat with me since early morning was gone, the tension of the tournament evaporated, the pressure to perform, eradicated. I’d accomplished no David versus Goliath feats for my team that day, but I’d celebrated others who had.
What I had was a better sense of myself as a player — what I could do and, more importantly, what I couldn’t. And I had a new respect for the game. And while I didn’t come away charmed by the experience, I did leave knowing I’d done my best. I’d supported a side I didn’t know and I’d played (as I always played) as hard as I could, with heart and soul. And as any athlete will tell you, while the brawn and the brain are vital components to a team’s success, it’s the heart and soul that creates the real victory — whether on the court or afterwards in the laughter of a team who had failed to win, but enjoyed themselves trying.
Mike Singletary once said, “Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play!” So if your kids are willing, sign them up for a sport! Shout for them from the sidelines and let your kids know that every game (whatever the game) offers a schooling that is second to none. Time on the field challenges a growing body, expands a growing mind and helps develop a (team) spirit that, whether winning or losing, is truly champion!