The U.S. has a sports culture. It is highly competitive and very competition focused. You have to win. You play sports to play the game and go home with the win.
At least that is how many Europeans see American sports.
Our sports system is different. While sports are tied to schools here, and you are usually competing for your school, Europe uses the club system. There are many clubs you could be a part of. I hear you thinking: I’m not rich. But clubs are extremely affordable, some almost free (depending on the sport). It isn’t the country club you’re thinking of. No, it is club sports. If you’re a football (soccer) fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about: Liverpool FC, Manchester City, Bayern München, Real Madrid, you name it.
I sometimes wished we had a mix between European and American culture of sports. Competitive, but also fun-based and skill-focused. Especially when your kids are young, it is important to let your kids enjoy sports. Expose them to a variety of activities and let them enjoy them. Let them see that sports is fun, and that you can learn from them.
Growing up in the Netherlands, I played and tried out several sports: tennis, judo, boxing, dance, swimming and track and field, to just name a few. I enjoyed trying all of them. I wasn’t equally good at all of them, but I stuck with the ones I enjoyed the most. I was a competitive child. I didn’t always like the playing around, just playing games and not actually competing or doing the actual sport like it was supposed to be played. But it definitely gave me the philosophy I have today: to always have fun.
Youth sports should be all about fun. When I’m teaching my toddler about different activities or sports, I make sure that she is having fun whether she wins or loses. She is developing her various motor skills, learning about sportsmanship and teamwork, and getting a sense of what she enjoys most.
As someone with a sports and leisure management degree that has worked as a P.E. teacher, youth sports referee, and coach in the United States, I have seen many scenarios within youth sports. I’ve been yelled at by parents during a game. I’ve been yelled at for making the ‘wrong call’ in a league that isn’t even keeping score or league standings. I’ve seen 3 year olds being forced to participate in a class that they didn’t even like or participate in. Sometimes it is the parents who like the sport, not the child. Parents sometimes put their child in a position to do something they aren’t ready for, an activity they don’t enjoy, something that the parents enjoy, but the child doesn’t.
To that parent I say, let it go and let you child lead the way. Don’t force it if they aren’t ready.
When children are really young, they need to be exposed to various activities to find out what they like. That’s exactly what I did when I was a kid. I suggest doing a trial class/lesson for each sport you and your child are interested in. See what they enjoy most. Have them pick one (or two) sports or activities, and let them focus on those for a while. Let them develop their fundamental movements, motor skills, athleticism, teamwork skills, and other benefits that come with playing youth sports. Don’t compare yourselves to other families/kids. Let your child be him/her, let them develop their own likes/dislikes, and their own way of doing a sport/activity that they enjoy. Competition should be the focus later on. Lifting (heavy) weights should also be put off until the child is much older and their bones have matured and bodies have fully developed. If I had to put a number to it, I would say to wait until around the age of 16-18.
So parents, I suggest you learn from the European sports model and focus on fun and learning. Let your child try a variety of activities, and let it be their choice to decide what they want to sign up for and continue with. Don’t yell at your kids when they are putting in their best effort at the sports field. Don’t expect every kid to go pro and push them into something that isn’t really for them. I’m not saying you should leave competition out all together, but I’m saying that it shouldn’t be the main focus of all youth sports.