This is our first article in a series about why kids play sports.
Today, I’d like to share a personal story. I think this will help us further break the ice on why kids play sports and how we can fix youth sport participation.
When I was in middle school, I played in a baseball league for a few seasons and I played on a school basketball team for a couple of months. In all cases, I had fun at first but I eventually stopped enjoying myself: I hardly saw my skills progress over time, compared to my peers who seemed to effortlessly grasp the fundamentals of each sport. I’ve always felt an intense desire to win, so I was quite discouraged. I didn’t think I was athletic enough or talented enough to continue, and decided to quit playing sports when I was 13.
Years later, I was in a high school gym class that had a unit devoted to basketball. I still had a lingering interest in playing the sport and I expected the unit to be fun. I was shocked when my teacher did more than just tell us to play basketball: he taught us the science and the art of shooting hoops. He broke it down in a way that I could easily understand: never throw the basketball directly at the hoop, always create an arc; bend your knees slightly, jump, and extend your arms as you shoot the ball; let the ball roll off your fingers as you push it into the air.
After learning to look at the skill in such a way, I could successfully shoot hoops! Of course, throwing the ball correctly in the middle of an aggressive game was the real skill I had yet to master, but learning the fundamentals of the skill gave me a thrill and renewed my enthusiasm for basketball.
Then I realized something: indeed, I was closer to winning than I was before, but it was the act of improving at a skill that satisfied me more than anything.
“Excellence is all about the process; while winning is all about the outcome… A focus on winning promotes the destructive, outcome oriented fixed mindset that fears failure and dismisses effort as meaningless. Excellence allows room for failure and learning, while an obsession with winning does not.”
I learned this firsthand. Unfortunately, I never joined another sports team or league again. However, learning how to shoot a basketball taught me an important lesson nonetheless. I think this is a perfect example of why a lot of kids play sports, and a lesson that many kids can carry on into their adult lives.