Should I keep encouraging my kids to do team sports?

Ice-cream truck

We’re back from the first junior football match of the season. My son, who’s playing a year above himself for reasons irrelevant to this post, has just experienced being hammered 11-1 by the local superteam. He seems to be OK now, but was despondent straight after the game. I’ve seen on other occasions where he’s let a defeat (say, in swimming) affect the rest of his day/week.

Over the summer I reflected on a post that Caterina Fake wrote earlier this year entitled Youth sports are destructive to family life. The bit that really got me thinking was the final paragraph:

Generally team sports  are not lifelong sports. You don’t see 50 year old men playing soccer or hockey. Lifelong sports are things like skiing, tennis, dancing, yoga running–70 year olds are still doing these. And the whole family can do them together.

Here is a woman who, quite rightly, sees the importance of the family unit and doing things together. Our family shares similar values — it’s the reason we chose to go away together for a month this summer.

My own youth was spent swimming (which I was pretty good at but gave up) and football (at which I was average, but persisted). What do I do now, as a 35 year-old? I haven’t played football for years, but I do swim regularly. In other words, Caterina’s correct: team sports don’t tend to be those that you continue with when you’re older.

But does that matter? I certainly gained a lot from being part of a football team when I was younger. For one, it gives you a kind of bulletproof social immunity at school. It ensures you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It lets you taste the highs of success and the lows of failure. And, of course, being part of a team can be important in terms of identity during our formative years.

The article that Caterina quotes in her own post is from a blog for ‘sports parents’ that’s entitled Youth Sports: Taking A Toll On Family Life. It talks about a specific example of someone’s son being picked for a baseball team, leading to a week crammed full of practice sessions and matches.

We’ve got a similar situation, but more spread across disciplines, and it’s of our own choosing. Our two children play the piano, golf, football, and swim — over and above the activities that come with, and after, school. Sometimes it feels a bit too much, other times about right.

I think what’s important here is that family life is respected, celebrated, and protected. It’s not something to be taken for granted, but something that needs nurturing and balancing against the other aspects in our lives. It’s something I’ll have in the back of my mind with every decision that I’ll have to take regarding my son and daughter’s extra-curricular activities in the near future…

Image via Nomad Pictures