Tagged in: Coaching Development, Physical and Health Education, Sports

When Organized Sports May Not Be Right

Parents should teach life skills before coaches teach game skills

Note from Amanda:
As Move Live Learn formed, it did so because I was contacted to do work in physical education, sport, and health. This makes sense considering I have taught physical education and health for many years (from PK through graduate levels) and also coached soccer at the college level. Physical education and sport are very different, yet - because of the physical domain - the two also have a lot in common. I love that Move Live Learn works in both sectors because the left hand should be talking to the right so that we are always questioning, reflecting, and growing in our practice. Research on motivational climate, for example, originated by Ames and Ames in the early ’80s out of the classroom literature in education. This line of research went on to positively influence both physical education and sport because we learned that teaching children and youth how to define success related to their physical domain was imperative to increasing their enjoyment and motivation. Over the past number of years I have met some incredible physical education teachers and coaches who serve children, youth, and young adults. Heath Eslinger is one of the best! He is a D1 Wrestling Coach at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and a proud husband and father of four. You can follow Heath on twitter at @HeathEslinger. After hearing him present 3 Dimensional coaching (@3DCoaches) I was stoked! He’s passion for coaching development was evident and the information he was sharing was evidence-based best practice for the physical domain. The coolest part? He was presenting this to other NCAA coaches in a leadership academy related to coaching development. I invited Heath to guest post on anything he wanted, and below is what recently showed up in my inbox. Be sure to leave him a question or comment below. I know Heath enough to know - he’ll be eager to read your thoughts!

Heath Eslinger
Heath Eslinger

Guest Post by Heath Eslinger

I just read two different social media posts that spoke about being undefeated (2-0) in the World Series. Now being 2-0 in “the” World Series is obviously a big deal but what’s ironic about these two World Series events is that they were for six and eight-year-old boys. Really, six and eight-year-old World Series? It’s my parenting choice, but I want to tell you why my family chooses to play and not pay.

Now I understand that every parent is trying to do what is best for their child. However, I believe we have failed to look at the ramifications. Take this statistic for example: “Over 70% of kids who begin a sport before they are eight will not play that sport in Middle School”. So all those World Series Championships and the money spent attaining them really amount to very little during the time in their life when they need coaches. I can tell you that I love sports and it is actually my vocation but my children are all under the age of nine and right now I don’t need to spend money on coaching and youth sporting events. I would rather spend time on parenting and teaching life skills.

Elementary kids need parents and parents need to get out and play. At our house we play every game. Modified versions of kickball, baseball, four square, volleyball, mountain biking and any other game we can conjure up. During all of this play time our kids and all the other kids in the neighborhood are learning the rules, figuring how to make the field of play (strategies and tactics), learning skills, and most importantly connecting the dots on their own.

Eslinger Family on a Canoe Trip
Eslinger Family on a Canoe Trip.

As you might imagine, there is some conflict. Fortunately the seven-year-olds work it out rather than the parents fighting in the stands. You laugh because you know it’s true, have seen it happen, or maybe even participated in the occasional parental shout match. Attaining sport related skill doesn’t require a personal coach, private lessons, etc. Most importantly it requires time. At our house we have yet to step on a softball diamond but we play catch daily and have home run derby’s quite often. It’s amazing the amount of reps our kids receive all in the name of play and with little financial investment. Play is important because it’s life giving. Let’s be honest, competition is life draining. That’s why many walk away from sport to early because they are simply over it. When they need it most they are ready to hang it up. Let’s give them a chance to win a World Series that matters.

I encourage you to look at why you are going to the ballpark, the basketball gym, etc. It’s in no way, shape, or form bad but maybe your family could be spend that time more wisely and accomplish the same things. Go buy a cheap bat, a bucket of balls, a cheap goal, some field paint, and some bases and take your kids outside. As a parent you are the greatest teacher in their life and you can be the greatest example of what it means to be active. I can assure you that if athletic greatness is in their cards then choosing play over choosing to pay will not hold them back. It might actually be the choice that gives them the greatest chance!

What do you think?
How can you increase your child’s opportunity to play outside with others in a non-organized environment?

What are the positives in your child’s current youth sport endeavors?

Did you have positive experiences in youth sport? Why or Why not?

If you are a physical education teacher, how do you reach out and encourage parent(s)/guardian(s) to play with their kids?

Final thoughts from Amanda
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Heath! I agree that youth sports can sometimes be equated with throwing money away. I pulled my four-year-old out of dance because she was sitting (literally) for about 47 of the 55 minutes of the class. Yet, I happily enroll her in swimming lessons (1:3 ratio) and modified games with a soccer ball. The league is 3 vs 3 and it gives her social interaction and is once a week. As you suggest, this shouldn’t take away from free play and outdoor time with friends and her sister. I think that sometimes youth sport is as you so accurately suggest ‘life draining’ - just as sometimes college and professional sport can let us down. Yet, it can be positive and wonderful for kids who do not have a good outlet, don’t have siblings to interact with, and/or don’t have a safe neighborhood. I certainly, however, feel it’s sad to see so many empty swing sets, play areas, and playgrounds in yards and on school grounds as I travel around town! Youth sport can provide a wonderful avenue for kids, and coaching development is key to this. For example, if you were coaching four-year-olds, I am sure it would be age and developmentally appropriate, fun, and upbeat! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Move Live Learn blog!!

If you are a parent, make sure that your young child is not participating in adult versions of sport - it’s simply not age and developmentally appropriate to do so. You know your child better than anyone else and perhaps extra curricular activities are best for your child. The key is don’t feel pressured to do so and don’t do so at the expense of your child really gaining physical competence that comes from playgrounds, free play, and lots of opportunity to take risk and navigate equipment, spaces, and others.


  • Cedric Philo

    Thank you for this amazing insight. I am a physical educator and my family had to decide if my 8 year old should play on the year around soccer team. I was torn because I wants my kids to be healthy and have lots of great experiences. Luckily my wife and I decided that 8 is too young to be spending this kind of money and travel time. I wonder often if our decision was the right one because we have many friends going through with it. After reading this post by @HeathEstlinger I know we made the right choice!

  • Heath Eslinger

    Cedric,Great choice! i am certain that your 8 year old will benefit in the long run from this decision. We don’t give children adult dosages of medicine and we need to make sure we don’t give them adult dosages of sport. Enjoy your time with family.Heath