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Why you should always skip your kids’ baseball games

June 30, 2015 at 6:15 PM EDT
America has a problem with youth sports, says author Daniel Pink, and that problem is the parents. In our NewsHour Essays series, Pink shares his solution.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tonight, we return to what has been a longstanding PBS NewsHour tradition: essays on television.

We kick off again with author and father Daniel Pink.

Tonight, he speaks to families and their child athletes.

DANIEL PINK, Author: America has a problem with youth sports. And this problem has a name, two names, actually, mom and dad.

But the real issue isn’t what you might think. Now, we already know that some sports parents are completely nuts, like mothers who sue the league when their precious progeny don’t get enough playing time, or hyper-competitive fathers who got cut from their high school team and are now taking revenge by threatening volunteer referees or barking at preteen girls.

No, the deeper concern might be with all the other parents, the good ones, the nice ones, parents like me, who come to games and cheer for the players and shout “It’s OK” when our sons and daughters strike out. We’re part of the problem, too. And it’s time for us to get out of the way.

work-life-balance-badgeFor the sake of our children, let’s ban parents, all parents, not just the wackos, from attending most of their kids’ games. Let’s step off the sideline and climb down from the bleachers and make youth sports a parent-free zone.

Now, hear me out on this. In many places, attending your kids’ sporting events has somehow become a leading indicator of parental awesomeness. Can’t stay late today. Got to go to Maria’s soccer match. I haven’t missed one of Billy’s basketball games for three years.

Good for you. But is it really good for your kids? If we feel like we’re investing our time and attention, don’t we then expect some kind of return, from a 10-year-old, who is hitting a ball with a stick?

What few of us well-meaning parents realize, but that any professional athlete will tell you, is that when kids look to us on the sidelines for approval or consolation or even orange slices, part of them is distracted from what really counts, the mastery of something difficult, the obligations to teammates, the game itself.

Sitting there in our folding chairs can prevent children from standing on their own two feet. If they succeed on the field, they, not us, deserve the joy. If they fail — and they will a lot — they, not us, have to figure out how to respond.

Maybe that’s why research has shown organized sports inhibit kids’ creativity, but pickup games actually enhance it. Besides, at their heart, sports are about stories. If we’re not in the stands, the kid’s on the story. They get to tell us what went well and what didn’t, instead of us telling them from the front seat on the car ride home.

Think about it. Compared to other parts of our children’s lives, sports are bizarrely parent-centric. We don’t gather in the back of algebra class and watch students solve quadratic equations. In music and dance and theater, we don’t attend every single practice, lesson and rehearsal. We just show up for an occasional performance, keep our mouths shut and applaud like crazy when it’s over.

So, here’s a better idea, especially for the legions of paunchy, stressed-out, middle-aged souls out there. Let’s banish parents from youth fields, courts, and diamonds, and let’s arrange for moms and dads to play soccer, softball, basketball, whatever, themselves when their children have a game.

Our kids would get more freedom, we parents would get more exercise, and all of us would remember why we love sports.