From the Chair: But, Is It Fun?

by Noam Livnat

A few weeks ago I visited family in Irvine, down south in Orange County. Irvine is an interesting place – a planned community with an enviable number of manicured parks, impressive diversity, better-than-average strip malls, and a somewhat overbearing preference for conformity, including limiting one’s choice of house color to a particularly bland palette.

Early on Saturday morning I took my kids to while away the hours at a close-by park. It was chilly and damp (painfully early, I should have written), so I was surprised to discover that the vast green playing field next to the jungle gym was teeming with kids and their parents. Closer inspection found that it was some sort of a soccer meet with at least eight participating teams, their attending coaches, and hoards of adoring parents.

I find it difficult to understand why most kids’ activities these days are organized and supervised by attending adults. I spent a big chunk of my childhood playing pick-up soccer with classmates with no adult around to help us select teams, resolve disputes, or care for the occasional scrape or bleeding. But I grew up in a different time and a very different place, so maybe there’s some reason behind this shift.

Nevertheless, the kids, replete in regal team uniforms with their names on their backs, shin protectors and sporting cleats, looked a bit young to me. I was shocked to discover that most of them were about four years old. They were so young that they often couldn’t figure out which way they were supposed to run with the ball. That didn’t stop some of the coaches from pushing the kids hard. One of them was running after a cute girl who was dribbling yelling, “YEAH, TURN IT ON!”

To be fair, most of the kids seemed to be OK with the whole thing, even though I can’t say they looked as if they were having great fun. I was disturbed, though. Do kids truly need all this equipment, all this formality, in order to kick the ball around? Where is the fun and camaraderie of playing soccer with your friends?

This early pursuit of sports or athletic excellence has a knock-on effect on other kids. Those kids who might want to start playing soccer for fun at the ripe old age of, let’s say, eight, might find that they cannot compete with their veteran classmates who started playing years earlier. They might not be able to join the school’s team or even enjoy playing together.

Luckily, unlike some of the other problems society faces, this one isn’t too hard to tackle. All parents need to do is relax a bit and let their kids be kids a little bit longer. Sports are as much fun without organized meets, medals, leagues, or commercial sponsorship. And all it takes is doing less than people do now.

Do your part. Do nothing, for a change.

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