One Mom’s rant against the deification of sports.
Raise your hand if you think the best thing about this past weekend’s Super Bowl was Bruno Mars. Now raise your hand if your school has pep rallies, cheer leaders, and neighborhood celebrations for the school band, or the drama club, or the dance troupe.
That’s what I thought.
Despite the fact that 4000 former players recently sued the NFL over head injuries – despite the fact that 1.35 million kids go to the ER each year because of school sports related injuries – despite the fact that having a kid involved in team sports results in thousands of parents standing on freezing fields, in the rain, early on Sunday mornings when really, they’d rather be curled up with a cup of coffee and the paper, or better yet, still asleep – despite all of that — our culture idolizes sports and kids’ participation in it, and barely looks up when a kid is a star performer in any of the arts.
It’s time we gave arts programs for school aged-kids at least the same love we give sports programs.
Full Disclosure: I am not a Jock
When people find out I did not play any team sports as a kid, they respond as if I am a freak of nature, or at least un-American! I have, they assume, been deprived of childhood’s most important lessons. I must have been so alone: being on a team is the only way to experience camaraderie; I must have been unhealthy: sports is the only way to be fit! I must be selfish: how could I possibly have learned teamwork or fair play without sports?
Sports isn’t the Only Way to Enrich a Kids Life
My childhood was filled with the arts. I took Jazz, Ballet, Tap, and Modern Dance. I took singing lessons, and acting class. I was in the school chorus, the Fall Play, the Spring Musical. I did Community Theater. I sang in Church choirs. (For money, but still.) I went to performing arts camp for five years. I went to Tanglewood and sang Beethoven under the stars as part of a choir of 100 kids from around the country.
Yet despite the vast body of research showing that kids involved in after school sports get better grades and are less likely to get involved in criminal, I got great grades, went to a top college, and managed to arrive well into my middle age without a criminal record.
Why? Because the arts taught me plenty of life skills. I learned coordination, balance and physical grace from dance. I learned about teamwork and camaraderie from being in shows and choirs. I learned to think on my feet when I forgot my lines, or when sets malfunctioned. I learned you don’t always get the lead, but you still do your part in the chorus to support the whole.
So here’s the big news: sports doesn’t have a lock on teaching values and offering enriching experiences for kids. Of course sports can be enriching in many ways. But then Drama Club can be too. And dance class, and band. Chess Club, gardening club, Harry Potter Lovers United. They all do the job. And unlike sports, none of these has a tendency to bring out the worst in people.
The other day, I witnessed the single worst display of sportsmanship I have ever seen. There was pushing, screaming, punching, mocking, shoving. The perpetrators were 8th grade girls from a prestigious NYC prep school basketball team. The refs did nothing; the girls’ coaches did nothing. It was an appalling display of behavior on all counts.
Clearly, it’s not just the kids who are the problem.
Sports Brings Out the Best..and the Worst in People
According to the Sun Sentinel, in South Florida, in the last three years alone:
- Cops were called to control unruly parents at a 6-and-under peewee football game, a 6-and-under soccer game and an 8-and-under baseball game.
- A hockey dad, basketball mom and soccer dad were arrested on child abuse or battery charges.
- Six soccer dads and one entire team of parents were banned from watching their children’s games.
I’ve never heard of a disgruntled parent driving to a school and shooting the Band Director because they didn’t like their child’s solo. Nor have I read about middle school performance of Peter Pan ending in a near riot.
Are there disgruntled band and drama parents? Of course. I’ve seen Dance Moms. Can kids be mean on stage and backstage? Yes. But the incidence of real violence – even proportionately, is so small that there’s not even data about it. Google “parent violence in school sports” and you’ll get a plethora of hits. Google “parent violence in school plays” and – unless you count a rousing cast of 12-year-olds in The Joan Crawford Story – not so much.
Part of it is that the arts — awards programs (and Dance Moms) notwithstanding — are not competitive endeavors. When competition is taken out of the equation – at least once auditions are over – calmer heads prevail. And of course the physicality inherent in sports plays a part. Physicality begets more of the same.
Yet the Super Bowl is still celebrated like nobody’s business. Or at least like nobody was brain damaged. The winners get a trip to see a president who wouldn’t (if he had one) even let his son play the game. And what about that Bruno Mars v. The Actual Game question? By all accounts, this was one of the worst, most boring Super Bowl match ups in in history, and Bruno Mars rocked. But I don’t see him getting invited to the White House.
I don’t deny that participation in sports has the potential to be fantastic can be tremendously beneficial for kids. At its best it teaches confidence and teamwork, sportsmanship, and a sense of fair play. But that doesn’t make it the only endeavor we should celebrate for kids.
It’s time we started commending kid’s extracurricular participation in things other than sports. It’s time we recognize that if we continue to tolerate bad behavior on the field and on the court, we will end up stripping team sports of all they can offer. It’s time we had a pep rally for the Drama Club, started tail-gating before Band Concerts, and gave student artists Varsity Jackets for really good work.
It’s time we gave the arts the same respect we give sports. If we do, maybe we can even get Bruno Mars to give a performance during half-time – um, intermission – at the next drama club production near you.
If we don’t, maybe football players aren’t the only ones who need to have their heads examined.