Richard Ginsburg

Richard D Ginsburg Ph.D.

Psychology of Sport

Bad Sports or Not Enough Sports: What’s the real problem?

In fact, the elephant in the room is that not enough kids are playing!

Posted Apr 17, 2008

Did anyone read Robert Lypsyte's article, "Jock Culture' permeates life" in USA Today (4.10.08)? His central point is: "A ‘winning is everything' notion starts in the littlest of leagues. Lessons of hard work and fair play give way to ‘gain the edge at any cost.' But what happens when this type of thinking is adapted by CEOs, police officers, or politicians?" Is the desire for immediate gratification permeating all aspects of our culture? Are the some of the negative lessons of sports stronger than the values of families and schools?

These are particularly worrisome questions as we are seeing parents with young children in sports devote most weekends to games and travel looking to provide for their children and gain the "competitive edge." But as Lipsyte recognizes, his most significant point is about the kids who are "weeded out" of sports at young ages. Many sport experts suggest that youth will drop out of sports at high rates by the time they are 13-years-old. Often the number one reason for dropping out is that children no longer are having fun. In fact, the elephant in the room is that not enough kids are playing! Mahoney and colleagues (2006) conducted a social policy report on organized activities and revealed that in contrast to what many folks believe, an alarmingly large majority of young people are not engaged in any form of organized activities at all. Many of us know that the highest rates of delinquency in children and adolescents occur between the hours of 2 and 6 PM. The biggest problem for our country's youth is that we don't have enough teams, fields, coaches, teachers, and activities available for them. Either the programs are too competitive, too expensive, or simply nonexistent. Physical education alone has been dropped from many public school programs.

Yes, as Lipsyte and many others suggest (me included), our efforts should be directed to the teaching of character in the context of sports to build strong leaders for the future. But even at a more base level, we need to fund programs and resources so our children have a place to play and are coached by character-driven adults. As we mention in our book and my colleague Dr. Steve Durant often says, "Sports don't build character - People do" (Ginsburg, Durant, and Baltzell, 2006). But until there are resources for more kids and their coaches, we will continue to see a sharp split between those who are good enough to play and able to afford it and those who lack either the talent or opportunity.

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