Unfinished Thoughts About Children and Sports

On May 9th, 2024, I experienced the greatest sports moment of my life! Yes, I was watching in 1992 when Christian Lattner broke the heart of every Kentuckian. I also saw Eli Manning unbelievably escape tackles and sling an impossible pass to David Tyree’s helmet. I saw that underdog Giants team defeat what would have been known as the greatest NFL team of all time. I’ve seen a lot of sports over the past 30 years and enjoyed some amazing moments.

My experience a month ago surpassed them all. My oldest son’s team won his Middle School basketball championship! They defeated a team that had beaten them twice during the season. They played a stellar team game and my kid stepped up to hit two three-pointers to put the game out of reach in the last minute. He was their leading scorer and MVP. It was a team win, but my boy led his team to a championship. The gym was electric. His brother and I were high-fiving and hugging. His classmates charged the court when the clock hit zero. Sure, it was Middle School, but it was an epic reward for hours of driveway hoops and practices after school.

If you are like me, you love sports, you love your kids, and you love to see them succeed. This kind of moment is really special. I know I’m not the only one who thinks so.

I will begin with a brief profile of my life situation regarding the topic. I will do this in the form of bullet points.

  • I have four children. 14, 12, 11, and 2.
  • The oldest three have inherited some serious athleticism from their mother. (The jury is still out on the 2-year-old, but mama was a soccer player.) They are usually the most athletic kids in their grade.
  • They also love sports and want to play all the time. They play in the backyard, in the front yard, on the patio, and in the house. They also want to be on as many teams as possible.
  • I love sports. I want to play basketball, ultimate frisbee, or pickleball with my friends. I also watch football and basketball as much as possible.
  • I’m a high school teacher. I support my students by going to their games. I have taught to countless student-athletes with aspirations of playing college sports.
  • As a teacher, I am friends with many coaches and have built good relationships with various athletic directors.
  • I have done a little coaching. I have done some assistant coaching in high school, and I have coached in my church’s youth flag football and basketball leagues. (It’s a large church with well over a thousand children participating each different sports season.)

My personal and professional experience is not that of a sports guru, but I know a thing or two about the world of youth sports. Allow me to share some raw thoughts on the subject.

1. Remember, it is a game.

This is hard for me. I can lose sleep thinking about a football or basketball game. There are few things as enjoyable as seeing your kid hit a game-winning shot, score a long-awaited soccer goal, or throw a perfect touchdown pass. But let us take a step back and think about why they play sports. The way I see it, sports are for fun, exercise, team building, the development of discipline, and community togetherness. In that order. Sports can accomplish some secondary things like building your child’s character and helping people come together, but remember, it is a game. Your child is running around with a ball and having fun. Keep it fun.

2. Stop specializing and start playing.

As a dad with athletic kids, people ask me all the time what my kid’s sport is. It’s an honest question, but I hate it. My answer is normally kind, but I want to say, “He’s twelve. Why would he have just one sport?” Our culture expects kids to specialize from the time they are fetuses. David Epstein’s Range dispels the prevailing wisdom that it makes them better athletes. It may make them better chess players or golfers, but most kids benefit greatly from playing lots of different sports.

Also, growing data is showing that overuse injuries are occurring at alarming rates in children. I’ve had multiple high schoolers have Tommy John’s surgery to fix an elbow injury that used to happen only to professional baseball players after a career’s worth of pitching. I’m also around high school students who don’t know the basics of basketball even though they play soccer or baseball. They have specialized when they were young and now, they look like morons trying to throw a ball at a basket.

3. Play sports with your kids.

Kick a soccer ball, play catch with a baseball, shoot some hoops, run some routes. It can be exhausting, but what is better: having some stranger coach them for an hour or playing with your child for thirty minutes? What are they going to cherish when they are 30? I know coaches can have a great influence, but parents are far and away more important.

I’ve coached several seasons in my church’s youth sports program. It is a fun, low-time-commitment, league. What amazes me is how many parents send their kids to soccer, basketball, or football who never seem to play any of these things with their kids. They come expecting a coach to transform them into a football player when they have never played in the backyard.

4. Stop having your kids play sports for a scholarship!

If sports are for fun, exercise, team building, the development of discipline, and community building, we do a great disservice monetizing everything. Stop thinking your kid is going D1! It kills the fun. It’s a game, remember. The chances are very slim that they will get that scholarship. What is even more doubtful is that you can arrange their life in such a way that you will produce a world-class athlete. Your boy may not grow past 5’10.” His hoop dreams will end at 18. I have known several private school families who spent the equivalent of a 4-year college tuition on travel ball and trainers so their child will get a scholarship.

If your kid’s college education is that important, save your money and just enjoy the sport. If it was all for a scholarship, it will probably end in failure. But if he had fun, got healthy, made friends, became a more disciplined person, and brought people together, those years of soccer were worth it.

5. Don’t farm your kids out to travel ball coaches! 

I’m sure there are good travel ball coaches and teams, but from my perspective, the whole travel ball system is based on selling you and your kid the dream that they need to specialize in one sport so they can get a scholarship. It’s about them as an individual rising to another level. The school coaches I know hate travel ball, hate what it does to their players, and think it ruins the sport. It’s not about fun, exercise, team building, character, or community. It’s about me.

Instead of spending hours going from practice to practice or game to game, why not shoot hoops in your driveway? My son is on a school team with several travel ball kids. They aren’t bad, but he’s better than them. He shoots better. He does so because he has played a lot more basketball than them. Not organized games, but he plays in my driveway every day. He’s been doing it for years. Instead of travel ball, I am a big fan of school sports where students are encouraged to make their team better.

6. Some things are more important than sports.

I know so many families that seem to do nothing but take their children to practice and games. Sometimes I wonder if we are one of those families. I know, my family has been too busy with sports at times. When it’s all said and done, our family time must be more important than ball games.

Our church involvement also is a greater priority than basketball. I’ve had several Christian kids tell me they would love to go to church, but they can’t because of sports. These are 9th graders who are dependent on their parents for their schedules. I’m afraid that loving parents would trade a home run for their child’s soul. Youth sports may be the fastest-growing religion in America. This explains why so many kids report increased depression and anxiety related to sports. There is so much pressure because parents have taught them (with their actions) that sporting achievements are more important than God, family, or country.

7. Be a good person at sporting events.

I have made mistakes in this area and will probably do so again. I have been in the heat of a game and yelled at a referee. I’ve gotten upset with coaches and parents. In the moment it seems justified. Later, you see someone else flip their lid and you realize how juvenile you looked when you were upset.

Referees are reporting a massive upswing in abusive behavior. They are regularly cursed. Actually, cursed. Think about it. Grown-ups are telling a person who is nice enough to spend his Thursday evenings officiating a pee-wee football game to “go to hell” because he missed a holding call. Sometimes, the abuse goes from verbal to physical. I know the officials are paid, but still, they are doing a service to everyone. They are serving you and your children by trying to call a fair game. But it seems like most of the parents would treat Adolph Hitler more warmly.

Why are we so mean at sporting events? I’m sure there are many reasons. One of which is just the increasing meanness in our culture. Road rage is also at an all-time high. I’m pretty sure another one is because youth sports have become the most important thing in our lives. When the stakes are this high, a parent can justify just about any kind of behavior.


I have called my thoughts on the subject “unfinished.” I do so because I will continue being a coach and a father of sporting kids. I will continually need to stymie the temptation to act like a 20+ point game of hoops was a greater accomplishment than an A on a test or an act of kindness. I also know that there is a lot I have not had to deal with yet in my sports journey. I don’t want to act like an expert when my kids are not even in high school yet. I’m sure I will reconsider some of my thoughts in this article. I have not arrived.

Overall, however, these thoughts have taken years to develop and will probably not be changed anytime soon. If youth sports ever take a front seat in my life, I have failed my kids. I need to stop writing; I have a game a “horse” to lose.

David Lytle

David Lytle

Current history teacher, former missionary and youth pastor, grieving widower, father of the three cutest faces in creation, and giddy husband of a radiant bride. I also sang "I'm too sexy" for karaoke once. There was a crowd. My only comfort is that phones didn't make videos back then.

3 thoughts on “Unfinished Thoughts About Children and Sports

  • June 21, 2024 at 11:56 am

    The whole article is great, but especially this part…
    “I’m afraid that loving parents would trade a home run for their child’s soul. Youth sports may be the fastest-growing religion in America.”

    Thanks for some good reminders.

  • June 21, 2024 at 12:11 pm

    A lot of thought, reflection, meditation, and prayer went into this. I wish every parents could read it, and would heed it.

  • June 25, 2024 at 11:56 am

    Fantastic! Proud this is a Rambling Ever On product.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.