What do we mean by fun anyway? A while ago, prior to the launch of TBXM™, we discovered that some trainers implemented our notion of linking fitness and fun by simply turning kids classes into silly affairs that undermined purposeful instruction. One thing kids have a knack for is having fun that has little to do with the activities they are ostensibly engaged in. Yeah, the fun-fitness connection was there in these classes, but fun assumed greater importance than fitness, which became an objective blurred behind a veil of triviality.
We all want our kids to be warriors with work ethics, but how do we teach our children to have fun while being warriors with work ethics who like to work while they wait? When participated in at high levels of play, sports tend to be bigger than the sum of their parts. But they’re still made up of parts, and for kids to become warriors with work ethics, they need to learn those parts in a manner that builds a strong foundation, develops a deep and nuanced understanding of the game, and embeds a passion and capacity to play (including compete in) that sport and others over their entire lives.
To counter the tendency for aimless fun to obscure the mission, TBXM™ programs purposeful fun based on established principles of play theory. This maximizes enjoyment, engagement, and learning. Our training is playful without descending into mindless silliness. As a kid progresses from preschool to teen class, that playfulness progresses with them, as does the sophistication of the training. We have some kids who have been training with us for a long time. They are assassin-cool competitors with a profound understanding of the hard work required to maintain and increase their fitness, and the ability to immerse themselves in and excel at new physical activities.
This can be recreated in youth sports with a radical—and likely excruciating—paradigm shift.
“… I think there is a significant conflict between how children learn and how elite programmes operate. Until very recently, talent development programmes were designed without any reference or consideration to healthy development, and treated children like mini adults. Let’s be honest, though, most elite sports programmes are not designed to meet children’s needs; they are designed entirely for adult ambitions.” – Richard Bailey
Imagine a communitywide youth sports system designed to develop competence, confidence, and motivation in all kids—not just the early bloomers and currently “talented”—so that they’re encouraged to keep playing regardless of their current ability or aspirations for that particular sport. That is, a non-pyramidal system that does not simply shed kids until only a small percentage are left. Imagine a system with deeply collaborative sports-specific subsystems, one that rejects early specialization in favor of fostering the freedom to explore different sports without parents feeling pressured to confine their children to a single track. Imagine a youth sports system partnering with local schools to support sports-specific training with developmentally appropriate PE programs for enhanced physical literacy and adequate general physical prep.
For such a vision to have a chance of realization, communities must unfuck a key pillar of any youth development system by ensuring the presence of qualified instructors at every level of play. Imagine, for example, a coach who knows exactly how 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds best learn new skills overseeing your children’s first foray into sports. Imagine a similarly experienced coach at the next level, building purposefully on the foundation laid by the first. And so on. Imagine Robichaux-quality coaches from start to finish.
Imagine a unified system capable of facilitating the organic emergence of warriors with work ethics in time for high school play when an intrinsic work ethic and the ability to work while you wait becomes relevant to teens on the brink of adulthood.
I bet anyone still with me here is imagining the cost of such a thing. Well, imagine a community with a will to find a way to remake and revitalize local youth sports and comprehending the broad value of this kind of investment.
Parents could start by having rec leagues review how their fees are spent. Maybe stop paying for those goddamned participation trophies. That would free up some money to fund coaching education programs or the hiring of qualified coaches. Would it be enough money? Probably not.
So consider how much parents pay for travel ball and private lessons annually.* Naively, I put my kid on a travel team to develop his baseball skills through “elite” exposure and too late realized we had paid thousands and thousands so my kid could wear a prestigious team’s uniform and have access to countless pay-to-play “elite” weekend tournaments that guaranteed every holiday at the field and a chronically overgrown yard at home. If everyone divested from this artifice built of desperate parental dreams, effectively dismantling it, and plowed that money into local leagues, you’d be talking a considerable lump of cash available to spend on coaching.
What about collecting fees via property tax? That’s a hard sell for sure, but less so if the community is truly committed to creating a vibrant local youth sports scene that delivers long-term positive outcomes and remains accessible to more kids.
Embracing such a commitment relies on not just coaching education, but parent education too. Why wouldn’t we want to understand as much as possible about the impact on our children of our decisions regarding their sports experiences? Information from reliable sources is easily available and easy to grasp for laypersons. Imagine the power of well-informed parents to help direct the missions of organizations involved with their children.
Imagine if communities everywhere pulled this off. Imagine college recruiters tapping the resources of a unified system that had trained a high school athlete from the time she was in preschool. Imagine where these recruiters would spend all their time and how many more kids they might be able to observe. More importantly, imagine how many more kids would remain more active in a system like that.
I know some people will dismiss me as full of shit. But, as I was working on this piece, Facebook’s unfurling tapeworm of posts devoted to fitness snake oil and housefrau pyramid schemes and dopey dogs and diatribes, sent this through my feed. Give it a skim.
My next post is going to touch on why, despite all of the empirical and experiential data, it remains so difficult to change the system.
* Equipment is another money hole, but I’d be a hypocrite if I suggested parents redirect that cash flow. After watching two “youth” baseball gloves disintegrate from typical use during consecutive t-ball seasons, I became a firm believer in having the best tools for the job. I have since dropped boo-coo bucks on legit gloves and bats for the squid. I take complete ownership of that particular form of sports dad-assery. So nyaah.