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When youth sports are seen as ultimate end game, instead of a path to develop life skills

I recently read an article titled After-School Activities Make Educational Inequality Even Worse by Hilary Friedman. The article suggested that organized competitive sports, which is typically associated with middle and upper-middle-class kids, helps strengthen life skills through organized competitive activities outside of the school system. This essentially perpetuates class divisions. The article cited learning from loss, time management, and adaptability as skills that youth learn in competitive after-school activities and contribute to their place in socioeconomic hierarchy as adults.

I believe Friedman made valid points. Unfortunately, many of them did not apply to my teammates in organized sports during my youth. While in middle school and high school, I played on summer league basketball teams that were majority Black and middle class. Many of my teammates and their parents viewed sports as the ultimate end game. I believe when one adopts this mentality, the game is robbed of all that it can give to young people.

Yes, juggling school work and after-school activities fosters time management skills when adequate value is placed on each endeavor. However, when after school activities take priority over education and the weekend tournaments become your place of worship, time management skills are regressing at the very least. When I stopped playing football to focus on basketball, my coach told me, “Not to put all my eggs in one basket.” I am sure he meant well, but what about the academic “basket”? I have seen too many “hoop dreams” born in little league basketball and die a slow death in high school. Often times the ill advised opportunity cost was a college worthy GPA. So, yes, do not put all your eggs in one basket – you should have a few. This will actually build time management.

Adaptability is also a skill I believe many young people fail to pick up along the way. Just like any company or organization, everyone has a role on a sports team. Unfortunately, many players think that they are the next Lebron James and their parents agree. Nothing is wrong with confidence, but young athletes should embrace the journey. Playing a season or two on second string may teach you how to embrace your role as an entry-level analyst after college. Trust me. Learning to adapt will pay more dividends as an adult than if the coach made you a starter in the seventh grade.

In conclusion, less focus should be placed on how your jump shot will earn you a one year scholarship to the University of Kentucky. Players and parents should focus more on how to effectively handle crucial conversations with their coach about playing time and managing pressing homework assignments. I believe this line of thinking is more likely to elevate one’s place in the socioeconomic hierarchy as an adult. How did competitive after-school activities influence your adult life?

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Joseph A.

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