Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Give Pros and Cons On Athletics

September 18, 2000

I challenged readers to react to a previous column on the impact of sports on families and rural communities. Here are a couple of letters I received in response.

Dear Dr. Farmer,

I enjoy reading your articles in our Illinois Agri-News every week and was prompted to write you about your article on athletics. I’ve coached summer baseball or softball for over twenty years and can relate to many of your thoughts on the subject.

Climbing off the tractor at 3:30 in the afternoon or giving up a weekend to coach the team at a tournament when there is work to be done is very stressful. I know I’ve neglected parts of my personal and professional life (as a farmer) to coach but I can’t ever think of a good enough reason to give up working with young people - so I go on.

The pluses far outweigh the negatives for participation in athletics but I also realize that the value of competition and practice depends on the coach’s abilities and temperament. We have five children that have played summer ball and I’ve had the honor to coach all of them at one time or another. That has been the biggest reason why I keep coaching. The "Thanks Dad," or, "Thanks coach," after a game or season is incentive enough to live a hectic schedule during whatever season they’re involved.

What I’ve learned over the twenty years is quite simple - never emphasize winning. Be a patient and demanding teacher of how to play the game properly and the wins will come along. It’s rewarding to see confidence and ability grow during, as well as between seasons. The natural outgrowth of confidence seems to be self-esteem.

Seeing players smile during a game - win or lose - is a personal goal I have. Why should any player come back and play if they didn’t enjoy it? The answer is they wouldn’t.

My heart has been broken a few times as well. Players have walked away from the team or not gone out the following year even if I beg the youngster to come back. Many times I find an uninterested parent or a parent who encouraged their son or daughter to quit because "it’s too much running around" only to see their child riding a bike up and down the streets on game night while the parents sit in a tavern.

I’ve also seen parents reliving their childhood through their own children. They put so much pressure on their kids that it becomes a negative experience for all involved. And the player finally gives up or rebels and quits the team.

Sports can be a saving grace for small and rural communities and a major source of entertainment. In my opinion, these programs need to have a mission statement, of sorts, to which all coaches adhere. Coaching clinics, safety training, and first aid techniques should be mandatory.

Our teams have been complimented many times over the years on the way they play and behave. I have returned the favor many times to teams or programs. It is a source of pride for the community to have a successful, well run athletic department. I truly believe a well-run program pays dividends immediately and in the future for our youth and communities.

The value of participating in athletics can be immeasurable if handled properly. The lessons of hard work, sacrifice, team concept, and setting goals are important in anyone’s life. Sports have been an important, positive tool for raising our children. It is not our religion but it has certainly been worth the sacrifices so far. - An Illinois reader

Dear Dr. Farmer,

Sports make me sick. Our daughter is not an athlete. She is not competitive. Being humiliated forced her off the girls BB team after playing as an elementary student. Last year she wouldn’t get involved with any sports and when I finally got her to say why, I was outraged. Why would a coach leave a kid on the bench at an all day volleyball tournament where the team played seven games. Her humiliation was so great. She never wants to play in sports again.

When I asked the principal if winning really meant that much, the answer was, "Yes they are out to win."

I am sorry, but we do not go through life and just keep winning - sometimes we lose. Is losing so bad that when it happens, we need to kill ourselves because we can’t "live and lose."

We need to return to the teachings of our actions equal consequences. Our real goals are not always winning but playing a good, honest game and sometimes - and losing gracefully. That is what sportsmanship is all about.

Our local school spends a lot of money on sports and nothing on anything else except music. If you can’t sing and aren’t an athlete, what do you do? "Hanging out with the losers" is a phrase used by our school system. They are willing to name it but not do anything about it. - A South Dakota reader