What’s Wrong with Kids’ Sports

Sports seasons are way too long today.


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Several years ago, I read a book about Harry Emerson Fosdick, who pastored Riverside Church in New York City. It was an interesting book, chock full of curious facts, chief among them that Riverside Church gave Fosdick the summer off each year. I’ve pastored for 35 years and am itching to have a summer off, but when I suggested it to my church, the idea landed with a splat, like a fat man doing a belly flop.

My wife is a school librarian, so has a summer break before hitting the books again the first week of August, which signals the conclusion of summer, even though it officially ends in September. Summer is over once the kids head back to school. If I were the president, the first thing I’d do is raise taxes, which would infuriate everyone, but the second thing I’d do is order schools not to start until the day after Labor Day, and everyone would like me again. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, it would throw off the high school football schedule, but there’s something wrong, something unnatural, perhaps even ungodly, about playing football in August.

While I’m on the subject of sports and seasons, Major League Baseball had its opening day on March 28 this year, the earliest start in history. It will wrap up on or around October 30. That’s just wrong. When I was a kid, we started playing baseball in Barry’s front yard after Memorial Day and wrapped the season up in September, when football began in Marvin Rutledge’s backyard. When football was over, basketball began, deep in the winter, in our gravel driveway, using a hoop my dad nailed to the side of our Indiana barn. Any kid who learns to dribble a basketball on gravel, while wearing gloves, can scarcely believe the utter ease of playing basketball on a hardwood floor. If professional basketball were played on gravel, any random group of Hoosier boys would win the NBA championship every year.

There’s something unnatural, perhaps even ungodly, about playing football in August.

There wasn’t a soccer season when I was a kid because we were Americans and didn’t believe in it, but now soccer is everywhere and has pretty well doomed youth baseball and football. Most everyone else in the world calls soccer “football” in order to trick us into thinking they play football — but they don’t, they play soccer. It’s like me saying I drive a Rolls Royce, when I actually drive a Ford. I don’t trust people who don’t call things by their right name. The third thing I’d do if I were president is outlaw soccer.

As long as I was passing laws about sports, I’d also make it illegal for kids to play on travel teams. I know a 9-year-old kid in Indianapolis whose parents drove him 600 miles to Omaha, Nebraska, so he could play a game of soccer with kids from North Dakota. In the days of old, I was allowed to play sports anywhere, provided I could get there on my bicycle. My parents would no more have loaded me in a car to drive me to a game than they would have quit the Catholic Church to become Buddhists.

We have a lot of problems in our country, what with the national debt, the war in Afghanistan, income inequality, and political division, but I’d be happy if we just started playing the right sports at the right time of year. I have a hunch that if we got that right, everything else would fall right into place.

Philip Gulley is a Quaker pastor and author of 22 books, including the Harmony and Hope series featuring Sam Gardner.

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  1. Rev. Gulley,
    My young, formative years came in Catholic education (21 in my class) n a Nebraska town of 12, 000. You describe this period and evoke my nostalgia. The ‘world’ has changed. Is our lamenting the loss of these times and demeaning the present in which our children must raise their children helpful? Should we not be commenting on ‘times are much more complex yet traditional values shown and instilled into present day youth will empower them to prevail?

  2. I think that the biggest problem with kids sports is that there are way toooo many adults involved in their activities. When I was a kid (back in the ice ages) parents were personna non gratia around kids playing sports. We mostly followed the rules set forth by professional and college activities. If you got chosen last to participate, tough—-learn to be a better player, or learn a different sport. Not everyone is a standout in very many things, learn what you are good at and get better. Sooner or later, you have to learn that there is such a thing as a pecking order, and you are not better than every body else no matter what your parents say Ira Sterling

  3. You make so many good points here. There definitely is something ungodly about playing football in August, but I believe that aspect was something that did go back to when I was in school (9th-12th grades) also, to get the guys ready for the first football games that would start in September, and usually not until mid-late Sept. at that, because school ITSELF didn’t start again until the week after Labor Day, much less a month earlier. No way Jose!

    August was the less crowded month my parents took me on beautiful vacations (different years) to western and eastern Canada (Expo 67), Colorado, Washington, D.C., Williamsburg, Va., Acapulco and more. (My Dad could NEVER afford such indulgences in this economy, by the way…)

    So today is the first day of school for the L.A.U.S.D. Horrible all around. I suppose the Catholic schools are starting school approximately now too. I had a schizophrenic, long strange trip between the public and Catholic schools (between) kindergarten through 12th grades. I suppose it went with the simultaneous times of the shocking circumstances and abbreviated Presidencies between Kennedy and Ford, Pastor Gulley.

    As far as soccer is concerned, I’d scarcely even heard of it until I was out of school. If I had a young son or daughter, I’d prefer them to be playing soccer than little league. For the past 20 years or so, it’s gotten to be really ugly and nasty because of the parents, not the kids. They would know ahead of time (if little league is what they wanted) it’s fine as long as there aren’t vicious parents attacking incidents. If that happens we’re outta there. Game over!


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