My youngest son loved basketball so much that he cried when the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas. He cried again when we watched Gordon Hayward break his leg and dislocate his ankle a few minutes into his debut with the Celtics.
Back then, my son Davis was playing on two teams — a town recreation league team and a travel team. He was constantly dribbling and shooting in the driveway and playing basketball on a mini hoop in the kitchen.
Within a year, he’d lost that passion.
He didn’t stop playing altogether, but this fall, he told me he wouldn’t try out for the travel team. He still wanted to play on the recreation league team, which is less competitive and requires less commitment. I wasn’t completely surprised. It was obvious that he’d lost some interest. His growing fascination with “Fortnite” was undoubtedly a factor, but I think the bigger issue was his disappointment over a lack of playing time with the travel team.
His sixth-grade travel team played in a competitive league, where there aren’t any minimum-play rules. He’s a good player, but his team had a lot of good players, with some of the best playing the same position as he does. The result: Some games Davis would play only a few minutes. Sometimes he wouldn’t play at all. It was a big commitment, with two practices a week, some of them lasting 2½ hours. In some cases we’d drive nearly an hour to a game, only to play a few minutes, or not play at all. Although the head coach tried to get everyone playing time, sometimes he felt the games were too tight, and he played a limited group.
I was disappointed, but I could understand my son’s decision. He was getting great coaching and learning a lot in practice, but he was discouraged. He’d played with the team for three years, and it seemed that his playing time decreased each year. Still, I wrestled with the question of pushing him to try out. I feared he’d fall behind if he decided he wanted to play in high school.
But that thinking was probably more about me than about him. When it comes to youth sports, it’s important for parents to respect their kid’s wishes, says John O’Sullivan, author of the book, “Changing The Game, The parent’s guide to raising happy, high-performing athletes and giving youth sports back to our kids.”
“As a parent, you’re always following your kid’s lead in terms of, ‘Are you enjoying this? Is it challenging? And all of that,’ O’Sullivan said in a telephone interview.
Youth sports should be fun, O’Sullivan said, and it’s not much fun to spend all or most of the game on the bench. A lot of kids stop playing when the games are no longer fun. Seventy percent of children drop out of organized sports by the time they’re 13, according to O’Sullivan.
Even before talking to O’Sullivan, I’d decided against pushing my son to try out for the team, but the story has a happy ending.
For the past couple of years, we’ve had enough basketball-loving kids and willing coaches in our town to field two travel teams for my son’s grade level. Tryouts for the second team, the so-called “B team,” were scheduled about a week after the tryouts for the “A team.” At first Davis wasn’t interested in trying out for that group either, but after considering it over several days, he decided to give it a shot.
The move felt a little strange. One near constant with youth sports is parents pushing for their kids to compete at higher and higher levels — from town recreation leagues to travel teams to AAU. With this move, my son would be taking a step back to a less competitive league.
It worked, though. He made the team. He’s playing a lot and looking forward to games and practices again. At home, we’re watching almost every Celtics game, and he’s regularly shooting at the mini hoop in the kitchen. Playing the other night, he took an errant shot that sent the coffee pot onto the floor, where it shattered.
It was no fun picking up the tiny pieces of broken glass, but it was OK. It happened because my son loves basketball again.