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  • Writer's pictureBrian VanDongen

It's Not "Just Rec" To Most Kids

Youth sports provides an interesting look into people's thoughts, ideas, and values.

We've all seen the video of parents brawling at a 7-year-old baseball game after a call by a 13-year-old umpire in Colorado in June 2019. The 13-year-old umpire (who seemed to be the most mature person at that game) who actually had tell parents - grown adults - to calm down before the brawl erupted. The young teenager who said, "I shouldn't have to tell a grown man how to act around little kids," I think we all agree, is correct. I would hope it would be an impossible task to find someone who agrees with and supports that kind of behavior.

And this is just one instance - the most recent - of many of parents fighting in the stands, arguing with and berating umpires, heckling opponents, and always questioning coaches (many of whom are volunteers).

These acts, especially when reported in the media and reach a national, and sometimes global, audience are condemned by everyone. Common thoughts are "do they realize how bad they look?" Or, "they know these are kids, right?" But the one always stands out to me as a little concerning is "come on, it's just rec." (Even though that type of behavior is unacceptable at any level of sport.)

And the "just rec" attitude can come from both children and parents of children who play in recreational level youth sports and higher-level, more-competitive youth sports simultaneously. Sometimes kids will not try as hard in their recreational level games because it's "just rec." Or they will goof around more because it's "just rec." They won't take the game as seriously because "just rec."

But what does that tell the child who plays only recreational level sports?

There are many reasons why some kids don't play higher-level or more-competitive sports. Perhaps they don't want to make the large time commitment it takes to play in a travel-type program and have more time to pursue additional interests. Maybe the higher registration fees, tournament costs and travel costs don't fit in the family's budget.

Or their skills aren't quite as strong, but they still want to play the game they love, and play it with their friends. And recreational level sports provides that opportunity to everyone.

To the child who's abilities aren't among the top 10 basketball players in his or her grade, or the top 12 baseball players, or 11 volleyball players, recreation sports are there.

Try telling the child who just missed out on making the travel team or the child that simply wants to play the game he or she love that it's "just rec."

To them, it's not "just rec." It's their NBA, their MLB, their MLS. The league playoffs are their Super Bowl, their World Series.

The experiences they have in youth recreational sports can foster lifelong friendships, increase confidence, develop a life-long love of physical activity, cultivate leadership skills, foster interpersonal relationship skills, and provide a vast amount of positive, fun, engaging childhood memories.

Quality recreation level sports serve an important, crucial, and essential role for the positive development of children. Many more children play recreational level sports than do competitive, travel-level sports.

The overwhelming majority of youth sports isn't "just rec" but an experience and opportunity for children to grow, play, and thrive.

And that's not deserving of a diminishing "just." It's deserving of praise, participation, and encouragement. Because for many, recreation level sports is all they will know. Their athletic pursuits and endeavors should not be cheapened.

Recreation level sports are places of fairness, competition, fun, and inclusion. Places to teach kids sportsmanship and teamwork.

That doesn't seem like "just rec" to me.

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