Smells Like Team Spirit

Written By: Wendy  Jacobson

Smells Like Team Spirit

Wendy Jacobson  

Say “Ball” Johnny             Here on the tip of Long Island like most of the US, particularly the suburbs, we encourage lots and lots of sports in our children’s lives. We look to sports for identity and purpose in a distinctly American way, especially for kids. We whole heartedly believe that participating in team sports from toddler-hood through high school, is a necessity for physical, emotional and mental wellbeing,  The non-sporty kid is the outlier. The athletic kid is the leader of the pack. Nothing novel here, it’s just happening younger and younger. Back in the 70’s a jock was a guy in high school, not grammar school. He drove a cool car. He could cut his own meat. He did not have an 8:30 bedtime and baby teeth.

A friend’s son recently swore off football, after 6 years, he’s sick of getting tackled for 20 hours a week; his young frame continuously aching and bruised. He’s 13.

The Tailgating Life It’s not simply the dialing down of the age of the sporty child, it’s the plethora of sports available. There’s a sport for every season, often two.  In addition to town sponsored, Little League, and school teams, there are now invitational travel leagues, where the most talented players compete at a higher level. These involve even more time commitment; out of town-sometimes out of state- games, transportation and expenses courtesy of parents.  What parent wants to admit that they are too cheap or lazy to schlep their budding star to all corners of the state? Why sit on a beach sipping Mai Tai’s in the sand on Barbados for the holidays when you could be crouched in a snuggie on a metal bleacher in Yaphank every weekend?

Nowadays entire families including the dog, who would obviously be devastated to be left out, often attend every game and practice; moms’ shivering fingers pecking away at iPhones, dads pacing the sidelines while negotiating deals on their Blackberries, younger siblings milling around on the edge of the field, or pool, or court, or rink, month after month, year after year.  Is it an improvement over dishing up the evening slop in front of sitcoms? Tough choice.


Man Up             Not for nothing, the amount of energy, time and money invested in the boys’ sports outweighs the girls’ by a whopping margin.  Girls get a helluva lot more attention than they used to. Yet by and large sports are about men and boys. There are a million ways to participate in sports in America beyond actually playing; there’s spectating in person or watching TV, Xbox & Playstation Wii video games, PSP and DS games, on-line games, iPhone apps, fantasy leagues. Then there’s the stuff; Fathead posters, custom sneakers, team jerseys, ESPN hourly updates on your phone, toast with your favorite team’s logo!  So how much money is in sports? Ask Phil Knight. ($10.2 billion) Ask LeBron James. ($90 million) Can the economy of sports even be tallied? ($414 billion as per Plunkett Reasearch) Should I dust off that tired saw about the subsidies spent on stadiums while schools are crumbling? And let’s not forget gambling. Sports and gambling are basically inseparable. Any guesses how much is wagered online? $200 billion… but I digress.  What does this have to do with children?  How could a 10 year old possibly make the leap from NBA All Stars live on his Playstation to wagering his birthday money on ?


Off The Field             I’m going to make a heretical statement: I think there’s more to life than sports. I know, I know, “That’s just Un-American!” Don’t get me wrong- I watch my share of games on TV and root for my teams and I got my scrawny butt kicked in field hockey.  My sons play sports, plenty of them.  I send them to sleep away camp with an eight-foot duffle bag I can barely lift filled with nothing but helmets, cleats, pads, rackets, and sticks. So what’s my problem? Sports have been an entertaining activity since the beginning of time across the globe. The problem today, I think, is how much emphasis we here in Long Island and the whole USA places on kids’ sports at what age, and why.