Individuality in Sports

Many of us have been there. You lost a game, you dropped a pass, you missed a shot, you let yourself and your team down. Many also have experienced the car ride home with your family, being criticized for what you could have done better. Sometimes it helps to talk it out, but other times you just want to put it past you and work to become better the next time. It takes discipline for individuals to listen to criticism and learn from it, but we also have freedom to choose how we react. For some, sports is purely for fun. For others, it is their whole life. Each individual gets out what they put in, and how much that amounts to is part of what makes us unique from each other, players and spectators alike.

I recently read an article from the newspaper about the pressure parents put on their children to do well in sports. It recognizes that there is a balance between encouraging children’s athletic abilities and causing stress by acting like a second coach. My dad is a football, basketball, and baseball coach for grade-school age kids, including my brother, and he has been both the reciprocator and the recipient of this situation.

a parent coach via Google Images (non commercial reuse with modification)
a parent coach via Google Images (non commercial reuse with modification)

Being both the coach and father of my brother, my father has had to balance teaching lessons and offering criticism while still supporting the efforts my brother puts forth. I have witnessed many an evening ruined when a practice or game did not go well and the effects came back into our home.

Wendy Grolnick, a professor of psychology at Clark University in Massachusetts, says in the article, “I like to say that parents should be just behind the child, matching their level of interest to that of the child.” From my perspective, I know there have been instances when my dad, a college football player himself, has been more into the games and their outcomes than the team itself. He has good intentions, but sometimes his intentions overlap with his standards for the team. His trademark is jumping up and down at the sidelines, out of frustration and out of excitement. I completely understand where the article is coming from, especially when it says “It’s especially important to show the right level of support after the game if your child loses or doesn’t do as well as he or she envisioned”.
John Stuart Mill would be an intimidating coach via Google Images (noncommercial reuse with modification)

I believe John Stuart Mill’s theories on individuality and freedom apply to the push by parents for children to succeed athletically. He says as people we should aim to be individualistic and disciplined. Every child and parent has their own individual passions. If they align through sports, it can be all the better. It can also be for the worse if it leads to competition taking over their lives and the real reasons for playing the sport are forgotten. Part of being an individual, according to Mill, is having freedom, but there must be differences among ourselves or the freedom is meaningless. Children should have the freedom to choose how involved they wish to be in sports, and what level they want to play at. Parents should have the freedom to distinguish between their children’s potential and their enjoyment levels. Both parents and children have the freedom to experiment, but they also have the duty to cultivate themselves. This theory could not be more true than when applied to youth sports.

My dad, for example, has the freedom to coach however he wishes, whether that is actively participating in scrimmages or choosing to play some kids more than others. He also has the responsibility to keep himself in check, encouraging my brother and his teammates to be the best they can be, while preventing pressure of his own goals on them.

my dad and brother via my personal photo
my dad and brother via my personal photo

A common belief today is that everyone should get a trophy, that everyone should be rewarded for their efforts. Contrary to this, I believe that those who work hard will be rewarded, and those who are just in it for fun will simply enjoy playing. Mill’s theory and the article are making the similar point that it is possible to learn from others, but without differentiation there is no distinction. Discipline is a key component of success, and will be present in the true individuals that know how to balance a “Go, team!” with a “GO team!”


3 thoughts on “Individuality in Sports

  1. This is a great blog with a fantastic connection to Mill. I always remember the few parents that were always very over the top in their sideline participation of their children, thinking that their child was going to be the next superstar of whatever sport they played. Your point of view on how not everyone should get a trophy is under my belief too. People try harder and find enjoyment out of different things, and should be rewarded accordingly. Everyone has to go to school, and children are rewarded with grades, so when it comes to extracurricular activities, those most interested should be able to be rewarded, while those who just play for the enjoyment should have that too. This connection with Mill’s individuality is how everyone should be living and participating in their activities, hobbies, and passions.


  2. I loved the connection that you made here! My dad was a coach for me throughout elementary and middle and high school for soccer and it was always hard to find a balance between coach and father. I also agree with your refusal of providing trophies to everyone. However, I do think that age is a huge factor in this. When I was 7, I was probably very angry and rude whenever I lost a game and did not receive a trophy. Although I do not think that everyone should just be granted a trophy, I do think that up until a certain age, all kids who participate in a sporting event should get a little prize. Maybe not a trophy but something to promote effort and good sportsmanship. As kids get older, I do not think that they deserve anything for their effort because they have the mature capacity to understand that not everyone is a winner in real life and it is a good preparation for real life as well.


  3. Basketball has been a huge part of my life from day one, so to speak. I played in my first three on three league when I was 6 years old and began to become very passionate about basketball from an early age. My late father knew I loved the game and was incredibly passionate about it, but it was a game. I know people often generalize and say that for someone who becomes a college player, their sport must be their life. I know that is true for some athletes, but that was never the case with me.

    I am not necessarily a believer in the thought that everyone should get a trophy even if that person loses a game. I guess I don’t think people should be rewarded as if they won the game when they didn’t. Learning how to lose is essential in life; don’t confuse activity for achievement.

    Now I get that when you’re young, that is probably appropriate but it shouldn’t continue for to much longer after the age of, maybe five or six years old I don’t know..


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