The Fatherly Podcast Episode 26: Welcome to Youth Sports Thunderdome

Can an American child lead a fulfilling life without ever scoring a soccer goal? We're looking into it.

Sports — increasingly organized and increasingly competitive — have become an integral part of modern American childhood. Whether that’s good or bad depends on who you ask and whether they ever got picked for teams in gym class, but one thing is clear: The youth sports industrial complex isn’t going anywhere. So how can parents navigate the complexities of team athletics without forcing competition on their kids or turning themselves into sideline-pacing predators? Joshua David Stein put the question to his co-host Jason Gay, who happens to be one of America’s foremost sports writers, and got a surprising answer. Chase the joy.

With some help from Sam Anderson, the noted NBA writer and not-so-noted kids soccer coach, Gay makes the case that sports represent an opportunity for kids to develop skill sets, friendships, and a sense of a collective identity. Sure, Gay admits that there’s too much hoop jumping and probably too much competition between kids who lack profound talent, but that doesn’t mean that sports represent a problem for kids if those kids are being properly managed.

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There’s also this: Sports are part of America’s cultural firmament. They are a way for kids to understand the society in which they live. And that matters even if the score of a Little League doesn’t.