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Does playing youth sports have a positive effect on kids’ overall development?
I’ll tell you a little story about a child whose parents made him swim competitively from the age of 5 until the age of about 17.
Swimming is great exercise and very much conducive to the physical well-being of a child if accompanied with a balanced, appropriate diet. Unfortunately for the child in this story, while he swam much more than most people ever do in their lives, his parents didn’t know a thing about nutrition. As a result of this, after the age of 5, he began to gain substantial weight and he kept that weight on for many years after.
In the 90’s, it was the “thing” for male competitive swimmers to wear very little. Ever heard of a Speedo? Most people have. Well, this child wore a Speedo for years as it was required in the sport.
That’s a Speedo. It covers the genitals, most of the buttox and absolutely nothing else. Why? Because male children aren’t supposed to cover up any other part of their body. And the assumption that is made is that male children are 100% all right with that. Well, there are some who are not. Ever seen a fat guy in a Speedo?
The child in our story was an overweight kid forced to wear a speedo from about age 6 until he finished swimming at age 17. Swimming, at one point, was a summer sport. With the invention of the indoor pool, it became a year around activity, but there were still seasons. Every time a season was about to start, the child would plead with his parents to be allowed to play another sport, one in which he did not have to “bare all” for his competitors and the audience. And every time he pleaded, his request was denied.
His parents were so blinded by their love for him that they didn’t see what other people did. They didn’t see a fat kid in a speedo standing on the starting blocks. They saw their beloved son and there was not a thing wrong with him in the world.
Naturally, the child was bullied and belittled by his swimming peers. After a while, he grew accustomed to this antagonistic relationship with the other children. As a result of years of antagonization, when the child entered his early teens, he had been molded into a callous, mean-spirited young man. His best defense was an offense and since he was bigger than other children his age, he was rarely challenged to a physical confrontation. He never became the bully, but he found himself running with the bully crowd. If someone was going to suffer, it wasn’t going to be him. He’d revel in the suffering of others and, on occasion, cause it, but he wouldn’t dare let himself be the victim for one second longer.
Despite being 2 to 3 times the size of other children, the child in our story became an adept swimmer, regularly defeating many of his opponents. In particular, he took a liking to the 500 meter event, which was, at the time, the longest event in terms of distance. Children much smaller than him would give up well before the event was over. Some would even stop to take breaks, but not our main character. He kept swimming. He’d beat those smaller children, even if it killed him. Many times he ended up lapping some of his fellow competitors.
The child grew a little older and, despite having picked up a nasty smoking habit, continued to beat other children in various swimming events. But with the freedom of driving also came the freedom of choosing where to drive. When trusted to drive himself to swim practice, he would divert and go elsewhere because, even after all these years, the swimming pool was the last place he wanted to be.
Finally, at age 17, his parents released him from his swimming obligation as the university he was attending did not have a swim team. He thanked God that they didn’t because his parents had stipulated that he would be required to join the swim team at university in exchange for their funding of his education. Even as an adult, he was still subjected to the tyranny of swimming. Fortunately for him, this tyranny was now over.
As a result of the years of mandatory swimming and being forced to be an exhibitionist for an extremely judgmental audience, the child suffers with body image problems to this day. It remains to be seen just how much all those years did for him physically. The funny thing about sports and exercise is that one can do them for decades, but if one stops for a few years, one’s physical stamina and figure are completely diminished, thus rendering all of those years wasted.
At the age of 17, the child received his reprieve and was pardoned. He has not swam since.
Moral of the story:
If your child is overweight, never ever force him or her to be a swimmer. If your child absolutely hates the sport that he or she is playing, find an alternative. Don’t simply impose your parental will on that child. The consequences will last much longer than the sport ever will. Sports are supposed to be about having fun and getting exercise at the same time. Without both of those variables in the equation, it’s a punishment.
So, the answer to your question is that it depends on whether or not the child truly wants to be there. If he or she doesn’t, sports can be seriously detrimental to their mental development.
Josh is a full-time student pursuing his second undergraduate degree (3D modeling). His first degree is in Political Science. He writes about a diverse range of topics, but the controversial ones always seem to grab his attention. One of these days he’ll get around to making blog posts. You can find more Quora posts here: