Please, No More Playoff Games In Youth Sports

I don’t want to see any more crying fourth graders.

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I can feel the energy shift when I walk into the gym or onto the field and there’s a trophy on the line. Coaches pace the sidelines with visibly increased intensity and seriousness, while players bite their nails — there’s none of the typical pre-game silliness. Parents shuffle around for the perfect view and as soon as the first whistle blows, they lose all rationality and control. And while it might make sense for college and even high school sports, it feels wildly out-of-proportion for a bunch of fourth graders. While the regular in-season games have a (barely) tolerable and appropriate level of intensity, the playoffs are the stuff of my nightmares. Let’s just stop.

First there are the coaches, many of whom lose any composure and logic they displayed during the regular season as soon as that playoff whistle blows. Suddenly there’s little regard for equal playing time and calm teachable moments. Instead we have 9-year-old bench warmers and loud comments over missed scoring opportunities and passive defense. I’ve watched 9-year-old boys, including my own, cry mid-game after getting yelled at for what I guess was an unsatisfiable performance. It’s out of line.

Then there are the parents. Oh, Lord help me, the parents. In my experience, the cheering section of youth sporting events usually include a healthy mix of intensely vocal and calmly enjoying. During the regular season it mostly balances out OK. But the playoffs typically leave me feeling like one in a handful of logical adults cheering among people from an entirely different planet. I’ve seen parents screaming angrily at the mistakes made by other people’s kids, parents loudly celebrating the failures of children on the opposing team, parents fighting with one another, and parents yelling at coaches about roster choices or strategic decisions. You’d think this was the Hunger Games.

And lastly, and most importantly, there are the kids, many of whom are far too emotionally immature to handle this high-stakes event run by overly-intense, lost-to-logic coaches, surrounded by extremely passionate and loud parents. And there’s nothing wrong with that! They’re kids. And yet I’ve seen eight and nine year olds sobbing, expressing shame, guilt, and disappointment — and gloating over their wins, too. As parents, it’s foolish for us to expect these children to handle these high-stake, shiny-thing-winning games with any logic or composure. Their brains are not fully developed yet. We don’t have that excuse.

And to be clear, as a competitive athlete for all of my young and teen years, I understand the enjoyment that good, healthy competition creates in sports. I understand the important lessons that these events can create and the motivation the playoffs can provide. But, until the adults involved can behave reasonably, our children should be protected from these events. And I am not sure what age person could handle or should be subjected to such madness — but I definitely don’t think it’s fourth grade.

Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.

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