Team sports versus team building debate splits household

Team sports can bring out the best and sometimes the worst in athletes and fans alike. When parents debate team sports for their kids, there may need to be a referee involved.

Lisa Suhay
In this undated photo, coaches and teammates from the Wize Guys Lego League competition team pose for a group shot in Norfolk, Va. (L. to r.: Coach Beau Turner, Ava Foy, Dylan Turner, Jack Shelton, James Wilson, Quin Suhay, Race Foy and Coach BC Wilson) Many non-sport team activities, like Lego League, help kids gain confidence, learn to work in groups, and build valuable critical thinking skills.

As parents, we want our kids to understand the value of being healthy and part of a team. Whether or not that includes organized team sports is up for discussion.

My family loves sharing sports. From watching the Super Bowl together to finding an obscure cycling race on TV, we enjoy the competitive spirit that sports bring to our home. However, just because we love sharing sports, doesn’t mean my husband and I are on the same page of the playbook when it comes to whether or not our sons should play team sports.

“There is no ‘I’ in TEAM,” is a phrase many team sports advocates seem to refer to as a positive reason for supporting kids in team sports. It supports the opportunities team sports provide to work together with others and look beyond yourself for the greater good of a larger group.

My husband Robert and I are facing off this month over team sports vs. team building activities for our kids, especially when it comes to our own sons.

I love sports. I love teams. Healthy bodies and minds and team building are all great with me, just not when they become a soul-crushing misery that causes a rift in the family.

I believe team building and character come in many forms that have nothing to do with taking a lap.

My husband’s concerns run deeper than just teamwork. Looking at his own family’s poor fitness and health, as an adult Robert became an avid sailor, runner, and surfer, and he has since failed to get any of our four sons into “his sports.”

His fear for making sure our boys remain fit is a big driver for him to sign our sons up for team sports, perhaps hoping they will listen to a coach when they won’t listen to Papa.

Right now, my husband and I are debating about team sports specifically for our son Avery, 14. Avery is in the gifted programs in math and science, lean, ascetic, with shoulder length blond hair, and a passion for the video game League of Legends.

It seems that Robert’s MVP is our eldest son, Zoltan, 20, an A student and a crew team star for Virginia Commonwealth University. He runs 12 miles a day before dawn, rows 5K after that, works in a gym at VCU, and wins gold medals in national competitions.

However, I am quick to point out that there was a time during high school when Zoltan quit the rowing team and refused all other sports in favor of hanging out with friends, gaming, and girls. 

Our next oldest son, Ian, 18, an Old Dominion University freshman, has trained in Gracie Jiu Jitsu since freshman year of high school.

He trains for seven hours a day now, and my husband still rolls his eyes saying, “It’s not a sport. There’s no team. There’s no cardio.”

Having trained myself in this sport, I would love to see my hubby on the mat with Ian for an hour and then tell us there’s no cardio involved.

Last fall, my husband once again morphed into Tiger Dad, put his foot down, and demanded that Avery and our youngest son Quin, 10, each join a team or have one picked for them.

A week later, Quin handed his father Lego League and Mathlete registration forms all filled out and asked for him to sign the permission slips.

The second Robert’s signatures were on the pages, Quin did a fist pump and said, “Please note these are both teams. I’ll be out on my bike. Later!”

It was very hard not to smirk as my spouse grumbled, “That’s not what I meant.”

Avery picked rowing like his oldest brother and was happy doing the workouts and learning to use the oars for his tryout.

Then the coach informed him he was “too lightweight” and not muscular enough for the task, but would be coxswain, the “brains of the boat.”

Avery went to practice daily for a month. One day I arrived early to pick him up and saw that the team already had a coxswain his age.

That meant Avery was stuck sitting in the motor boat with coach, carrying the water bottles.

Still, I didn’t say anything, thinking he was “paying his dues” and building character.

A week later, on the way to practice, he broke.

“I’m mainly an A student. I play cello in the orchestra. I bike all the time. I read,” he demanded. “Why am I bothering when none of it counts?”

I think that the problem here for Avery is that there is no “I” in his team sports experience. Sports should be an individual choice made by the child with parental coaching. It’s not a win if the player hates the game, the coaches, and him or herself for not succeeding. 

I am continuing to help our sons look for team opportunities in both sport and other areas. I tell them daily that as a family we are a team. The goals are the same, even when the coaches disagree on the plays. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to