One of the best things I ever did was be a summer camp counselor. Part of what made it so great was the cavalcade of characters I got to work with. One such individual was Craig “Cad” Cadman. We shared several years together at Camp Laurel in Maine. About our fifth year, Cad was in charge of “night patrol,” which was the small group of staff who took charge of the cabins of sleeping children so the staff could get some time off. One night, a group of boys was having trouble settling down and Cad entered to get the boys to be quiet. After giving them a directive to end their conversations, one of the boys piped up, “They said we could stay up and talk until 10 o’clock.” “They?” answered Cad in disbelief. “They?!” he questioned more forcefully. “I am they!”

There are moments when I hear “you know, they say …” about an area where I supposedly have expertise and I think, “They? I am they.”

It was like that when I was at the Junior National Diving meet in Saskatoon. After our children had finished their competitions, one of the young girls (who had won a national championship), said, “Now we get to be normal again.” Starting with my doctoral dissertation, I spent a large chunk of my professional career asking questions about youth sport. In spite of the consensus among my colleagues’ and my research findings, the insanity of coaches and parents continues. As “they,” I want to straighten out all those places where clearly something is wrong with the picture:

*like having an 8 year-old go up against kids 3 years older and then cry because he came in last. Do we really need to have kids this young at national meets?
*like parents being told that their kids must stay at the swimming pool all day. How about some balance by being out in the summer sunshine with their families?
*like parents being called away from seeing their children get awards to an “urgent meeting” where a parent is set up to defame a competing coach. What about adults learning to play nicely in the sandbox so we can model reasonable behavior for our children?

What was the most fun for my son, Andrew (11) about this national competition? Two things: being “initiated” by the older divers who painted him with make-up; and the banquet, where all the divers got to dance together.

Perhaps the most profound thing that “they” say is that kids primarily want to have fun, be with their friends, and enjoy the action of the sport. All the pomp and over-organization that adults throw into the mix do more to reduce the fun than to enhance it. We are supposed to “play” sports. Sports are supposed to be fun, they say.

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