I’m fresh out of college, taking my first feeble steps of adult life, reeling from the joint discovery of the two mainstays of adulthood: Bills and taxes. Like most young adults at my stage of life, I am consistently asked “What do you want to?” Typically, I respond with something like “I want to work in athletics.” But “Athletics” isn’t as much the what as it is the how. The true answer to the aforementioned inquiry is a bit deep and intimidating for casual conversation.
What do I want to do?
I want to make an impact.
How do I plan to do that?
But that brings up another question: Why sports?
Why do I think sports is the avenue through which I can make an impact on the world?
I have lived the impact of sports for 23 years. As a coach’s kid, I experienced firsthand the impact that athletic participation can have upon the lives of kids and communities. When I was little, I hopped in the back of my dad’s 1987 Jeep Wrangler as he left for that day’s workout, practice, or game. First stop: Zellwood, where there was only one street in and out. Pooh, Tom Tom, or whoever else was on the team at the time would hop in, and on we would go. Next stop: Plymouth, home of Warren Sapp. It seemed like there would always be a Gallon brother jumping in the back of the Jeep there. Lastly, we would swing through South Apopka, crossing over the train tracks to turn onto one of the numbered streets, usually either 13th or 15th. With more than a full carload, we would then head for the school, and the grueling work would begin.
The symbolism is evident. My dad was literally picking kids out of low-income communities so that they could be a part of the team. And I was right there, unknowingly absorbing and observing. By the time I was in high school, I had ingrained in me the pivotal realization that sports could change the situation for young men, for families, and communities.
Sometimes, when talking about playing sports, we overemphasize the tangible benefits, and I am not just talking about making it to the league. We are quick to praise sport participation because it leads to scholarships and increased educational opportunities. But the stark reality is that the vast majority of young men and women that participate in youth sports never see the tangible benefits. While we need to celebrate those that get scholarships, we also need to remember that most don’t. Most athletic careers end before the collegiate level.
But here’s the thing: It’s still worth it!
Playing sports is an invaluable experience because of all the intangible rewards attached. Sports teach life lessons. On courts and fields across the nation, young men and women learn to struggle in an arena where the consequences are imaginary. They learn to fail, yes fail, and then they learn how to overcome failure and strive for success. They learn to exhibit qualities like integrity, toughness, and perseverance, along with so many others. They learn how to work as a team and how to rely on other people. Games and practices act as a dress rehearsal for life, where they are constantly faced with a variety of challenges, and are forced to adapt and overcome them. Through sports, they learn these things, and so much more, as they develop from boys and girls into young men and women.
Sports spur our youth to achieve in the classroom as well, which is the lasting solution for changing socioeconomic circumstance. We have evidence of this right here in the state of Oklahoma. In the 2014-2015 academic year, 1700 OKCPS seniors were studied. Of those 1700 youth, 99% of athletes graduated, compared to 77% of non-athletes. Performance-wise, athletes sported a 2.82 GPA, compared to a 2.11. An additional statistic shows that athletes are 33% more likely to graduate from high school. The point is, athletics motivate students to achieve in the classroom. Many athletes stay on top of their grades just so they can play sports, without realizing that it is the schoolwork, not the athletics, that is much more likely to change the circumstances of their lives and the lives of their families.
For those reasons, it is of utmost importance that kids of all ages participate in sports. BUT, it’s not quite that simple. In order to participate, kids need tremendous support from the community. Kids don’t just walk onto the field and play. It’s kinda like the saying “It takes a village.” Parents that encourage kids to participate and give them the resources to do so. Coaches that are willing to invest time and energy into developing young men and women without much compensation. Youth leagues and organizations provide the infrastructure for sports to take place. Community members and charitable organizations team up to provide equipment for those in need, and to create and upkeep facilities needed for sport participation.
Do your part to support sport participation, and encourage others to do the same.
- Encourage kids to be active and to play a sport
- Volunteer as a coach, referee, or organizer
- Donate sporting equipment for those that can’t go buy their own
- Help create and support the facilities needed for kids to be able to play
Right here in Oklahoma, there are several organizations that are striving to make a difference every single day. Cleats For Kids collects sporting goods for OKC youth that need it, and over the past 5 years they have given out over 35,000 sporting goods items to those in needs. Working with the same mission, but from a different angle, is Fields & Futures. Fields & Futures works to renovate, create, or restore athletic fields at OKCPS middle and high schools. Both of these organizations are centered on creating opportunities through sport and improving the lives of the people of Oklahoma. If you are looking for a starting point to help provide these opportunities, look no further!
Currently, OU SAAC and OSU SAAC are partnering with both of these incredible organizations to make an impact. Through the end of this week, both student organizations are collecting sporting goods on their respective campuses, and at the conclusion of the week, they will jointly present their proceeds to Cleats For Kids at the Fields & Futures opening at Roosevelt Middle School. If you have any questions about how to donate or how to get involved, check the pinned tweet on my Twitter profile or email me!
So back to the question that started all this: Why sports? The answer is quite simple: Sports are a pathway to a better life, whether you make the big time or not. Through sport, I can impact the world around me, and so can you!