Team Sports

Houston Texans playoff game. January 5, 2013.

Houston Texans playoff game. January 5, 2013.

Schools strapped for resources more efficiently exercise students by organizing them into teams focused on a handful of activities. Individual sports—tennis, fencing, running—take more time and money and space to support.

Before their children reach school-sports ages, parents put them in baseball, soccer, and football. Some boys will get to try a martial art. Some girls will get to do gymnastics or dance. Yet in the quest to burn off kids’ extra energy, team sports cost parents less than individual training.

Also, parents buy into the socialization theory. Schools spout it, too.

The pop psychology around team sports—for which I didn’t find enough academic research to prove its validity—posits that team sports socialize children and teach them to work together toward common goals. The character-building of team sports, the thinking goes, translates into current and future family and academic and career roles.


What about the Introverts?

As an introvert, I hated physical education and athletics. I didn’t learn a thing from my school forcing me to play soccer—unless you count hiding as best one can on a wide-open field a valuable skill. I felt stressed, horrified, and frustrated. The experience made me hate exercise.

Is that a good goal?

Introverts make up one-third to one-half of the U.S. population. Maybe that’s not enough to change the way schools work—it doesn’t alter the funding problem—but parents should take heed: Research shows that adult introverts typically exercise less than extroverts (see Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking). I’m willing to bet that’s partially due to the focus on team sports for kids.

Show your children some fun solo sports that keep them fit and healthy. Paying the higher cost of individual athletics may mean your child pursues only one activity at a time. That’s better than foregoing exercise entirely or pushing him into a sport that will make him hate physical activity. And if you can’t afford training in solo sports at all, try learning a solo activity together.

Kids become Adults, Remember?

Coordinating schedules teeming with work and social and family obligations with a group of seven or more adults? Good luck. You might swing it once a week for a short time period.

Then add the complication of finding an appropriate space convenient enough in which the group can play—and available when its schedules synchronize. Even once a week may prove impossible.

No one thinks exercising once a week or less generates optimal health.

Want people to make exercise a priority? Don’t rear them on sports that they can play only irregularly as adults. Don’t put their entire focus on loving activity they can’t undertake for a lifetime. Teach them to love exercise—especially they kind in which they can take part solo.

What do you think?