What if all after school sports were banned until the 4th grade? What would our boys do?

When my son was four years old, I decided I would let him join a basketball team. He had already played a year of soccer, also known as “kids in pack follow ball,” so I thought what the heck. Well basketball for four year olds was “kids in pack roll ball, throw ball, struggle with rules.” They practiced twice a week -school nights- with games on Saturdays. I just couldn’t bear to take my son away from his rigorous Pre-K curriculum twice a week, so after about a week we left the team.

He’s in the first grade now and we still haven’t joined an after school sports league. We just picked up weekday karate -I’m really monitoring it.  Last Summer we did get back into a team sport with baseball.

Some kindergarten football teams practices four nights a week. Four nights a week for up to two hours plus games on Saturday. That’s too much.

The seeds of learning are planted at home. Teachers water, maintain, and nurture those seeds when we send them our pride and joy. In our community we too often view it the other way around. We expect teachers to instill pride of learning into our children and we as parents then expect to compliment their efforts.

Our children aren’t going to school ready to learn. A child who walks into kindergarten unable to read is behind, and one who sits down without knowing his or her ABC’s doesn’t stand a chance.

We are planting seeds of sports in our children. They know who Kobe Bryant is but not the president. They can tell you more about the Cowboys than what they learned at school.

Dad’s size their kids up for football, track, or hoops at age one. I’m not telling you what I heard, I’m telling you what I know.

I bought my son his first T-Ball set and bat when he was 9 months old. He would look like Bam Bam from the Flintstones pounding that ball. I was proud. When he was three, I would stand Tickle Me Elmo up on a chair and have him drop back and zip the furry red puppet a pass. He hit more than he missed.

We would play hockey in the kitchen, golf at the driving range, baseball at the park. He loved it. I didn’t have to push him, he came to me with balls and I would oblige.

At the age of four he was a sports savant, and while he’s still real good three years later, I can tell that the lack of sports attention may have brought him down a few notches. But the great thing is that we don’t know. There’s plenty of time left to find out.

Once he started having homework around the age of four, I found myself unwilling to take him to practice team sports. I would rush to come home, rush through homework, rush dinner, rush to practice, rush all night until bedtime. I just couldn’t see it for a 4 year old.

For many dads -and even more moms- the thought of a pro athlete seizes them early on. And not just pro sports, but also hopes for Division I athletics. Ask black males at the Boys Club what they want to be when they grow up, and too many of them will tell you they either want to play football or basketball. And don’t get me started on AAU Basketball. Something is wrong, and we’ve got to address it.

What can’t get lost in this is all the Vince Lombardi starter kits out there who spend countless hours with young boys teaching them how to play these sports. They spend time at home and work thinking of how their 4 foot quarterback can best implement the spread offense.

For some black boys, their coach is the man that they spend more time with than any other. I value and appreciate their sacrifice. But I wish at least half of that time were spent on academic endeavors.

Anyone who allots more time to playing catch or shooting hoops with their 6 year old than working on their homework -or better yet working on next year’s homework- is doing them a disservice. The odds of black boys dropping out of school is much higher than making it to the pros, and sports has gained to much mind share in our community over the past decade and a half.

I could spend a whole nother post poking holes in my own argument, but I hope you see where I’m coming from. My hope is really for “less school year football and basketball,” and most of all a reexamination of the relationship between youth sports and black children. The balance is way out of whack.

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