Even the Weak Kids Should Play Sports

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About Drew Johnson

Drew Johnson is an online editor living in San Francisco. He grew up in Oklahoma and thinks you should read Lonesome Dove.


  1. Marcus Williams says:

    You make me wish I’d tried swimming. I was the weak kid who liked playing sports, but never developed a physique or talent for being good at sports, so my childhood experiences were characterized by being one of those kids that coaches only played the minimum allowable, and then got stuck in positions where I could do the least damage. As a result, I had a little fun but never really felt that team camaraderie that so many people talk about. As an adult, I finally gave team sports another try and now love playing hockey and finally get what some of the camaraderie is about, but I still feel like an outsider at times when it comes to “competitive spirit” and caring about winning, because neither of those things ever led to positive sports experiences for me.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. CajunMick says:

    A very nice story.
    Not the way it turned for me. I was a REALLY small kid. So small, I didn’t hit the 5 ft mark until my junior year in high school. You can imagine the fun I had in school.
    My family made me play little league for one year. My step-father thought it would toughen me up.
    I was horrible, it was horrible. I literally was the worst player on the wors team. While in the car on the way to the ballfield, I used to beg to not play baseball anymore. I’ve never begged for anything else in my life. I guess I learned then it wan’t effective.
    I’d like to say, like Mr.Johnson, that is got better. I gradually became a better baseball player and the team grew to accept me. Nope. I didn’t and they didn’t.
    I did my time and was released back in the wild.
    It really was the wild. We lived in a very rural area, and I liked to hike, explore the forest. I’d bring a PBnJ and a book. I’d read out in the woods and observe the life I saw around me.
    Actually, there was one person who I felt more pity for than I did for myself.
    It was my younger brother, who played on the same team.
    He was, by far, the best player on the team. He was a natural athlete, and it must’ve been really hard on him to be surrounded by the worst players in our league.
    I have a son now. When he was smaller, his mother and step-father signed him up for T-Ball. As I sat in the stands, I watched my son stare at sky, pick flowers and other plants from the playing field. He looked at everything, but the game. His eyes followed everything but the game.
    I thought to myself, “That’s MY son.” I couldn’t have been prouder.

  3. Great article. If we are lucky at some point in life we find a sport or physical activity that we are good at and enjoy. For me it was handball in my teens and soccer in my thirties. At every other sport I always was and still am crap.

  4. Drew said, “For most boys, especially the weak ones, these experiences can change our lives. Being excellent, or just grasping at it, teaches us what we’re supposed to aim for in our work, or relationships, our marriages, and with our children. Working hard at sports teaches us how to be good. It can make us men.”

    I must dissent. I have a real problem with the coercive aspects of the sports culture. When I refer to “sports culture,” I’m not referring to the athletic events themselves. I’m referring to the culture that is associated with the games, but is not inherently a part of them. (By the way, a culture can be changed.) And the only sports I’m referring to are the most popular of the school sports.

    Some men have never had an interest in sports. The sports culture is so pervasive that masculinity is now defined in terms of physical strength and athletic prowess. I’m sick and tired of it.

    Just for the record, I am physically active. For several years now I’ve been working with a personal trainer at a local health club on a bodybuilding program. I enjoy working out immensely. I rejoice that I’m now enjoying what was denied to me as I was growing up. I certainly recognize the need for physical exercise to avoid developing health problems, but I’m sick and tired of the machismo that’s so prevalent in sports. High levels of physical fitness can be achieved without participating in any sport. I have a “live and let live” attitude towards people in general, but I often see an intolerance directed against nonathletic guys by more than a few of those in the sports crowd.

    I’m 61 years old. When I was a boy, none of the mandatory boys’ P.E. classes provided any exercise programs for nonathletic boys. During the years I had to endure mandatory “sports only” P.E. from the fourth grade through junior high school, I never so much as heard the words “exercise program” from any of my P.E. teachers or coaches. The way nonathletic boys were often mistreated in those classes is an untold story because no one cared what happened. None of my P.E. teachers or coaches would give a nonathletic boy the time of day. Their attitude was one of indifference or outright contempt. I am not exaggerating. Not only was there no instruction in how to become physically fit through some sort of exercise program; but also there was hardly any instruction in the sports themselves, as if all boys already knew how to play the games. Weak boys were often subjected to the worst kind of bullying in these classes. We’re talking about young boys emotionally scarred for life. Here’s an interesting question: When has the issue of the bullying of nonathletic kids in such P.E. classes ever been seriously examined by anyone? I’ve done some research and have discovered that nonathletic boys who had to endure the old P.E. (which should have been an elective from the very beginning instead of being mandatory) were DISCOURAGED from becoming physically active in their early adulthood. (Speaking for myself, I didn’t join a health club until I was 57 years old.) This is the way to promote physical fitness?

    Today the old P.E. is still with us in some school districts. In recent years there has been a movement to stop imposing sports on nonathletic kids who aren’t interested in them and provide genuine fitness programs for them instead.

    I’ve heard the claim, for example, that football builds character; yet I’ve personally seen more than a few examples to the contrary. Incidentally, I have several close friends who played football when they were in high school who are quite decent. So, I’m not meaning to make a stereotype here; but this needs to be said.

    Frequently school athletes are not held accountable for the way they treat others when the game is over. I grew up with a former university football player who was an arrogant bully. He once beat up a friend of mine who was so short that he was having to take injections of growth hormone. I noticed that many of the football fans were indifferent about this player’s bullying. Even my best friend (who, incidentally, had never met the player or even attended any of his schools) denied that what I told him was true. At our rival high school in the district, one of the football players (whom I had admired when we attended the same junior high school) tormented a mentally retarded student at the school. Bullying a mentally retarded person is particularly despicable, but did the player’s shameful misconduct affect his popularity? Not at all! A friend of mine at that same high school once had the door to his locker deliberately slammed on his right hand by an upperclassman who was a football player. He had to keep his right hand (which was the one he wrote with) in a cast for two weeks. Even though he had identified the player to the school nurse, the player was never disciplined. I could go on and on. (Incidentally, when do sportswriters ever report such incidents?)

    If a boy will feel better about himself if he participates in a sport, I say, “Go for it!” I don’t doubt that individual men have benefited in certain ways from having participated in one or more sports when they were kids, but that certainly doesn’t mean that those of us who didn’t are somehow deficient or inferior as a result. In fact, I resent the insinuation. I resent the idea that I’m supposedly not a complete man because I didn’t participate in sports. I reject the notion that boys who choose to not participate in sports are somehow “lazy.” There have been men of great courage who never participated in sports, but don’t tell that to anyone like Dennis Miller or Colin Cowherd.

    Beginning at an early age (all the way back to when I was in kindergarten, as a matter of fact), I began to learn from my own personal experience that the sports culture is often of a cruel, adversarial nature to nonathletic boys; and what I’ve heard over the years from other nonathletic guys has only reinforced my conviction.

  5. Hong Williams says:

    My son is 11 years old with low muscle tone. He was not good with any sports. However, he started to play in swimming pool since about 5 or 6 years old. Recently I encouraged him to take swimming lesson. Comparing to the other kids in the same swimming class, he was certainly in the bottom level. I almost gave up. Thanks for your writing, I will let him continue his swimming, although he is not good at it.

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