Where Are All The Adult Athletes? Sports And Your Career

For over 20 years, I've been a tennis club member. Player levels range from beginner to ex-professionals. Everybody gets along and rallies around a sport they enjoy, no matter their level of wealth.

But I just realized something odd. And the realization wouldn't have come had I not become a father. After three years of mingling with preschool and kindergarten parents, I've been wondering where the heck are all the adult athletes?

Maybe I've lived in a sports bubble for too long. Because the vast majority of my friends play sports. Tennis and softball are what we do for fun. It's so much better than going to the bar and drinking all night!

I was also taught the importance of learning tennis or golf because they are lifetime sports commonly played in business settings. If I didn't know how to play either, I might be left out from career and client events.

The Pressure To Play Sports As Children

My six-year-old isn't into sports yet. Instead, he's into number blocks, sign language, math, and playing at the playground. I feel this is entirely normal for a kindergartener.

But as I got to know other parents, I observed their proclivity to enroll their five-year-olds in every after-school sports activity possible.

Many kids play soccer from 5 pm to 7 pm during the weekdays. While other kids play baseball for three hours on Sundays in addition to practice on the weekdays. Talk about a long day!

Here I am picking up my boy from school and taking him to the hot tub to talk about his day and relax. Sometimes we'll go to the playground too if he's up for it. Naturally, I began to wonder whether I should emphasize sports more at age five.

This constant push for parents to get their young kids to do every single extracurricular activity is causing me some anxiety. Am I being too soft? I just keep thinking to myself, what's the rush?

It's not like they're going to become an NBA world champ like Shaun Livingston from the Warriors. But maybe! You never know.

No Adult Athletes To Be Found

Guided by my observation that many of my fellow parents seemed to have a strong desire to have their kids play sports, I assumed many of these parents were also athletes themselves. After all, we tend to introduce our kids to things we like to do.

It isn’t the case at all!

One dad had to leave a school event early to take his five-year-old to baseball practice. Before he left, I asked him whether he wanted to join our softball league. He demurred saying he doesn't really play.

Then I asked other dads in a group chat whether anybody wanted to play soccer at this incredible astroturf field. Nobody was interested. Then I asked whether anybody was interested in playing Pickleball. Only one mom said yes, but she has never played before.

I purposefully didn't ask about tennis because I already have too many people who want to play. Further, for it to be fun for all parties, you have to play with others at a similar level. But I also discovered nobody plays tennis either.

So I got to thinking. Maybe the reason why parents emphasize sports so much for their young children is that they don't play sports themselves. Maybe parents want for their children what they themselves didn’t have growing up.

Sports And Your Career

All of these parents have good jobs. Yet none of them play sports.

In the personal finance and book authoring worlds, I can think of only one person who played competitive sports. So maybe sporting skills really don't matter for getting ahead in your career or business!

I used to think playing a sport was important for one's career. While I worked at Goldman Sachs in NYC, the head of my desk played football at Dartmouth. At 27, he was one of the youngest VPs. Today, he is one of the senior partners and is the GS Chairman of Global Markets in Asia Pacific.

While at Credit Suisse (RIP) in San Francisco, one of my U.S. colleagues played quarterback for Cal Berkeley. He was famous for coming in for the injured starting quarterback and beating Stanford in the 1986 Big Game when Cal was only 1-9. Meanwhile, we had another guy win a bronze medal in crew at the Olympics in Sydney!

So I got to thinking again. Maybe athletes are simply more common in the finance world where battles are fought almost every day. But athletes are less common among techies, doctors, lawyers, and other professions.

The Benefits Of Playing Sports

I recognize why parents encourage their children to play sports.

One mom whose son will play tennis for UCLA told me tennis distracted her son from doing drugs, playing video games all day, and hanging out with a bad crowd.

I asked her whether she pushed him into playing tennis and she said no. Instead, her son was driven to practice and play tournaments on his own. She said she actually had to throttle back the number of tournaments he was playing because it started interfering with his studies.

Sports teach you discipline because to get better you are forced to practice for endless hours. The grit you develop is vital for being able to grind long enough to succeed. Part of the reason why I was able to commit to publishing three times a week for ten years was due to sports. Getting in as many reps as possible to get good is ingrained in me.

Sports also builds mental toughness, which helps get you through adversity. During a match you might experience an injury. Or you might find yourself panicking as your lead slips away. The mental fortitude you develop to figure things out helps tremendously when you are competing in business.

Sports also teach you how to work better in a team. Doing everything yourself only gets you so far. But if you can surround yourself with great team members who have unique strengths, your upside potential is even greater.

Sports Teaches You How To Be A Good Loser

Given losing is an inevitability, sports also teach you how to be a better loser.

When I coached high school tennis, the two most important things I taught my players were to make enough effort to not have regret and good sportsmanship. Playing the right way, with honesty and integrity, was much more important than winning.

Finally, playing sports is good exercise. If you don't injure yourself, you'll feel better and sleep better. Your mental health will probably improve as well as you make new friends.

To me, being a member of a private sports club is absolutely worth it. It is the best return on investment I've ever made. If you're looking to make friends, have fun, get fitter, develop business relationships, and have something to do with your kids, joining a private club makes sense.

The Cheapest And Most Expensive Sports

The most expensive sports to play are ice hockey, skiing, field hockey, gymnastics, lacrosse, tennis, bicycling, golf and swimming

The cheapest sports to play are track & field, cross country, flag football, skateboarding, basketball, and wrestling. Soccer is in the middle.

The most expensive and cheapest sports for kids

Being A Nerd Is Clearly Better For Your Career

Only 0.1% of athletes turn professional. And the longevity of the professional athlete doesn't last long.

The average NBA athlete lasts 4.5 years, the average NFL athlete lasts 3.3 years, the average MLB athlete lasts 2.7 years, and the average professional tennis player retires by 28 years old.

The pay isn't even that great for some sports.

For example, if you're the 200th-ranked tennis player in the world, you're only making about $100,000 in prize money. If you're 100th ranked, your prize money increases to about $300,000. But at these levels, there are travel, lodging, and coaching expenses that knock down your net pay by 35% – 80%.

Yes, being an athlete has its benefits for making money in a non-sports profession. But it's pretty clear being a nerd is way better for earning a lot more money over your lifetime.

Nobody is physically battling in business. Instead, a great business is about creating an excellent product, great marketing, strong branding, and longevity.

Sure, if you can be a nerd athlete, then great. But based on my real-world experience so far, the vast majority of successful people I've met do not play sports or no longer play sports. Their time is filled with other things.

All the pressure parents place on their kids to play sports doesn't seem to transfer into adulthood. Therefore, if you are a parent, I wouldn't stress so much about pushing your kids into sports so early and so often.

Starting Sports Later Is Fine

If your kids enjoy sports, then by all means support them. But forcing them to play every sport or concentrate on one sport may backfire if they don't want to play. They might burn out and quit sports altogether.

Further, be careful about how much time and money you spend on sports. If you were sacrificing your retirement savings or time with another sibling who does not have the same sports interests, you may be doing yourself a disservice.

Only two percent of high school athletes get any type of athletic scholarship. So the likelihood of being good enough in a sport to gain an admissions advantage to an elite college is also similarly small.

If you're good enough to play a sport in college, you might not like all the matches and traveling either. I’ve spoken to many college tennis players who told me their workload is immense and they seldom have downtime to hangout with friends not on their team.

I Was A Late Starter In Sports

Where Are All The Adult Athletes? Sports And Your Career

Perhaps part of the reason why I'm not pushing my son towards playing sports is because I started playing tennis at 11. I was good enough to play for Mary Washington, a Division III school. But I didn't get a scholarship so I decided to attend William & Mary, a Division I school instead.

More than a decade later after college, I ended up playing 5.0 league doubles with my buddy Tim, who played over 100 matches at William & Mary. Only about 1% of tennis players who play league get to the 5.0 level. So starting later was good enough. 33 years after first picking up a tennis racket, I'm still playing league tennis for fun.

At the end of the day, playing sports on a weekly basis makes me happy. Tennis was a savior during the 2020 lockdowns. Now I've picked up pickleball and am having a blast! The game is more inclusive and so much better on the body.

I hope my kids find joy in at least one sport growing up. But if they don't, that's OK. So long as they find joy in some other hobby like art or music then that's great. Just being an academic is no fun!

Finally, if you are obsessed with watching sports, try to change and become obsessed with playing sports instead. Just like with your personal finances, taking action is usually better than doing nothing.

Reader Questions And Recommendations

Readers, did you play a sport growing up? Do you play competitive sports as an adult? Where did all the adult athletes go? Why is there this obsession from parents to make their kids play sports?

Do you regularly play sports as an adult?

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Does playing sports matter for making money and ascending in your career?

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If you are a parent and want to read a great book about the obsessiveness of youth sports, check out the new book, Taking Back The Game by Linda Flanagan. The book will help you see a more balanced perspective.

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43 thoughts on “Where Are All The Adult Athletes? Sports And Your Career”

  1. Like almost everyone’s post here, sports are very important for kids, and at an early age. I really mostly believe in extracurricular activities in general for kids (art, music, dance, entrepreneurship, etc..) All these things keep kids busy and teach all the lessons absolutely required for life skills. School is too easy on kids. Society is too easy on kids. Sports and other activities teach you the real lessons. You don’t practice, you won’t be good. You don’t give effort, you won’t be good. You’re not a good teammate, you’ll find out. The ref made a bad call, so what. The other team took a cheap shot, so what. I believe in multiple sports, multiple outside of school activities starting as early as possible. And yes, you will have to occasionally force your kid when they are young to go to practice.

    Many parents let 6 year olds quit an activity cause “they hate it”. They don’t hate it, it’s just difficult and frustrating, like anything new. You’re not teaching them anything by letting them quit, especially mid season, unless they’ve put some real time in.

    A top reason of kids sports for me though is fitness, I refuse to let me kids sit on the couch with an iPad and zone out for 2 hours, it’s a recipe for laziness, obesity, and social problems. With all that said, you must recognize the need for rest, friend time, family time, and especially unstructured activities. And do not “specialize” until they are at least 12, preferably 14 years old.

    1. Good thoughts and tips! Thanks for sharing them. I agree with what you’ve written.

      I’m teaching my kids the fundamentals of swimming now. Gotta figure out fundamentals and then compete.

  2. Conrad Blickenstorfer

    I would have loved to continue to play competitive sports when I came to the United States from my native Switzerland at age 25, but my sport, team handball, simply doesn’t exist here. Instead, I took up running. And have been running for 47 years now. At almost 73, I still run three 5Ks every week. It’s hard, it always was. But it absolutely helped me remain fit and feel good about myself. Key was to have rules, do it smartly, and never stop, no matter what.

  3. Try finding track and field for adults.. does not exist.. if you don’t get the adults involved then how can you encourage the kids… bucket list to throw a javelin and run hurdles.. brick wall!!!

  4. Great piece! I’m a 50-year-old woman who plays on 3 soccer teams and still does tourneys. I also golf, play pickleball, and mountain bike. Couldn’t imagine my life without sports.

    I get asked so many questions about it that I decided to launch a website dedicated solely to adult recreational sports. Not sure I can post a link, but if so it’s adultsplaysports.com. I wanted to create a resource for people who played sports in the past and want to start again, or those who never played but want to start as an adult. I’ve found adults are a bit intimidated. They don’t know where to start, so I wanted to make the barrier to entry easier.

    FYI–to confirm some of your points, 95% of Fortune 500 CEOs were college athletes. And only 6% of C-level execs never played sports growing up. I’d say there is a correlation between sports and career success!

  5. I played tennis sophomore thru senior year in HS, men’s singles. It taught me: (1) discipline, (2) sportsmanship, (3) teamwork, (4) commitment, (5) skill development and (6) building relationships. I still play sometimes with friends.

    I think adults who didn’t play as kids want an opportunity for their kids as they didn’t have and understand how the competitive nature of sports may help in career and life success.

  6. I actually had a talk with some friends on this topic the other nights, in regards to hiring athletes.

    Funny enough, we each came to the same conclusion despite being in different fields: Tech, finance, hospitality, construction, sales, and marketing. All of us agreed, that hiring athletes was our preference.

    It wasn’t a disqualifier by any means, but we each drew similar conclusions that someone who is willing to put in the hours to develop their skill set for a sport on top of everything else, regardless of what it is, shows true determination. We also, concluded that they have been tested, and are willing to make an extra effort even if it results in defeat. This could be the last shot, the surge in a race, the the tackle, the pass, the punch, the move, the list goes on. There is something about those individuals. They most likely won’t hesitate in a business decision because they have spent their whole lives being tested, and regardless of the outcome they go again (next game, turn, round, point, etc. ).

    We have found some of the most creative people in our industries have come from the sports background, and lot of it had to do with personalities as well. Most of them were comfortable working solo as well as in groups. Most are likely to lead when needed, or follow the group objectives. They have spent their developmental years under coaching schemes, and executing someone else’s plans. It’s a natural progression towards success in the work world.

    I grew up playing sports: soccer, football, hockey, swimming, and cross country and track. I went on to be college athlete (XC, indoor/outdoor track) and then followed up post college doing triathlons for many years. I’ve completed several Ironmans, and half-ironmans, along with dozens of olympics and sprint distance triathlons. Also, while living in DC I played many years of co-ed rec softball with all walks of life. It was a fun escape from normal life and I made several friends while playing the game. We also won a lot, though my team was basically full of ringers. (5 D1 baseball players, and 3 D1 softball players, me and a couple ex-highschool ball players)

    My wife was a college swimmer and is also an avid triathlete. She has won more races than I can count, and has been ranked in the world numerous times.

    For our family sports is a passion, but we truly don’t force it on our kids. We are just fortunate enough to be able to support their hobbies, and we lean in on whatever it is. We ask them each year what they want to play, and then we make it happen.

    This past year my son played, flag football (all year round) , soccer (fall), baseball (spring), and lacrosse (spring/summer) while my daughter played soccer (fall), flag football (all year), baseball (spring) and does gymnastics (all year). They each have amassed friends from different schools and towns that we play against and with.

    Our schedules have been a bit crazy at times balancing life and work, and the kids hobbies. However, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Seeing them build confidence and make friends on the field/court/studio, etc. has been amazing.

    I don’t really have an obsession with my kids playing sports. I just think its a good outlet for them, and instills confidence that will hopefully carry them through life. My dad used to tell my siblings and I as kids, to take care of your body and your body will take care of you. So we all kind of naturally took up sports in order to take care of our bodies.

    I will say that I have in fact benefited from sports in my career. At one point I was interviewing for a position in which I was going to lead a $100M project. Apparently it came down to me and another person. The VP who was doing to hiring had called one of my references to do a follow up on me. I had checked all the boxes, and likely so did the other person. The VP wanted to know more about my motivation and drive. He wanted to be sure that I wouldn’t crack under pressure and that I could go the distance. My reference explained to him that I was an multiple time Ironman and that someone who is willing to put their body through all the training and requirements to complete 140.6 mile races as a hobby, is surely not going to crack under pressure. I got the job.

  7. Andrew O’Connor

    I think the biggest benefits of sports for kids are social & developmental.

    I played anything I could as a kid and high schooler before going into the marines where I started to get more interested in fitness & physical performance.

    Today my “sport” of choice is CrossFit which I believe provides invaluable benefit — social network & competition, peak fitness, varied experience, etc. And super efficient from a time investment perspective. This of course for me requires a gym with safety as it’s #1 priority. Done right, it significantly reduced injury risk in life.

    I also like to play tennis with my wife and have played pickup basketball here and there.

    Of late I’ve been training for an Ironman. If that doesn’t teach you how to grind through a challenge, I’m not sure what will.

    When we have kids I’m planning to take the same approach as you, SF. I’ll encourage my kids to follow their interests. There are SO MANY options. No need to push them. No one pushed me anywhere — I found what I liked to do. I’m grateful for the encouragement and hope to provide the same.

  8. I didn’t play sports growing up besides recreational swimming. Therefore, I wanted my son to play sports! When he was only 3 or 4 YO, I enrolled him in soccer and he hated it! When he got older, I enrolled him in basketball and he liked basketball because he watched basketball games. I hired an instructor to teach him swimming one on one because I believe it is good exercise and he would be able to learn better. When he taking lesson, I also swim too. When my son sees that I am doing the “sport” alongside him, he is happy. I want my son to be sporty or do sports for health reasons, not so much because I wish that he’ll become a professional athlete, etc… I don’t believe that people who played sports in hs or college make more money. I work in tech. Most people I’ve met along the way are more on the booksmart side and weren’t exactly athletes in their youth. Those as adults who make big bucks now sometimes don’t have time to play sports.

  9. “…make enough effort to not have regret and good sportsmanship. Playing the right way, with honesty and integrity, was much more important than winning.”

    This is a sentiment I have found is short supply now. Watching ‘poor losers’ (in the workplace, bitter relationship endings, even friendships ending over silly arguments, etc.) you can see that they didn’t learn grace under pressure. FS, you are a fantastic athlete with playing-and-coaching background, and that is great you can share sportsmanship ethic with others; that is something that transfers to the real world.

    One great thing about sports is that it is a meritocracy. Hierarchy is real, although today many (most?) want to pretend that ‘we are all winners!’ If a lesser golfer or tennis player wants to play, there is a real resistance. One does need to ‘play down’ so others can improve, it is a human tendency to remember those ‘best days’ and overrate one’s ability. Too bad ‘excuse-making’ isn’t a sport!:-)

    There is another side to sports, especially for adults. I played league softball well into my ’30s, and noticed the bottom-half of performers didn’t return for the following season. One example stands out, a guy who was a top manager chose himself to play centerfield, and dropped a fly ball to lose the game, and championship. That play is all he was remembered for, and of course the way the grapevine works, everybody heard about it and it follows the guy to this very day. My thought is that if you are joining in to ‘have fun’ you need competence, and you will be judged no matter your motivations. Don’t join the company basketball team if you can’t dribble.

    I played competitive tennis, even a few satellite pro events, into my late 20s. The game isn’t fun for me, hasn’t been for years; it is a perishable skill. Still, I will have new acquaintances or old friends want to ‘hit the ball around’ or even play, and what they are really after is measuring themselves against me. That is fine, but there is really nothing in it for me (I used to do it, thinking I might make a new friend) and is aggravating when a common acquaintance will say “I heard that (xxx) played you close!” “did (xxx) really beat up on you?” Then I realize I’ve been had, and they wanted to play in order to brag how they measured up to me (of course describing my level from decades earlier). Finding compatible players that live within an hour-drive is tough at a certain playing level, and most are younger and working so unavailable when I want to play.

    I did martial arts for years, was a 1996 CA State Open champion in combat and forms (cruiserweight) but that was 30 lbs., three cracked ribs and two dislocated thumbs ago. People take liberties, and finding trustworthy sparring/practice partners is also a challenge. I ran marathons for years, over a dozen, and would finish in the top 3%, but once plantar fasciitis sets in it never really goes away until you stop running.

    One last thing on injuries. Some college contemporaries of mine rented Angel Stadium, to play a private baseball game a few hours before the Angels were to play. The first two batters to make contact were injured just running to first base! If you are going to pull a groin, make sure it is your own.

    1. I’m sad you don’t enjoy tennis anymore. I think the key is to play down to our new realistic abilities. I played a tough 9.5 match today and we lost 3-6, 6-7. But I feel really good about it because we were down 0-4 on the second shot and almost got them. We played against some young guys who hit the ball very hard and were very consistent.

      Maybe five years ago I would’ve been disgruntled from the loss. Now it’s really just having fun and appreciating the game.

      I highly recommend you try Pickleball. It is so fun and easy on the body.

  10. I used to like going cycling but since having children don’t really have time. The only “sport” my children are doing out of school (age 6 and 3) is swimming classes. The older one is going to piano classes that my wife thinks are important and doing lots of music practice and other “homework” she makes up and gives him… She is Chinese and Chinese parents all seem obsessed with this sort of stuff, I think rather than sports. I live in Australia where “sports scholarships” aren’t really a thing I think.

  11. I played baseball and soccer as a youth. Then dabbled in adult flag football, volleyball, golf, softball, and disc golf as a young adult. I love competition. That stated, I find less and less time to play and there seem far fewer opportunities to play
    Now that I’m in mid-fifties. I do toss the baseball with my 13 year old daughter (she’s got an arm!). Our other kids are not team sports oriented, but two of our sons are very much into fitness and weightlifting.

    1. There is nothing I enjoy more and tossing a ball with my children. I have this dream of playing doubles with my family as they get older.

      It’s such a special moment because I find myself smiling so much when I’m outside playing sports.

  12. I was a 3 sport athlete in high school and had to battle every day to get playing time because I wasn’t very big. It has helped me more that any academic class in my career. I tore my Achilles last year playing basketball and it’s been tough getting back. Before that I ran or played a sport 6 days a week at 36. Hoping to get back to my former self. My suggestion is to spend time stretching!

    1. Sorry to hear about the injury! I hope you get better soon. My dad keeps on telling me to not go all out because of potential injury and I have listened to him to the point where people make fun of me or heckle me during softball games.

      But I’m just out there having fun. And the guy who tackled me the most finally stopped when he had his own children. It’s funny how people can understand only once the experience something.

  13. Sam — as a former tennis player (I loved it!) I just cannot see myself to play pickleball, but reading your piece – maybe I will try. I still trying to replace tennis by golf, but if golf is quite technical and not forgiving if you start after age of 55.

    1. Ah, just wait until I really write about pickleball! I played about 10 hours of pickle ball this week. It is a wonderful sport they can be played eight times more than tennis because it is much easier on the body.

      The sport is not going to stop growing quickly. There are so many great strategies. I love how you never have to wait more than 10 minutes to play a game. And you get the benefit of being outside. On Wednesday, I literally play for four hours. The time went by in an instant.

  14. I played competitive tennis all my life (reached 5.0 level).

    Now, at 46 yo with 2 young kids (5 and 2 yo), I picked up pickleball and play competitively 5.0 level at various tournaments around the country.

    Competitive sports is such a valuable experience striving for excellence and trying to overcome weaknesses.

    I plan on getting my children into competitive sports. Hopefully pickleball because it has provided such a wealth of positive things for me!

    1. Awesome! I am impressed you have time to travel around the country to play tournaments. My wife would probably not approve lol. Unless I take the family with, but even still.

      I’m definitely a big fan of pickleball.

  15. Stallone (body) at 70 looks better than Brady at 40. Sports is great for competition, but weights all the way for longevity.

  16. Jim Johnson

    Interesting article Sam and one that I currently contemplate.
    To start I grew up in a sports family, in which two of my brothers played D1 golf and a sister danced and eventually owned her own successful studio. Both brothers went on to make good livings in the golf business. I struggled in early sports as I had dyslexia but actually became a good enough golfer to get a scholarship to a division 1 school in golf (helped by my brother who went to the same school before me and succeeded)
    As I was a member of this team…we went on to win a National Championship (I have a ring to prove it) I never got to play. Being on a golf team 5 guys travel, 6 -12 Don’t …
    So what I take from sports and raising kids.

    First… I have many friends/ acquaintances/ teammates that play on the PGA tour… none of there kids do. I don’t play golf anymore, I watch my kids. It is hard to shine in the shade of a “great tree”
    Second, sports are absolutely important, difficult, and can bring focused success. Saying that I also know many “ golf bums” that can absolutely “golf the ball”…names that aren’t famous ..not good enough to make it on the PGA tour, yet Great Golfers..
    Third and most important for me is that sports can be both passive or extremely involved as a parent. Watching my daughters in dance is so easy..pay for the classes and watch the performances. Different for me is golf as I am watching for hours of play/practice /tournaments/ instruction. So much more involvement.
    I am certain that is partially why more great athletes don’t have kids that succeed in sports. It’s difficult to be great at a sport and not overshadow, or coach to the point your kid will quit….lastly great athletes know first hand how difficult and fleeting success in sports is.
    It’s sooo much easier succeeding in Real Estate!!
    Jim Johnson

  17. I played baseball and soccer through high school. i also played some basketball when I was younger. I played softball up until a few years ago. A lot of my team moved away so it was hard getting a team together, so I stopped a few years ago because of this. I was sad until I realized waking up one Thursday morning in the summer that my knees no longer felt like somebody shoved an ice pick beneath the knee cap. So as I approach 50, I still hit the gym on a semi regular basis and am working on getting back into good shape, but my competitive sports days are behind me.

    My son played travel soccer until high school. The culture of high school sports in general is just not his bag, so he never played. He does still hit the gym regularly, though, and is pursuing a degree as a physical therapist. I am lucky enough to live in a community where the cost of travel sports is not stupid. If we lived in some of the nearby cities, he probably would not have played as when I heard what other parents on other teams were playing, well, there were a lot of expletives to accentuate the level of disbelief.

    I am in technology, so being an reasonably good athlete makes me an anomaly. I work with the people that say things like “I hit the ball into the endzone for a homerun playing sportsball last week”

  18. I never played organized sports growing up – just playground basketball. That was probably the default sport of choice for kids who grew up in NYC during the peak Michael Jordan years.

    As a hiring manager, I do give browny points to someone who played Division I sports before.

    As a parent, I want my kids to play sports primarily to learn how to function in a team environment. Also, it gives them a chance to be out of the home and get some of their energy out.

  19. I played soccer in high school, and have been on and off in adult rec leagues for the last 16 years. Had a really good run up to the pandemic playing on an over 35 squad where I was the youngest by far on a squad with folks up to 60-65. I joined a work soccer club back in the end of 2021, where I was the oldest by about 10 years. Bummed my ankle pretty quickly. That was a year ago, and I might start looking for a new squad soon. Both my daughters play soccer, I love watching my daughters u16 team. Sport has always been part of my routines. I live in DC/northern Virginia which is just awash in adult rec leagues of all sorts. Yeah lots of people don’t play, but if you look for it, rec houses and sports plexes are loaded every day of the week with people playing a variety of stuff. My wife is hardcore into pickle ball, plays 3-4 times a week! One thing I know: every one is sharper, happier, less stressed when we’re each out on the pitch, court, field, etc hanging with other people. More family harmony, and way less drive to blow money on nonsense. It’s great for our balance sheet!

  20. The Alchemist

    One thing about sports: You do the work, you see the results.

    In today’s world of “equity” (a subversive concept that is NOT the same thing as equality), there is a reassuring clarity in that. No one is clamoring for “equity” in the NBA or the NFL. It’s based purely on performance.

    That being said… the practice of “trophies for all” in kids’ sports has bastardized the very concept of excellence. We’re suffering the consequences now.

  21. great column. The importance of sports in developing character and leadership cannot be overstated. Going through situations like in baseball where a baserunning error costs your team the championship and everyone blames you or getting in a fight in the locker room before a football game with an annoying teammate are experiences that harden our children. My wife and I argued a lot about mandating a sport every year in high school when our son wasn’t super motivated but once college app time came aorund he was thankful to be able to put down 4 year athlete which is a definite tie breaker when grades/test scores are equivalent.

    Some of my best time growing up were playing Little League with neighborhood buddies and later pickup hoops in and after college. I played quite a bit of tennis but never had the discipline to work at getting better. Now I focus on surfing and golfing at my club which has turned out to be a business networking bonanza. I miss hoops and tennis but as we journey through our 40s into our 50s every serious tennis or hoops player I know suffers some sort of serious injury. And our son golfs and surfs with me, which makes it so much fun.

  22. I selected ‘other’.

    I played sports through high school (soccer, baseball, track) but I ran Cross Country/T&F in college. That is where I excelled. Even though there’s a “team” component to running, so much of it is individual merit. That was my preference over traditional “team” sports. I ran Division I, but nowhere close to professional. There’s even less money in running than in other sports. I still run/work out to this day (16 years since college). I’m not as competitive, but I’m still decent. My workouts are outside of family time.

    I’m not sure that team sports make a difference career-wise. I think they made a difference for me. I love competition and the thrill of winning, but losing is part of the territory too. But, this might be a self-selected sample.

    I have three kids (5, 3, 1). They haven’t started sports yet even though by age 5, I had started tee-ball. I’m taking Sam’s approach. It’s not critical; I do want them to play sports, but I don’t want to have a life that consists of endless activities. Playing blocks, coloring, and exploring are great endeavors already. I’ll engage them in sports at some point. I just don’t feel the pressure to do it right now.

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great book: Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World. He explores the approaches of starting young (like Tiger Woods) or developing “later” in life (Roger Federer). The conclusion is that it’s best to expose the youth to a wide arrange of opportunities instead of focusing purely on reaching the pinnacle of any particular mountain.

  23. I played three varsity sports through high school (soccer, baseball, I was most serious about wrestling because it was an individual sport). I learned a lot about pushing myself, believing in myself, and the value of hard, focused work, repeated over time vs “natural talent.”

    I continued to play competitive sports through my 20s and 30s: soccer, judo, ultimate frisbee. Looking back the athletic competition was an extension and outlet for the competitiveness of my career in corporate technology sales, where I put most of my time and self worth. At one point I was the highest producing salesperson in my company, which I found neither personally gratifying nor financial rewarding enough to provide the freedom I realized I was looking for (because I didn’t enjoy the work/lifestyle).

    Now in my 40s with two kids 11 and 13, I’m less interested in competition and more in the health and relaxation benefits of exercise. I enjoy light biking (for transportation) and while watching tv on my stationary bike, and more recently backpacking, and yoga. I’m “training” in the loosest sense of the work for a 5k turkey trot on Thanksgiving.

    Professionally I have my own business, which makes less money, but is more flexible than my corporate job, and I enjoy the lifestyle. I’m not sure if it will work long term, or if I will have to go back to work full-time, but it’s working for me right now.

    I’m an assistant coach for my son’s team and transportation to my boys’ practices and games across many sports. I’m an enthusiastic fan, but am mindful about not pushing them.

  24. Brian Lasky

    Took up Pickleball after retiring from tech. I am now a solid 4.5 playing 5x/week and a succesfull tournament participant. Sports gives you the edge in life and your business competitors, teaching you to push through and go the extra mile!

  25. Just a comment on your last post. I am Turkey right now on a cruise. We took tour and the guide said they have 80 percent inflation. He says people are really hurting there. He told us go into stores and spend some of our dollars. They need our help. Our dollar is 17 to 1 to Turkish dollar. Americans need to stop complaining. We have it made. By the way the people in Turkey are wonderful

  26. I played all sports growing up. Baseball Football Golf Tennis Volleyball. l play golf now. My body can’t handle tennis anymore. My friends all played sports. That’s who I hang out with. The best golfers I see were all athletes as kids. I played high school basketball but never good enough to play next level.

  27. I think people who are more attractive have advantages in the work place and an athlete who is fit is generally perceived as attractive. Also, many athletes tend to be tall, which is also perceived as attractive.

    1. LOL! As a bookworm who forced my obsession with STEM onto my sons, succeeding in my goal for both of them attend Cal, I love this remark. When I was growing up I bemoaned how the back-slapping glad-handing frat boys and sorority sisters got all the breaks.

      That said, having retired from the rat race I understand better now that there is a reason for this. Group dynamics. American business culture has been highly based on tribal values (and still is, despite the revenge of the nerds in some tech companies). An effective team will beat a group of smarter people who don’t work together.

      Sports teach teamwork and the competitive mindset. It is (still) hard to climb the ladder if you can’t get play well with others and can’t/won’t play the game.

    2. That may be the way it is viewed now but not from my baby boomer generation. Sports will always be a big part of the American culture but in my house, you didn’t get to play sports if you didn’t keep your grades up.

      I played football, baseball, and basketball up to High School and then focused on Soccer and Tennis in High School.

  28. I played one sport/season at a time growing up and eventually got into golf around 10. After that I spent a majority of my teens playing competitive golf. I wasn’t great, in fact the only tournament I ever won I cheated in because the other kid in my group thought I got a par when I didn’t and I went along with it. I learned a good lesson that day, that it doesn’t feel good if you don’t earn it. I also learned many other skills along the way such as grit, hard work, practice methods, solitude, etc.

    Anyways, all this is to say that I agree kids should be kids. We have a family rule that each kid gets one activity at a time. That’s it. Otherwise we would be running around like chicken with our heads cut off. I want my kids to learn teamwork, practice, how to work hard, and grit…but I think those csn also be learned via video games, coding, music, school, etc.

    Finally, I still golf, but I also hike and play basketball on a rare occasion. All recreational, nothing competitively.

  29. I played softball in my 20s and had a great time. Made some great friends and helped me stay fit and was a good activity on Sunday. Now with young kids and dual working parents it just feels like there isn’t time for us. I know we can make time if we prioritize – sports just doesn’t seem like a priority. Once both of my kids are in elementary school I feel like I will have more time to carve out for myself, but unfortunately now it is just parenting, work, and making sure house and errand stuff gets done. I don’t understand how other parents I know (particularly Dads) are able to disappear every Sunday to play golf for 5 hours, but I guess I also admire their ability to prioritize themselves. Just not something we have been able to do well.

  30. I played field hockey, tennis, and soccer growing up, mostly in middle school. I wasn’t good enough to make the teams in high school but I was more into music by then anyway. I tried some tennis as an adult and a softball game or two here and there, but that’s about it. I got into hiking the most which I like because you can do it on a whim practically anywhere and no court reservations are needed. Plus I like the low impact aspect and changing scenery.

    I’ve observed a lot of parents who are very gung ho about putting their preschool and elementary kids into multiple sports each week. I think there’s a mix of some parents doing it b/c they aren’t athletic themselves, some doing it to tire/work out their kids, some do it in the hopes their kid gets good and gets a competitive edge for getting into a good HS or college, and some who do it because their kids genuinely enjoy it.

    I know several moms who put their kids into 3 sports a week for 2-3 hours each practice and that’s not including games. To me that’s just too much, but every family is different.

  31. Chuck Sarahan

    I have been asked what sports I played in job interviews. The organization viewed playing certain sports as a sign of being a team player. I don’t know if there is data to back this up but if so it would be good to be aware of.

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