I’ll qualify all this by saying there are no junk sports, period. Regardless of where our children focus their energies, that’s what’s important to them. If we are 100% behind them, we are part of the problem.

That being said, I’d never heard the term “junk sport” before my oldest daughter starting swimming. It was used by some swim friends to describe those sports who were not always in that favored status.

It’s hard for me to watch both of my daughters compete in sports that people outside of the sport really don’t value. One daughter was called lazy because she was a swimmer. Another daughter was told that cross country “is way easier than volleyball”. Our oldest always knew that swimming out of district was seen as odd to begin with, so very few of her classmates ever came to cheer for her at home meets. Cross country, every once and a while you see kids show up at meets, but mostly, it’s parents, grandparents, and other adult supporters who are there.

That being said, I miss going to swim meets something terrible. Our swimmers usually placed middle of the pack with a few great athletes leading the way, but the parental support at all meets away amazing. To listen to the crowd roar at the end of a close race, you’d think it was the Olympic freestyle instead of the first heat of 8! You’ve got your top swimmers at the end of lanes, cheering and going crazy for their teammates, and it shows in the culture of the sport.  And at cross country meets, you’ve got #1 varsity runners who are cheering and clapping, just going nuts for their slower JV counterparts, just trying to bring that runner home. You’ve got supporters who are cheering for ALL runners, not just the all stars. That’s what builds a community of students and parents together for one common goal.

The thing that bugs me the most about this label: these are two sports where I’ve seen the concept of team developed in a way that all other sports couldn’t possibly understand. Our oldest daughter’s swim experience was tremendous. She was never the fastest, but she worked her tail off, never complained about things, and that earned her the respect of her teammates all four years. Our youngest has struggled the last two years with legs issues, but is always welcomed and supported on the teams she’s run with. We talk about creating community and how important it is for our students, both of these sports do it in a way that I could only hope to replicate on my basketball teams.

I love coaching basketball and wouldn’t change that for the world. It’s brought me great joy, and we’ve done some good team building as a group. I love watching a good football game, seeing the coaches get their players jacked up for the game. However, my favorite “team” sports: swimming and cross country, both sports where outside of the small circle of participants and family, very little is known or cared about. I’d love to run a football team through a cross country practice, take a volleyball team through swim practice, and then see what they think of these “easy” sports.

I’d like to say thank you to those coaches who’ve helped my daughters through their junk sports. Without you, I’m not sure they’d be the girls they are right now. Your drive to push, to communicate, to build a team community is what has helped them in their own lives try to create that on their own levels. That kind of character is one that they’ve learned from you, so thank you.

Our friends told us about a cross country runner their daughter knew who wanted to try swimming in the summer instead of running, both for the impact on her body and to see if she could keep up. This was a varsity runner, one of the top runners in the state at the time. It took about a week, and the runner decided that swimming wasn’t for her because “this make cross country look easy”. Remember that when your son or daughter tells you, “I’d like to swim/run this year.”

They may be setting themselves up for a tremendous experience!