I remember as a kid spending endless hours practicing shooting a basketball into a hoop. The adults in my life placed a high importance on this skill, and ignored practical skills like building a fence or providing customer service for the most part. I did not enjoy throwing a ball in a basket, but I trusted the adults around to me to direct my learning in the right direction. I now know as an adult that those thousands of hours spent playing sports a kid were wasted. I have not played basketball, baseball, football, or soccer in years. I wish my parents had directed me to learn how to do more practical jobs, and shown me how to build fitness with real productive work.
American history shows that we used to emphasize productive work over sports until about thirty years ago. Americans used to spend their childhoods working a variety of jobs, learning skills and figuring out what they wanted to do with their lives. American society recently has developed a skewed perspective of sports versus jobs for children. American kids now will spend hours each day working on sports skills yet never spend time working jobs or learning practical skills. Most of us spend our childhoods learning how to throw a ball or shoot a basket, but never learning how to swing a hammer or sell a product. Most of us never play organized sports again after our teens, but spend most of our days doing actual jobs. Many young Americans have no idea what career they want to pursue because they have never been given the opportunity to try out different jobs, so they end up in careers that are not the right fit.
Physical fitness is critically important, and sports can help people to be more fit, but sports are not a requirement for fitness. Most of us as adults do a wide variety of physical fitness activities that are not related to sports – walking, weight lifting, jogging, hiking, boating, rock climbing, etc. And tons of jobs incorporate physical fitness themselves… Most of the construction trades for example. Sports are not required for a healthy physically fit population, and there are many jobs all of us can do that help with our fitness.
Sports does not contribute nearly as much to the well being and GDP of society as jobs do. We need to put a much stronger emphasis on letting kids try a wide variety of jobs rather than pushing them to endlessly practice useless skills that most of them will never use as adults.
The emphasis on sports over jobs is even higher when comparing Black communities to White communities. Black people end up overrepresented in college and professional sports, but underrepresented in entrepreneurial, tech, and trade jobs. If American culture spent more time glorifying productive work over sports, and put effort into training kids in jobs instead of sports, we would see many gaps between races in income, health and other areas improve.
American society urgently needs to begin prioritizing jobs over sports for the benefit of our children. Restrictions on wages and work for kids need to be lifted. After school entry level jobs in construction trades and business needs to be emphasized far more than after school sports. Kids learning how to work real jobs early in their lives will help improve their happiness and ability to find meaning and joy.