Adults watch sports events to see who wins and loses. By contrast, kids, especially younger ones, care more about the process than who comes out on top. For example, I once coached a nine-year-old girls softball team in a league where the policy was not to announce the score until after the game was over. Although our team lost 10 to 1, every girl eagerly ran over to the scorer’s table to find out who won. They had all been so caught up in the game they truly hadn’t registered that they had been drubbed.
I try to keep this memory in mind when I tell sports stories to kids, something I frequently do because the excitement of a good contest creates it’s own riveting plot. I don’t ignore the score or try to create a story without a winner or loser, but I do try to tell a tale, whether about the team game or an individual athletic endeavor, that emphasizes my protagonist’s achievement at least as much as who wins at the end.
I also try to remember that most kids aren’t fabulous athletes and plenty, who may nevertheless dream about hitting a game winning home run or running an amazingly fast race, are a step slow and just a tad clumsy.
Fortunately, when telling a convincing sports drama to a child, only two things are necessary. First, you must create a hero or heroine your young listener will almost surely identify with which usually means a fictional kid who faces some of the same physical opportunities and challenges as your real one. Second, you’ll want to put your fictional protagonist into a dramatic sports situation your listener will think is exciting. Thus, if your eager, but slightly slow 3rd grade daughter plays soccer, she’ll like your story much better if you skip lightly over the gifted girls who score all the goals and instead focus on a determined, albeit slightly slow, fullback who combines savvy positioning with fierce desire to repeatedly thwart the other team’s best scorer to save the game.