Kids and Sports

I came accross this article while perusing the Sunday "paper" online. I couldn't have said it better myself!

By Meredith O'Brien
GateHouse News Service
Mon May 21, 2007, 09:07 AM EDT

It's hard to be a good sport.

A parental good sport, that is.

Especially when you're in the midst of youth sport insanity. Sure, you may sometimes have the urge to tell your son, "You could grow up to be Tiger Woods some day, rake in millions in endorsements and have your life chronicled on sports pages worldwide." Or to wax enthusiastic to your daughter, "You could be the next Mia Hamm, what with your drive, determination and talent. World Cup look out for you!"

But there's a fine line between being an optimistic parental cheerleader and someone who has lost one's grasp of reality, the person who reasons that because Tiger started playing golf before he could read, that if you push your kid to spend quality time at the links at age 2, he'll be set for life. There's a line between maintaining a reasonable limit on how much of a grade schooler's time should be devoted to organized sports, and pushing a youth athlete and her entire family to the brink with non-stop sports activities before said athlete has even entered puberty.

I'm of the mind that giving my kids breaks from sports serves an important purpose to give them a broader perspective. But I've found that the moderate approach of limiting grade school-aged child's sports activities to one a season, makes me look like an undedicated stick-in-the-mud in the youth sports world. You've given up. You look like a spoilsport because other parents are letting their kids play multiple sports, and play some of them year-round, despite the admonitions of pediatricians and youth sports experts that it's bad for young children to repeatedly play a single, organized sport.

Case in point: My 8-year-old son Jonah loves soccer. But, sadly, he's not likely to be the next David Beckham. And that's fine with me; I don't expect him to be a super-jock. He's simply playing the sport because he likes it and because teamwork and physical activity are good for him.

However, the second grader and I butted heads this past winter when he wanted to sign up for baseball AND soccer in the spring. I said no. After conferring with my husband, we told Jonah that he could play one spring sport. "You're going to take a break from soccer," I told him, noting that he'd played soccer throughout the fall, as well as for several sessions in an indoor league (that was my husband's idea).

However Jonah knew that many of his peers were going to be playing both sports and worried aloud that he'd fall behind his schoolmates skill-wise, and that, come September, Jonah would pay a price for not playing in the spring or in the summer, as I'm planning on putting the kibosh on summer soccer as well.

Did I mention that Jonah's in the second grade? And he's already fretting over his athletic future. Sadly, it's not unreasonable for Jonah to worry that some people might think he's not dedicated to soccer or think less of his skills if he, at his tender age, takes two seasons off. I've heard coaches and parents question the commitment and/or skill set of children who "skip" a season of a sport. I've heard parents whose own children are involved in sports, question why, for example, a 9-year-old would want to take up a new team
sport given that the other kids have been playing it since they were barely out of their Pull-Ups.

I feel as though I've fallen through the rabbit hole. Aren't these "athletes" still children? Shouldn't their parents strive to help them lead well-rounded lives, with time for school, sports, religious worship, recreational reading, pointless games, goofing around with friends and, oh yeah, maybe some unhurried moments for that oft-overlooked thing called family time? (Time spent in vehicles furiously dashing around - parents fueled by quadruple-espresso-shot lattes – while dropping off and picking kids up at various practices and games doesn't count.)

Why is there societal pressure to specialize in a sport at age 8? From where did this notion arise, a notion that would prompt a second grader to fear falling behind his peers if he doesn't play three consecutive seasons of soccer?

I know that the folks who enroll their kids in year-round sports, the ones who commit family time and money to trek to tournaments, sports camps and leagues galore, are well intentioned. They want their children to be happy, to thrive and succeed. And if there are all these opportunities and leagues out there designed to sharpen children's skills in a sport, well then, there must be a reason why they're available, I imagine them thinking.

When I'm in the middle of all of this, it's sometimes hard for me not to recognize that I'm developing tunnel vision and that I need to see the larger picture. It's alarmingly easy to get sucked into the vortex of youth sports.

I have three children, all of whom currently play a sport. Between having three kids playing one sport per season (the exception being my daughter who also takes gymnastics classes which run the length of the school year, in addition to soccer), coaching, volunteering to teach at our church's Sunday school and work, my husband and I find that our free time is very limited.

Even with the one-sport-per-season-per-kid restriction, I'm frequently overwhelmed with trying to manage three sets of practices and games. But, because my husband and I haven't allowed our kids to play a single sport year-round, we're the odd parents out.
So imagine my delight (and smug sense of satisfaction) when I happened upon
Brooke de Lench's book, “Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers in
Youth Sports” and read her admonitions that "early specialization reflects an
adult-, not a child-centered youth sports system."

"The enthusiasm and passion a child may show for a particular sport is not enough to justify excessive training or participation on a select team," de Lench, the founder of, wrote. "After all, you don't hesitate to limit the amount of time your children spend on other activities they enjoy, e.g. television and video games. Why shouldn't you also place appropriate limits on the amount of time they spend playing ultra competitive, super organized sports? Such excessive parental control promotes a youth sports structure reflective of the values and expectations of adults, not of

So I'll clutch my copy of Home Team Advantage and let my son blame me for thwarting his budding soccer career by saying, "No" to spring soccer. I'll take my lumps. And try to be a good sport about it. And I'll tell him, "There's always next year."

The original article appears HERE.

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1 comment:

SandyCarlson said...

I hear you on this one! Jump Back ( has posted about this recently. Parents are awful when they try to live through their kids. We have a hoop outside, and the only time our neighbors' kid will play is when her parents stay in. She's great on her own, but when mom and dad chime in, she feels like a loser and quits. We live in an intense, unforgiving world sometimes. And that's just at home!

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