Are Youth Sports for the Young?

Most modern mothers recognize that the world of youth sports has gotten out of control. Nine year-olds play hockey year round. Or soccer. Or swim team. Eleven year olds suffer stress fractures, tendinitis, and repetitive stress injuries.  And, the parents? The parents make themselves crazy shuttling children to practices all week and trekking to distant tournaments on weekends; they give up on a family dinner hour when faced with the demands of multiple youth sports schedules; and, we won't even begin with those rare, but notoriously ill-mannered parents known for their appalling parenting strategies,shouting expletives, and fighting.

What is the goal of youth sports? To instill a life-long love of exercise? To allow children to experience the camaraderie of a team? Clearly, those goals could be accomplished in less intensive programs. Is the goal to help them attain admission to an elite college, i.e., get them" recruited" to Harvard? There are ample statistics to demonstrate the slim chances of post-high school athletic glory, though this might be a motivation for some.

Why do we sign on for these punishing schedules? Are we doing it because everyone else is doing it?  We just can’t stop ourselves? A child wants to play basketball, even likes to play basketball. We sign him up. The team practices twice a week and his team loses every game to teams that practice 4 times a week, and it's no fun to lose every game. What is the solution? Practice more! Thus, the vicious cycle begins, the arms race of youth sports programs.  Well, its time to de-escalate.

So, when her 10 year old, who has been playing ice hockey three to five times a week since October, says, “I'm kind of tired can I skip practice tonight?” this modern mother might surprise herself by saying yes. She agrees, despite the fact that she believes strongly in honoring one's commitments.  She will not worry about raising someone to think its acceptable to renege, she will remember she is raising someone who can recognize when he has reached his limit. She will instead feel satisfied with taking one small step towards fighting the exponential intensification of youth sports. Her next step should be to seek out a team with a lighter practice schedule. She should find that about the same time she discovers a unicorn or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

8 comments:

Beau said...

Soccer has to be the worst at this point because of the international competition. US Soccer wants to change the way everything is done all the way down to 7-year-olds. Talented players may increasingly be funneled to a handful of elite clubs so they can play against other elite competition.

At the same time, though, they're trying to cut down the weekend four-game tournaments. They're at least trying to be sensitive to burnout issues.

I think in general, though, it's just hypercompetitiveness. Most (not all) parents have to realize they're not guaranteed a full ride through college just because they're on a travel team. (The reality: Even Division I men's soccer teams have only 9.9 scholarships to divide among the whole team -- full scholarships are rare.) But on a subconscious level, so many parents think they're doing something wrong if they don't take their kids to every little camp and tournament.

Kate said...

well, i spent my entire weekend watching basketball since my daughter was in a tournament. the coach mentioned the chance to play in another one, but we are going to say "NO THANKS". It's just too much. plus lacrosse is starting soon. ha

Anonymous said...

We have met the enemy and he is us... I, for one, think the parents are almost entirely to blame. Many people clearly want their children to be the athletes they never were (or aren't). Others are just crazy or stupid. You can't make your children great athletes. You can only help them get the most from what they have been given.

EHP said...

You are all so right!

Yes, Beau, I think everyone feels like they're supposed to want their children to do every little sports program, or like they'll miss out if they don't.

And Kudos to Kate for saying no, and managing to switch sports with the seasons.

kayce hughes said...

Don't even get me started!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous. It is the parents. Why isn't there a collective uprsising - like what happened in Egypt- of parents saying "stop the insanity"? Sports are great and a ecessary part of childhood. Competitive sports like what we see today are more destructive then helpful. Who needs injuries, burnout, the sacrifice of family dinner time, all before the age of 10? The solution lies with each and every parent who makes an effort to remain sane and say NO to five practices a week and two games on the weekend! When do our kids get to play, just play, not in an organized way, not at a certain time, not in a certain format? Kudos for bringing up this very important issue!!!!

Joan said...

We're loving the ski team schedule - no way to stretch that one without moving south of the equator half the year C:

Well Read Hostess said...

I'm so with you...I think it's the "child as accessory" phenomenon. If our kids are spectacular in every way it reflects well on us. But the expense - in all manners - is just too great. This post and these great comments give me hope that the pendulum is starting to swing the other way!

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