Sports saturation – is it too much for young kids?

A friend of mine recently posted a question on Facebook: Should we be pushing our kids to play sports at younger ages and at higher levels? Or has the whole thing gotten out of hand? Varying responses came from parents of different backgrounds and philosophies, proving that there doesn’t seem to be a “right” answer to this question. As both a mom and a teacher, I can speak from my own experience and that of thousands of high schoolers.

My son has always been naturally competitive and loves winning as much as the next guy. He started sports young – baseball at 4, soccer at 5, basketball in elementary school. He loved them all, but as his parent, I could see that basketball was just for fun, soccer was a love, and baseball was where he showed his true talent. If I were going to “push” him into one sport, it would be baseball.

Unfortunately, baseball brought trepidation to my boy. He was a pitcher, so he felt the pressure of “all eyes on him.” It was the same way every time he batted. Being a switch hitter didn’t change the fact that if he struck out – left handed or right – he was devastated.

Soccer, on the other hand, was more of a team sport. He could still enjoy his standout moments but blend in when he was having an off-game. So when he turned 11 or so, about the time when everyone insists that kids should choose one sport on which to concentrate, he chose soccer. He made an elite team, and our lives became consumed with shin guards, minor concussions, and sunburn. Every.Single.Weekend. We traveled to tournaments in which he played 8 games in a weekend. We spent a lot of money on a sport that should have been dirt cheap. We had priceless fun and made memories no one can ever take away from us, and I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. But it was all soccer, all the time.

When high school came, our son was burned out. He was tired of soccer. He didn’t want to play anymore. Can you believe it??? Of course you can, because you probably see it with your own children. The problem with starting kids at a young age and pushing and prodding them through, is that by the time they’re 14 years old, they’ve already played their favorite sport for 10 years. They’re over it. Their legs are tired and they’re sick of giving up all of their spare time to run up and down a field.

So, yes, if you want to have strong athletes, start ’em young. But if you want them to feel passion toward the game, you may want to wait a while. More kids drop their beloved sports in high school than continue to play them. Even fewer actually love the game. Many stick it out because their parents expect them to or they are hoping for a college scholarship. But if you ask them if they love it, they shake their heads.

Of course, exceptions exist. The truly talented should always go for it. But for a lot of kids, a strong emphasis on one particular sport and the ensuing commitment that comes with it often lead to burnout. My advice – don’t listen to people who insist that your children should choose one sport on which to focus. Just let your kids have fun, and as in life, the cream will rise to the top.

Sometimes I think it might be healthier to encourage small bites of everything that is offered. That way, your kids won’t get sick from eating too much of something that started off so sweet.

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