What is the purpose of youth sports? At what age do you feel it is appropriate for children to actually ‘train’ for a specific sport? What about travel teams? Or ‘stacking teams’ to win the division? These questions literally keep me up at night.
(I know this is a professional sports blog, but follow me for a while. I’ll get there.)
All around me, in my generally upper-middle class neighborhood, there are kids (and parents) that are involved in all of the above things. I’m sure most neighborhoods are the same, but with the beginning of baseball season upon us the debate is quick to our lips.
I feel that sports in general, on the most basic level, are great for all of us to participate in. They get our bodies moving which is great for so many aspects of our health. For kids, sports can teach, among other things, how to work together as a team, coordination, and how to win and lose graciously. I believe that these are all excellent reasons to get your kids in sports.
As my kids have gotten older I’ve noticed a trend with younger and younger kids “specializing” in a specific sport. For some, that only means playing spring and winter baseball, but for others it means not only spring ball, but getting on the ‘stacked’ team, having a private coach, and playing on the competitive travel team. (Other sports qualify, too. Baseball just happens to be what’s on my mind this week.)
On the one hand, I get it. Your kid loves baseball. Wants to play all of the time, all year ’round. The part I don’t get, though, is when the parents push and push, and push! their kids to perform at a higher and higher level, many times, at the detriment of their health and love of the game.
There is evidence all around of kids burning out on sports after this kind of intensity by the time they are in high school, or worse, sustaining an injury that sidelines them for good. Is this really what we want for our kids?
Some would say that they want to give their kid a chance to play in high school, to get a sports scholarship to college, to play in the pros. But at what cost? Even when you combine all of the pro players, in all leagues, the percentage men and women that play at that level is minute compared to the actual number of kids playing.
Somewhere out there is a kid that won’t pick up a bat and glove until he’s 14 years old that will become the next Derek Jeter. Somewhere a kid was cut from his high school basketball team this year, but will become the next Michael Jordan.
I firmly believe that until children are around 12 we should be fostering a love of sports for the fun of it, not for the remote possibility of Little Johnny becoming the next big star. Wouldn’t you rather have a kid that loves to play than one who hates it by the time he’s 13 and never tries it again? Believe me, I love professional sports as much as the next guy (or gal!) but what I really want for my kids is the joy that sports can bring, not the fleeting paycheck and empty accolades that can accompany playing at the highest levels.
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