It's that time of year
again. No, I'm not referring to the start
of school, rather, the annual rush to register kids in sports leagues.
Where we live, the big one this time of year is soccer.
My daughter has casually
asked in the past if she could play, more because she knows kids who do than
because she is truly interested in the sport. My answer is always, "No."
I will not be signing my
child up for a youth sports league this year, or the next or the next. I
strongly disagree with the focus and environment of many of them. We have not
experienced this firsthand, but what I have observed and heard from those who
have is enough to make me stay away.
There are three main reasons
my family will not be participating:
Having talked at length with friends whose children are enrolled in
soccer in our city, I have been shocked by the time commitment involved,
particularly for the age of the children involved. My friends lament the
complete loss of family time. All weekend, every weekend during the season, is
dedicated to soccer. Not to mention the weekday afternoon or evening practices. It
is a significant commitment that leaves little time for anything else.
In our family, weekends are
sacred. My husband's work schedule means he sees very little of our daughter
during the week. He often gets home just as she is going to bed. So he looks
forward to having quality time with her on the weekends. I'm not willing to
take that away from both of them for any sport.
Furthermore, our daughter is
only 6. Yet, more and more is expected of her. Particularly in school. Last
year, in Kindergarten, she was at school for seven hours and then had daily
homework. Free time and play have proven to be critical to development at her
age. It is becoming harder and harder to carve that out.
2. Cutthroat environment
One of the biggest issues I have with youth sports
leagues today is the excessively competitive nature of them. They are not
simply for fun and learning. Young children and their families are expected to
treat the sport as the most important thing in their lives. Or at the very
least a top priority.
There are many positive aspects of sports. They can be an important part of a child's development. But change is desperately needed to the current approach.
It is another way we are
stealing childhood from our children. John O'Sullivan, author of the book, "Is It Wise To Specialize?" and a member
of the Change
the Game Project, says of the environment of youth sports today, "The path
so many children are following … is not the best path to develop as an athlete,
nor as a human being. Prior to age 12 is a time for kids to sample many sports,
not be forced into choosing one."
The time commitment and
competitive nature mean young children and their families have to choose one
sport at the exclusion of others. There is no room for them to participate in
more than one, and, once committed, they dare not leave to try something else for fear of losing their place and favor in the league.
3. Winning is everything message
The competitive nature of youth sports today sends the message to kids that the only thing that matters is winning and being
the best. What about sportsmanship? Character? Teamwork? Work ethic? What about
the benefits of losing? And, not everyone can win or will be "the best." What
happens to those kids?
Trevor Tierney, lacrosse
star and coach, feels the focus on winning is
not what is best for kids. "There is scientific evidence that shows we
should actually want our children to lose. Yet it is no longer enough for our
children to play on a local youth or high school team and enjoy the experience
of playing sports."
He says there is a "grass is
greener" mentality among many parents and young athletes who are on the "constant lookout for the absolute greatest team to be a part of." And many see
sports as a path to lifetime success, something statistics do not support.
More and more kids are burning out and quitting youth sports by the age of 13.
John O'Sullivan points out
less than 3 percent of all high school athletes play their sport in college. Only 1 in
10,000 receive a partial scholarship. The average award is $11,000 per year.
And the number who will make it to the professional level? It depends on the
sport, but the numbers are so small they aren't worth mentioning.
There are many positive
aspects of sports. They can be an important part of a child's development. But
change is desperately needed to the current approach.
My daughter has
tried dance, gymnastics and martial arts. She has enjoyed and learned from each, and improved personally while learning important principles I believe will
benefit her in life. She has had fun while developing physically and mentally.
But until there are
sweeping changes to the way youth sports teams are managed, we will not be signing
up for any of them.