Depending on where you live this may or may not be relevant to you. Here in Orange County, California, youth sports are competitive. It’s pretty tough to make the Little League All-Star team. It’s intense if you play club soccer, especially if you’re on the 1st team for your age group. High schools use various methods to recruit football players to their school, even outside of their school district.
A huge number of parents have their kids in one, two or sometimes three very intense athletic programs. They have a running coach, private lessons, strength and conditioning work-outs, and year around leagues to compete in. Weekends are dominated by travel for games. If there are two or three kids in the family the parents are often split up at two different athletic events on Saturday AND Sunday. Sometimes there is travel involved. There is always an expense involved.
I played club soccer growing up, which took up most weekends of the year. When I wasn’t playing soccer I was playing softball. Once I got into high school I also added field hockey into the mix. In high school I took honors and AP classes too. At the end of 10th grade though it all came crashing down. Apparently I wasn’t cut out to have a rigorous academic schedule and 3-5 hours of sports per day. After a pretty extended period of illness, I finally threw in the towel and played one sport. I cut back to one or two AP classes per year. The other parents and a lot of my friends thought I was crazy. They would say to me things like how would I get a scholarship for college now?
Ask yourself what your goal is if your child is intensely playing sports. Are they really, truly talented enough to make the top professional level, where only the tiniest sliver of athletes get to play? Do they love the sport so much that you can’t stop them from practicing extra even if you tried? Or, are they complaining about practices? Are they saying they feel tired, and struggle to complete all their homework? Do they say they wish they had more time with friends?
Around here many of us lose the forest for the trees. The goal of youth sports is for kids to learn cooperation, work-ethic, make friends, have fun and get a little exercise. It’s part of how we help them build character. Once they show a little promise though we often forget these goals. Instead we are whisking them to practices, spending thousands of dollars and traveling all over the Southwest United States. We are not spending relaxed time at home with our family all together.
Highly competitive youth sports is adding stress and anxiety to your child’s life. It isn’t giving them the release you think it is. On top of that, many adolescents are now developing injuries that used to only be seen in professional athletes. Some spend a lifetime dealing with the problems caused by those injuries. In fact, out of the friends I have who played collegiate level sports, three are healthy and five have chronic, lifelong injuries. Four of those injured five have had surgeries to try and repair the injuries, and one has had three surgeries.
The point of this blog isn’t to condemn youth sports. I think they’re wonderful…in moderation. They just shouldn’t take priority over faith, family, academics or physical health. Please carefully consider your teenager’s future health and current well-being if they play competitive sports. Please also consider your family’s quality time. With that in mind I trust you can make the best decision for your family as a whole.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT