Too Much Sports

Like Jane Brody in this New York Times article, I should be the last person to find the downsides of kiddie athletics. I'm still sweaty from a two-mile run at the gym. I have written many posts about the benefits of sports, especially for girls. However, after spending nearly every day last week on the edges of a soccer field, I can say that it is possible to have too much sports.

Many parents have unreasonable hopes that their kids will end up with athletic scholarships for college. Only a handful of athletic scholarships are handed out every year. Brody reports, "only a tiny few — 2 to 5 out of 1,000 high school athletes — ever achieve professional status." In sports like soccer, colleges recruit kids from an international pool; an average kid from Spain can trounce any star player from New Jersey. Better to spend more time on homework and less time at batting cages.

Injuries are a problem, which Brody points out. 

Also, when practices and games become a seven day commitment, it becomes a strain on the family. It dominates life. It means no time for trumpet practice or art classes for a little brother.

Jonah's soccer season ends in a couple of weeks, and I am overjoyed. He's done really well this season and it's helped his self-esteem. It's a great way to burn off extra steam after school, especially since they don't get nearly enough activity during the day. He has many other interests and certainly doesn't see himself as "the sporty kid." But, at the same time, I think it's just too intense for him and for me.

14 thoughts on “Too Much Sports

  1. This is about the time where my parents dropped me off at games and stopped coming to every game. You don’t have to attend EVERY game, especially now that he’s getting older.


  2. At least one parent has to be there, because some of these games are far away. I had to drive to Newark for a game last Friday night. Also, all the other parents go to the games. They bring folding chairs, and the whole family shows up. Jonah would feel bad that only his parents didn’t show up. Maybe in another couple of years, things will ease up. We had to take Jonah out of baseball, because things weren’t more loony in baseball. Dads were screaming at their kids in public for screwing up.


  3. Another good book on the topic: _Just Let The Kids Play: How to Stop Other Adults from Ruining Your Child’s Fun and Success in Youth Sports_, by Bob Bigelow, Tom Moroney, and Linda Hall.
    Parental over-investment in kids’ activities isn’t limited to sports. I’ve noticed it in drama and music activities, as well.


  4. When I was young I played a lot of sports- gymnastics, which was year-round, soccer, baseball, basketball, maybe some others. Eventually my mother told me we had to drop some. I thought it was because we didn’t have enough money (we were not a wealthy family by any means) but later she told me she just couldn’t deal with all the time it took. I did ride my bike to practices, but games were often too far to ride to (even by our much freer standards at the time) and she felt like she had to go. (I tried to tell her she didn’t- that I didn’t mind, and it often even put extra stress on me if people came to the games, but she wanted to.) It’s the super-serious parents that get me, though. I don’t think there were as many of those when I was a kid.


  5. I can’t recommend it, but the definitive book on the subject seems to be “Not Enough Love,” the heart breaking story of Timmy, whose dad wouldn’t charge the umpire no matter how high the pitches he called “strikes” were.


  6. For us, the problem isn’t absolute time commitment, but rather how it is structured.
    Every other activity the Raggirls are in — dance, Hebrew School, piano lessons, Girl Scouts — meets at a specific time every week. Hebrew School is always Wednesday at 4, and Piano lessons Thursday at 5:30, all year long.
    Then, all of sudden, here comes softball like a steam roller! This week, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 6! Next week, Monday and Wednesday! For 8 weeks, every single other activity conflicts.
    I actually coach the softball team for one of the girls, so we make the commitment, but it is a HUUUUUGE pain.


  7. Sports can be physically stressful on the kids. I know fifteen year olds who are dealing with problems that are not going away. These will be life-long disabilities and, in the end, the kid won’t make the NHL, NFL, NBA or even the athletic scholarship at the U of their choice due to overwork and other damage.
    The parental time sink is another factor and I am so not looking forward to next fall when we jam in sports schedules around both parents working at least partially in the evenings.


  8. Ride share with other parents. If you have to drive to the game don’t watch it. If you have to watch it, cheer for every good bit of play, especially if it comes from the other team. Pick out a kid who isn’t your own, and is clearly struggling, whether on your kid’s team or the opposing team (preferably the latter), identify something he or she did well and congratulate them on it.
    My rules. Don’t go down especially well with all the other parents, but they’ve done my kid a world of good, and she’d be ashamed if I behaved differently. I hope they’ve done some good to some of the less attached kids she’s played with and against.


  9. As someone who lives in Philly, I can say the less we all know about Eagles fans the better. But in general Harry’s advice sounds good to me. To expand a bit on what I said above, when I was a kid I pretty quickly realized that since I found it fairly boring to watch my sibling’s sports events, they and others probably also found it boring to watch mine. And I didn’t see why they should be bored for my sake, so I’d tell them not to come unless they really wanted to. And, as I was usually a pretty so-so player, I’d tend to feel worse when I did poorly in front of my parents, and worse still if my mother tried to tell me it didn’t matter. It’s great to support kids in sports that they want to play, but that doesn’t necessarily entail attending every event.


  10. I have a childhood friend who spent much of her childhood as a gymnast. She was amazingly limber and coordinated. Unfortunately, as an adult, her body is paying the price (forever) of overtraining as a child. Some muscles and tendons were stretched too severely, and the constant impacts on her bones increased her problems. Her family blames poor training, late ’70s style. At any rate, she is now basically not employable, due to the heavy-duty painkillers she needs. Her sister reports that her doctor sees similar injuries in adult dancers and gymnasts.
    My daughter would have loved to participate in amateur dramatics in the area. According to a mom whose daughter has acted on the stage, each minor must have a parent present during each an every rehearsals. Forget that. “Dear, I love you, but there’s no way I’m investing 20 hours in the next 3 weeks so that you can be a tree in scene V, act ii. Wait until high school.”


  11. The real problem is that not enough kids are in the street playing kick the can or cops and robbers. Because no one lets their kids outside anymore, parents have turned to organized sports to fill a gap.
    We just finished our first season of organized sports (we held off until our eldest was 8). She had fun, but she didn’t get nearly as much exercise as when she’s outside playing, riding her bike, throwing the football with her dad, etc. Also, with organized sports, there’s a big loss of creativity and leadership — kids can’t just make up their own rules and change the game to how they want it. The “leaders” are the parents, not the older kids in the neighborhood.
    I think exercise and teammwork are important lessons. But both can easily be learned in a non-organized sports environment, without parents adhering to a stressful schedule and devoting their lives to carting their kids around.
    Our daughter now says she wants to do soccer in the fall. I’ve told her I’ll buy her a soccer ball and two goals, and she can be in charge of organizing the other kids to play in the backyard with her friends. She complained that she didn’t know enough kids in the neighborhood to do this. I told her it was the perfect opportunity for us to get to know more of our neighbors.


  12. More Philly noise. Public shaming of other parents works pretty well. I’ve used the phrase “be a role model” or “quit embarrassing yourself in front of your kid” with some success. And that was just attending events at the school I teach at. When my daughter was 6, she did kiddie soccer once a week and a boy threatened to “rip her face off.” I marched over to him after the scrimmage, and demanded he apologize. His mom showed up, I told her what had happened, and she made him apologize to my daughter. Calling people out on their bad behavior and public shaming are remarkably effective and underutilized techniques of social control these days. They should be practiced more.


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