As the school year begins to wind down, many parents are in the process of signing up their children for summer sports. One of the common questions I have been asked by several parents is about how many sports or activities their kids can participate in at the same time. Youth sports today has become very focused on specialization. In my opinion, at younger and younger ages kids are being asked to concentrate on one sport year round in order to give themselves the best chance to succeed as they age up into high school and college. There is more and more pressure to start kids as early as four or five, to sign kids up for a sport or activity and the pressure to do so is growing. Organized sport teams are being set up for younger age groups for several reasons. Many see it as a way to develop skills and talents, while others see it as a path to make money. Peer pressure is growing amongst young parents to sign their child up for an activity because of a fear of falling behind others. This is not new. My oldest son is now 25. The day before he began kindergarten, I received a call from a parent who was starting a kindergarten soccer team. He informed me he got my sons name from a list at his school and that he was signing boys up to be on team he would be coaching. When I told him I that we wouldn’t be interested at this time, he told me that I was making a serious mistake because my son would fall behind the other boys and probably not be able to catch up with them. When I responded by saying that I didn’t think he would be falling behind anyone, as he hadn’t even had his first day of kindergarten, the man got somewhat belligerent and told me I obviously didn’t understand sports and hung up on me. Needless to say, he didn’t know what I did for a living. My son became interested in playing soccer several months later and played until his sophomore year in high school at a competitive level. He didn’t fall behind anyone, by not signing up for the kindergarten team.
The decision to sign your child up should be made because it is a decision you, as parents feel comfortable with. Some kids are ready at four or five to start playing and participating in an activity. However, others may not be ready until several years later. The pressure to keep up with everyone else has become more prevalent today and is putting pressure on many to sign their child up at an early age and in many activities. Participating in an activity, whether it is a sport, music, drama or debate can be costly and extremely time consuming. And, if you have more than one child, you may find yourself spread extremely thin, especially if you are a single parent. While many parents I have known have had their child in several activities at once, I have found that participating in two activities in addition to school or summer programs usually is enough for most. I recall one soccer practice my youngest son was at. A mother came to drop off her son about 15 minutes after practice began because he had been coming from his tutor, and had to pick him up before practice ended to get him to swim practice. Needless to say, she was quite stressed.
When I worked as the sport psychologist at the University of Kansas in 1983, Larry Brown was the men’s basketball coach and told me something that has stuck with me over the years. He told me he thought kids should participate in both a team sport and an individual sport. He stated that the team sports taught kids so much about sacrifice, sharing and teamwork, while the individual sports were the best activity to teach a young athlete about building self-confidence. I have followed that belief throughout my years of work and couldn’t agree more.
In the end, it is still up to you as a parent to decide what is best for your child. Don’t feel the pressure to overload your child because everyone else is getting overly involved. Youth sports should be a great learning experience about success and failure and learning skills. But, most importantly it should be about having fun. As always, your thoughts…..