In the search of a sport for his daughter, Patrick Sallee had to make a call. Now – like many parents grappling with youth sports – he’s wondering if he got it right.
I signed up my daughter for a test trial, two weeks, at Tae Kwan Doe. After those four trips she was still enjoying it and wanted to keep going. I visited with the Master about getting her signed up for more.
Master: “Contract is one year”
Me: “Contract? It’s Tae Kwan Doe.”
Master: “The only way to end the contract is injury or you move.”
Me: “What if she decides she doesn’t like it?”
Master: “Sir, this is tae kwan doe, we teach discipline…”
So I just committed two days a week for the next year of my daughter’s life to attending Tae Kwan Doe.
She is 4.
As I write this I still think this seems absolutely ridiculous. I get the importance of committing to time and the impact that this may have in many areas of her life. They do good work.
But I struggle with many other questions.
What about trying basketball, tee ball, soccer, gymnastics? What if they happen on the same nights? I refuse to fill our 4 year old’s week with activities every night. When does she get to be a kid? Is this really happening already?
My daughters are still a few years from competitive sports, but I see it all the time with friends. My Facebook feed fills with photos from all sorts of youth sports, weekends filled with lots of activities where the season never seems to end.
Even with the girls being four, I am starting to feel the guilt. What if I make the wrong choice now? She would really like soccer, but I have her in basketball? When is the right age to encourage her to focus on one?
Several studies, including the one below, make a compelling case for kids participating in multiple sports through the middle of high school.
“A study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences last year looked directly at the youth sports specialization issue. The study found that young athletes who competed in three sports at ages 11, 13, and 15 were significantly more likely to compete at an elite national level in their preferred sport than those who specialized in only one sport at the ages of 11, 13, and 15.”
I grew up passionately focused on basketball and baseball. I would like to think skills and experiences with each, helped me not only in the other sport, but also in life. Maybe this was a major issue when I was growing up, but I just wasn’t aware. It definitely feels like a new phenomenon to specialize and focus all the time, attention and money on intense practice for one sport.
It has been proven time and again that exposing children to a variety of activities and experiences when they are younger shapes their mind and improves learning. So why do we have the urgency to push kids into choosing their life athletic endeavors early on? Is it fear they will fall behind? Every parent I ask, “isn’t this out of control?” I get a similar answer, “yep, but if they miss a practice or tournament, they lose their spot on the team.”
If I’m feeling this pressure now, with such young kids, I can only imagine how it feels to have kids entering teenage years.
How do parents keep up? Not just with time obligations, but financial expectations? How do you get to enjoy coaching your kid’s team that practices three nights a week, while getting everything done required at work?
I watch this cycle and can’t help but wonder where are we headed. What challenges will my kids face trying to enjoy but also compete in sports.
How did we get here?
Parenting has changed over the generations. When my parents were kids in the 50s and 60s the general structure had dad working and mom at home. Kids were encouraged to go outside and play and come back at dinnertime. As baby boomers grew up, the structure at home changed. Both parents working, but becoming more actively involved in what the kids were doing. Creating the term “helicopter parents”, where parents are overly involved with their kid’s activities, going over the top in communication with teachers, coaches and other authority figures.
The newest of these terms, the “snowplow” parent comes about with the same intentions, to help our kids develop and allow them to be successful. But there is definitely a downside. The term comes from the idea of pushing obstacles out of the child’s way so they can be successful. Snowplow parents are willing to do anything to make sure their children succeed. This term reminds me so much of what it seems is the going trend in youth athletics.
As parents, we never want to let our kids down. We want them to have everything imaginable. And if we can “invest” in helping them improve at their chosen sport, we can help them to achieve a college scholarship, or more. Who wouldn’t want to reach that level? But, like many things, we don’t often think of the unintended consequences.
Like many things, I don’t think there is a cookie cutter answer. And like many things with parenting, it isn’t as easy as it seems. And seemingly simple choices are fraught with complex consequences.
Each family has to decide what they are comfortable with and what they aren’t. It comes down to what you believe in and standing by that belief. Much like your career choice, your choice of religion, decisions on where to put your kids in school, etc. We strive to make choices that ensure success for our families and ourselves in the future.
The problem is that we cannot predict the future. We can only shape it by the values we choose.
Choose the values first and other decisions follow. Stick with the values through the various activities you and the children choose.
Like everyone else, that’s what we’ll be trying to do.
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Photo provided by the Author