Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sports Overload: Blame the kids or their parents?

Second-graders playing contact football. 4-year olds clenching hockey sticks. Music movement classes for 6-month olds. 12-year old boys spending more time playing and practicing basketball than they do in school classrooms each day. Accelerated soccer treadmill training for 7-year olds. 9-year old ballerinas dancing for hours in studio classes. Who is responsible for all of these "over-the-top" activities for kids? You and I. Their loving (and competitive) parents.

As I parent, I am certainly guilty. Like the rest of you, I've spent hours driving kids to activities, bundling up for cold Spring baseball games, cheering on my boys at the ice arena, and volunteering time to sew sequins on tutus. I believe that team sports and club involvement is important for kids to maintain their physical health and to promote working together as a team. But when does it get to be too much for both parents and kids?

Activities for kids really have changed over the years. I remember baseball and softball starting in 7th grade, not when I was 7. Track started in high school. We didn't even have a gymnastics or tennis team. I think the only organized sport that started by the 4th grade was wrestling. If you come from Central Wisconsin, you will understand the logic behind breeding young wrestlers. However, today it seems if your child doesn't start seriously playing a sport at a young age, they are pretty much shut out by the time they are a teenager.

Only because I live in hockey-obsessed Minnesota, let me use hockey as an example. Some kids start working with a hockey stick and skating when they are three. Mini-mites starts when they are 4- or 5- years old with weekly practices and games. Your time and monetary hockey commitment only escalates from here. Boys and girls skate daily at all hours of the day and night. Some kids are out there every day. Parents seem to have the dream that their kid will play for the Minnesota Wild one day. Unless they are incredibly gifted, they have a slim chance of even playing on their Varsity team in high school much less being recruited for college or professional hockey.


Ballet is my other extreme example. Parents are completely sucked into the prima ballerina dream when they enroll their sweet 5-year old daughter for ballet. (I was one of those parents.) As she progresses throughout the years it becomes tougher and more expensive. Parents and their dancers are rewarded by seeing their child dancing on stage for the Nutcracker or Swan Lake, but at what cost? Broken feet, sprained ankles, damaged psyches from overzealous, critical instructors. All for the ballet dream that is unattainable for most dancers. If they do reach the pinnacle of becoming a principal dancer, their career is basically over before they hit the ripe old age of 30.

As a parent, I guess that I am to blame. I want my children to succeed in sports, music, dance, or whatever they choose to pursue. My problem lies in having three kids and a vast array of sports and musical activities. How do you possibly choose? Some parents choose only one sport for their child and set them on the fast-track for years. I would bet that a  lot of these kids do get burned out before they reach their prime. Other parents dabble in everything, resulting in an over scheduled child and stressed out parents who shuttle their kids to and from activities while volunteering to manage the teams. How do parents squeeze in a full-time job when practices start before the end of rush hour?

Proving that I am just as guilty as everyone else on this issue, I now must take my son to his outdoor baseball practice despite the fact that it is only 30° outside and the baseball field is covered in 6 inches of snow. An obsession? Perhaps.
Spring baseball—Minnesota style

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