Saying No to Kids’ Sports Intensity

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I know you’ve seen it becoming more and more prevalent on Facebook. The “martyr post,” where a parent glorifies how busy they are over the weekend with their kids’ sports schedule.

Youth sports is the new keeping up with the Joneses. — Michael S. Rosenwald

Finding a balance between a peaceful life and encouraging your child’s interests (with the way organized sports work today) can feel futile. Is this the situation in your community, too?

The most talented kids play on travel teams beginning at age 7 (or sometimes younger), even though many athletes bloom much later; the best coaches (often dads who are former college athletes) manage travel teams, leaving rec leagues with helpful but less knowledgeable parents in charge.  Coaches of elite teams pressure kids to play only one sport, even though studies show this leads to injuries, burnout, and athletes who aren’t well rounded. [Source: Washington Post]

I’m looking to you for additional inspiration today. Below is a story about how our family has tried to deal with sports intensity in our quest toward Becoming UnBusy, but I know each family and community presents unique challenges. Let’s support one another by sharing more ideas. Please leave your insights in the comments below or join our discussion here on Facebook.

In our area, private clubs compose a large percentage of the opportunities available. When our girls were young, we introduced them to a variety of activities including soccer, piano, swimming, softball, painting, basketball, ballet, skiing, and tennis. Over time, each of these activities demanded more and more required practice for continued participation. Slowly things like soccer, piano, and ballet disappeared from our lives as the girls began to focus their interests.

One of our daughters is naturally athletic. When she was nine-years-old (in fourth grade), she advanced to a group in her private swim club that was practicing five days a week. Yes, five days a week. They’d practice from five o’clock to seven, four weekday evenings and then also on Saturday mornings. Absurd, right?

Or is it?

Youth sports is the new keeping up with the Joneses. — Michael S. Rosenwald *This quote. So true. What an interesting parenting post on kids sports intensity.

The swim club is almost like a second family to her. My daughter learned to swim through the club with weekly lessons when she was four. She’s known the club coaches as long as she can remember and they are stellar teachers. The team is fantastic. And most importantly, she loves going to practice with her friends.

I was stumped — Should our daughter specialize in a sport when she is nine years old? 

My husband Shad has always been a non-conformist. (Sometimes I love that about him and other times it drives me crazy.) His response? She will not be practicing five days a week, “She’ll continue to go Tuesday and Thursday, and if she feels like it, maybe Saturdays for fun.”

Me (the rule follower) is all, “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Are they going to allow you to do that?”

Did you catch that? Will the private club “allow us” to decide what is best for our daughter?

Here’s the catch in all of this sports stuff, it doesn’t seem like it, but the truth is… the parents hold the cards. In many scenarios, it is the enrollment fees (our dollars) that fund a large percentage of the activities. Your voice matters.

Here’s what happened.

We enrolled her for the advanced five-practice swim session, and she attended three days a week. Ah, yeah. We paid for five days a week and sent her three days. We are a frugal family, so that was painful. However, we knew coaches had to be paid for five days, even if we chose to utilize three days. Over time, the swim club modified their pricing structure and began to offer a drop-in rate. Your voice matters.

We saw a similar scenario with the Nordic racing team in our community. Our daughters learned to cross country ski through the private Nordic club when they were tiny tikes. As their skills grew, so did the time commitment. The club has an amazing middle school team that is pretty intense. They practice three nights a week and have races every weekend (sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday) throughout the winter.

Youth sports is the new keeping up with the Joneses. — Michael S. Rosenwald *This quote. So true. What an interesting parenting post on kids sports intensity.

Over time, the club began offering two tracks for young skiers: a developmental team and racing team. Both have fantastic coaches, but now kids are able to choose to participate at a level which meets different athlete and family needs. Your voice matters.

Part of our family’s quest in Becoming UnBusy is teaching our kids to stand up for their needs. We’ve got to teach them it is ok to go against societal norms and push back.

When you know how to use it, disobedience can be a virtue. — Paulo Coelho

I can imagine individual sports, such as swimming or skiing, are easier to manage. Let’s talk a bit about team-play sports like basketball, soccer, etc. How are you pushing back or finding balance? Please leave your insights in the comments below or join our discussion here on Facebook.

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Let’s get more parents involved in this discussion. Share this post on your Facebook feed and see what your friends have to say!

Youth sports is the new keeping up with the Joneses. — Michael S. Rosenwald *This quote. So true.

When you know how to use it, disobedience can be a virtue. *We need to teach our children to stand up for themselves by example. Interesting read.

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