Thursday, January 7, 2010

Select Sports

These days, your kid can't just "play sports". Playing sports has taken on a whole new meaning (and a lot more dollars) since we were kids. It used to be a kid's sports experience was playing games in PE at school, playing on the local Little League team, and maybe going out for high school sports (if they were good enough, because in those days, kids actually DID get cut). Now, people start putting their kids in sports at age 3. Even before that, there are "mom and me" soccer classes and martial arts. At the tender age of three, kids can join exclusive soccer teams, play t-ball, start dance classes and tumble at gymnastics. Which is all well and good. However, it's not just fun and games. Since kids start at age 3, parents must jump on the baby sports bandwagon in order to give their kids a leading edge in future sporting endeavors.

My oldest, Hayley, started sports in fourth grade. Unless you consider dancing a sport, which she started at age four. She twirled and spun onstage for a few years before considering a sport, which turned out to be soccer. She played on a co-ed team through the local YMCA. But guess what? She could barely keep up. Because most of the kids had been playing since age three. Since it was no fun to run around and never get the ball kicked to you, she only played one season. Later, she tried softball. She had to play with the junior high team and again, most of the girls had been playing forever. After a season of playing the deep outfield, she quit that, too. And thus ended her very short career in sports. Because by junior high, if you haven't played on a community team since age 3, you're all washed up. Plus, by then you should be on a select team. Select meaning: your parents will pay a ton of money, most of which would be better spent saving up for college, in the hopes that you will be A.) a superstar so they can gloat and live vicariously through you, or B.) get an athletic scholarship (the chances of this are akin to winning the lottery!). These kids practice multiple times a week, often late into the evening, spend every weekend traveling long distances to games, and for what? Their enjoyment? Staying in shape? That's a mighty hefty gym membership!

I'm not saying kids shouldn't get involved in sports. But it has truly gotten out of hand. I've known parents who have held their kids back from kindergarten so they will be older (stronger, faster, bigger) when they arrive at the age to play team sports. And you know what? Smart lasts longer. Bodies get old, injured and break down, but brains, God-willing, go on thinking till the day you die. So, instead of spending thousands of dollars on select sports, wouldn't it be better to invest in a good education?

But what about building strong bodies, being healthy, staying in shape? All important things to consider. Which is why I wish there were more choices, that were not cost-prohibitive, for kids who just don't like team sports, or just aren't "good enough" according to today's standards. Kids get some PE in school, certainly not enough, but wouldn't it be nice if they could choose from a variety of after-school options like a yoga class or recreational, pick-up volleyball, basketball or soccer? Instead of the pressure of being able to afford the steep fees, what if kids could just try out several sports with no stress of try-outs and all the benefits of camaraderie and physical activity?

I would love to see a triathlon training club at the schools. What a great way to help kids get stronger in three sports - swimming, biking and running - while building their self-esteem and giving them the benefit of group training. Plus, a shiny medal around their necks at the final event is an added bonus. They could compete against themselves, improving their own efforts, and benefit from an all-around workout. Or have, as a low-cost after-school option, a group yoga class. What kid doesn't need to destress (for example, after being cut from the junior high volleyball team for not being "good enough")? Yoga teaches so much more than just postures and poses. Kids learn to breathe their way through total body awareness, building muscle and stamina in the process. And there's no "yoga-lympics" to worry about.

I wish more kids would just go out and play. I know, I know, it's not safe, it rains too much, there's not enough play space in the neighborhood, etc. But still......I remember spending HOURS playing kick the can on summer nights, long after dark, and riding bikes aimlessly all day long. Hiking and exploring in the woods and taking long walks to one friend or another's house were how kids spent their days. Now they sit inside and play video games, watch You Tube or text on their cell phones. So, you say, this is why MY kid plays sports. Ok, but along with that organized sporting event comes transportation, many fees, fundraising and travel. It's just not accessible to every family.

I believe if a child is truly passionate about something, and as a parent you can afford to nurture that passion, you should go for it! So, if you have a little David Beckham in training, all the more power to you. But for the kid who likes to dabble in many activities, there should be more opportunities for them to TRY different sports without all the pressure of draining the wallet, the gas tank and a parent's patience. Plus all those evenings spent at practices? The late nights when homework doesn't get done? Huge time suck. I firmly believe kids' sports in elementary school should have no more than two practices a week and games should never be longer than an hour. I know, that goes against all the rules, after all, the great American baseball games lasts two to three hours. But the time required to be "select" at anything is phenomenal. And where does it all lead?

One might argue that a child learns invaluable lessons from the camaraderie of a team sport, discipline from hours of practice and good time management from late-night practices. Plus, it keeps 'em out of trouble, right? Well, maybe. But maybe not. From the high rates of child burnout when it comes to select sports (and music lessons and dance classes, and a generally overfull schedule), kids these days are as stressed as adults! Just think about it........if you were required to work a full-time job, then come home and take at least one organized class a day, plus do a couple hours of "homework" on top of it, you'd suffer burnout too.

I think it's great to offer kids choices. And if your family budget allows, and they are passionate about something, then by all means, explore it! Nurture it! But kids should be able to say they played a baseball game, or shot some baskets, or kicked around a soccer ball without having been part of a select team. Sports has become big business and I believe it's hurting our kids and losing the joy of spontaneous fun and exploration that is natural to kids. No one should be afraid to play a game of pick up kickball on the playground just because they don't have the skills. Sports should be sports. If a kid is good at a sport, and he tries out for the Varsity team at school, and he makes it, it's because he's got a gift. And it doesn't necessarily have to be honed over years of playing (and paying) for a select team.


MAMMA said...

Thousands of dollars and 13 years later - I'm a select team Mom! Racing has cost more than that in just 3 years - Cheerleading was the cheapest - good thing since we were poor in those days!:-) Oh well, 4 healthy, active kids later I am still glad we had the experiences - bad and good :-) I think it depends on the kid. <3

Anonymous said...

I loved your commentary. I have two kids and have seen shocking examples of snottiness, and poor sportsmanship, all courtesy of kids who play so called "select" sports. My son played for for four years for a church team, and about 7 or 8 of the kids on that church team also played on an "elite" "select" team, yes, and this was in third grade!!! The "select" kids wouldn't even speak to the Ordinary Mortals, and it didn't take me too long to discover that... the parents of the "select" kids wouldn't speak to us Ordinary Mortal parents. It was unbelievable. The "select" kids all had huge "select" egos to go along with their super-human abilities. It ought to get really good when they get to be 16, 17 when they can really get into some trouble with those swelled heads.

When my son was in fourth grade, he palyed baseball with a kid who had been his best friend, they did everything together for a couple of years. Once the fifth grade season got close, his friend was asked to join - you guessed it - a "select" team. My son rarely heard from him after that, and after a couple of years, never heard from him again. Things sure have changed since I played little league!!