I grew up playing plenty of sports. Yes, I played in leagues, but I can remember being outside from dawn until the streetlights came on each summer day. Whether playing basketball, baseball or touch football, my group of friends were always competing. We would get on our bikes and ride to the local park and easily find 10-15 kids to get a baseball game going, and would be there all day. With Xbox, iPads and all other technology, kids are spending far too much time in front of a screen than out in a field.
While that may be seen as negative for this generation from a social standpoint, they are more than making up for it from a specialization standpoint. Whereas, when I entered first grade, I joined the T-ball team for our local little league, today’s youth are starting as early as age 4 and getting involved in ‘elite’ or ‘select’ teams as early as age seven. While introducing a child to competition is a great thing, I’m nervous that all of this specialization could be sucking the fun out of the sports and even causing burnout at a young age. Peter Berg and HBO did an excellent documentary on this subject called Trophy Kids, that is a must watch for any parent.
As an example, my nephew Charlie started playing basketball at age 5. By age seven he was playing on a team that he had to try out for. This past winter, as a 4th grader, he played on two separate teams and for one of the teams he had to drive at least 30 minutes each way for practice three times a week. He played 50 games over the winter, and when his Winter season ended March 1, his Spring team started March 5. How much is enough? Charlie is also a very good golfer, and has playing since he could stand up and hold a club. As a 4th grader this year, he made his middle school golf team and actually won the first tournament of the year, beating the 8th graders.
Spring is now in the air, which also means baseball season. Speaking with Charlie’s parents, this could be his last season playing baseball. He tried out and made a select team. It should be noted that he played for his school the last two seasons and the team didn’t win a single game in two seasons, so his Mom and Dad felt he needed to attempt something more competitive to determine if the sport was right for him. Now they are driving him 45 minutes each way to practice. They have specifically said to each other that if this baseball season doesn’t go great, that it may be the end for him. Let’s think about that, the kid’s baseball career would be over at the age of 10!
When I heard this, at first I was mortified, but once they laid it out for me, there aren’t many other options. Basketball has practices on Tuesdays, games on Sundays. Baseball has practice Monday & Thursday, and games Wednesday and Saturday. When does that leave time for golf, and far more importantly, when does that leave time for his studies or for the rest of his family to have a life?
At the end of the day, the world has evolved, we are all smarter people, we want what is best for our kids, and athletic specialization is inevitable. However, is having your children play sports year round what is actually best for them? The toothpaste is already out of the tube, so we aren’t going back. That said, it does make me reminisce about playing home run derby with my buddies at the local baseball field. Ten year olds should be doing that, and not spending 45 minutes in the back seat of a car being dragged from one practice to another.