I’m frustrated and disappointed with the state of youth sports. Kids are being over-supervised, over-organized, and over-patronized through their Little League, Pop Warner, Youth Soccer, Club Hoops and Club Volleyball and Junior Golf tournaments.
The sight of 5 year olds in their miniature Yankee, Braves and Cubs uniforms may be cute, but not when they’re being screamed at and cheered by opposing groups of parents. What’s a 5 year old getting out of adult supervised games anyway? It’s certainly not a love for playing the game. But everywhere you turn there are organized leagues for kids, staffed by parent volunteers providing a safe environment for the kids to participate.
That’s right, participation is the right word, because play isn’t really appropriate. At work I listen to the Pop Warner Dads’ bragging about their son’s participation and performance. I learned of one lucky 10 year old who just got a raise. He now gets $20 for a touchdown and $10 for an interception from his Coach/Agent/General Manager/Dad. (Flag Football, where touchdowns are easier, only paid $5 per score) … Two of the Dad’s are coaches in the same league and spend their social time talking about how they’re teaching their kids discipline, proper technique, and how to look good in their uniforms. The kids' only view of football seems to be through their Dads' eyes. I wonder if the kids are really having fun, at least I know the Dads are.
I’ve tried to make sure my children are having fun with whatever sports they play, or whatever recreation they enjoy. School work is the top priority, and both of mine are very good students, but this rant is about youth sports. It's about my thought that sports ought to be fun and ought to help develop well-rounded young adults. It's about my thoughts that growing, maturing kids ought to be exposed to a wide variety of interests. But it’s getting tougher and tougher to find well-rounded sports programs for kids, as they are asking for singular committment at earlier and earlier ages. Last night my son had his first crisis caused by the sports that he's trying to enjoy.
He’s 12, starting Seventh Grade next week and is trying out for the Middle School football team, the first real football team he’s tried. (He played flag football for two seasons). He’s having fun being back with his school friends, he’s having fun playing and learning a new sport, but… he’s also a club soccer player, and he’s got a conflict. Thankfully he's also a good student and its' only a conflict between sports.
In Florida, school soccer season is winter. Club soccer in the fall and spring, with a break in the winter for the School season. It’s a year round commitment. His club team has a five-year plan that includes national and international travel and, starting in the Spring, state-wide travel almost every weekend. It’s a huge commitment but he loves it. But football is encroaching on soccer.
For now, he has football practice every afternoon from 4 - 5:45 and soccer practice twice a week from 6:30 – 8:00. Great for him, tough on me. Last night's conflict appeared because his football games are going to be on Mondays… conflicting with one of his soccer practice days. For six, maybe seven weeks, he’ll only be able to go to soccer practice once a week. What’s going to happen?
We’re not sure, the conflict hit him last night. His soccer coach, whom I will have a discussion with later this week, told him, that because he would miss Monday practice, he would not start any more. That’s fine. It’s understandable and expected. Missing half of the practices is reason enough to be pulled from the starting line-up. But the coach didn’t stop there.
My 12 year old was also told that ANY conflict with school sports next year would mean he wouldn’t be on the soccer team. I have a problem with that kind of threat.
I have a problem with a coach, with a club, and with the system that tells a 12 year old that he must choose the ONE sport he wants to play. I have a problem with putting that kind of pressure on kids who haven’t even reached puberty. I have a problem with kids specializing in a particular sport and being unable to try others. I have a problem with the club system that discourages kids from trying or developing skills in different sports. I have a problem with organized youth sports that keeps kids from being kids.
As I told my son, I may not like the system, but I can’t change it and I can’t make the choices for him. I can only help him with seeing different perspectives. I can support him and be happy for him and tell him that whatever he chooses is OK, as long as he’s having fun doing it. Still it breaks my heart to see him come off the practice field in tears.
It breaks my heart to see him faced with a decision to give up other sports and socializing with school friends in order to play the sport he loves the most. I would hate for him to have to give up the sport he loves most for the chance to try others and to play different school sports. It breaks my heart to see a pre-teen faced with the prospect of giving up any sport to have a chance to play one he loves. It’s not right to put that sort of pressure on kids. Its' not right to make kids make such stark choices at so young an age. It breaks my heart to see him confused and under pressure when he ought to be ahving fun.
Gone are the days when kids played whatever sport was in season. And it’s not just the clubs at fault. School coaches want their kids to play club sports. Except for football, the high school coaches expect the soccer, baseball, volleyball, and basketball players to spend the off-season on a club team. Many of those school coaches also coach club teams. Genrally the Clubs play at a higher level than the school teams. The specialization starts at 11 and 12. It’s wrong, and now it’s affecting my child and I wish I knew how to change it.
So where do we stand, my son and I? Well, he's a great kid. He's smart, sensitive and a good student. His tears last night were primarily from being tired and hungry. He’s having a ball playing football and being with his school friends. He sees soccer as the year round commitment it is and he isn’t too worried about temporarily losing his starting position. He’ll still play plenty. He won't worry about next year's conflicts until next year… Or maybe the spring…
The Spring will bring Baseball, Lacrosse, and Track to pick from... fun with school friends or give it up for soccer…