Writing a post about how kids shouldn’t specialize in a particular sport when they’re too young may seem a bit disingenuous for me. After all, as a college coach, I directly benefit from our culture’s obsession with organized youth sports.
In my opinion, most kids in youth sports aren’t playing because they have a deep and lasting love of their particular sport, but because their friends play and their parents make them go. Sport should be fun for even the most highly skilled young athletes.
Beyond fun, parents and coaches should encourage youth athletes to play all sorts of sports so that their bodies can rest. Young kids can play volleyball in the fall, soccer in the winter, and run track in the spring.
They’re still working out and being healthy, but not overtaxing the same muscle groups by playing the same sport year-round. You can read more about this by reading Dr. Geiger’s blog post, How Young Is Too Young?
So what makes kids decide to quit playing?
They’ve lost interest
After a year of playing, maybe your eight-year-old realizes that soccer isn’t as great as she thought it would be…that’s probably okay.
They’re not having fun
Even for my college athletes, I think fun is important. We play games, not works, sport should be fun.
They’re tired of playing
Think about the youth sport carousel: practice a couple of times a week after school, get up early on Saturdays and Sundays to play in tournaments…it can be a grind. I always wonder how the parents balance it all, maybe it would be a similarly good question to wonder how the kids manage it.
There’s too much emphasis on winning
While I believe in the value of teaching winning and losing with grace, if the coach or parent is just focused on winning (at all costs), I’m sure it can be taxing on the kid. I certainly don’t think everyone should get a trophy at the end of the day, but we’ve got to teach the children that there are winners beyond what the scoreboard shows.
They want to participate in other activities
Hopefully we want to create well-rounded children who play basketball and lacrosse…but who are also artists and singers and members of the orchestra. Participation in sports shouldn’t exclude our children from loving other things.
They feel too much pressure
It’s probably the coach in me saying this, but pressure from the moment (needing to hit a free throw shot to win the game) is a great life lesson. Pressure from their mom and dad in the car on the way home as they dissect every moment of the game is probably not the best.
Of course, there may come a time for middle or high school aged kids to focus on a particular sport, but there’s no need to rush it. Ultimately, we all want kids to love sports. We believe that sports are great for many reasons, let’s make sure we don’t steal the love of the game away from our kids.