Don’t Let Youth Sports Hijack Your Life

Published on September 23rd, 2014

by Katie Arnold, Outside
Over the past couple of weeks, my husband and I have been wrestling with the decision over whether or not to play soccer. By we, I mean our two daughters.

Steve and I aren’t playing, but the commitment required of us as a family sometimes makes it seem that way: the thrice-weekly trips to the soccer complex on the far side of town, a solid 25 minutes’ drive from home; the late practices that don’t end until just before bedtime, leaving little time for family dinners, homework, and good old-fashioned goofing around; the Saturday games that conflict with family adventures already on the books—an upcoming float trip on the Green River, the season’s last hikes into the high country before the snow flies.

Our daughters are only four and six. It shouldn’t be this complicated.

But increasingly, for children around the country, it is. Kids start playing team sports younger, are encouraged to specialize in a single sport sooner, and are expected to play longer, in some cases year round. Youth sports are on steroids, feeding the widespread competitive pressure for kids to be proficient at everything and exceptional at one thing. Organized sports, once a healthy outlet, are threatening to hijack the lives of children and their families.

It hasn’t always been like this. In elementary school in suburban New Jersey in the late 70s and 80s, we didn’t play many team sports, unless you count kickball at recess. One winter when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my mother signed my older sisters and me up for a Saturday-morning city basketball league—less to broaden our athletic horizons and more to get us out of her hair for a couple hours.

Now, though, everything has changed. Motivated in part by ambitious parents and in part by a sports and academic culture that pressures children to excel earlier, kids are flocking to team sports sooner. – Full story

Editor’s note: The success of highly organized youth sports has been a model which youth sailing programs have followed. But structured activity needs to be balanced by free play. It’s when kids decide on their own to go sailing, or whatever their activity, that you know they have real passion. Those opportunities need to be available too.

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