Year-Round Sports Are Hurting Our Kids
Remember the days of being a kid in the 80’s? When someone asked what sports you were into, you’d respond with, “Football in the fall, Basketball in the winter, and Baseball in the spring.” Or “Cheerleading in the fall, Gymnastics in the winter, and Lacrosse in the spring.”
Those were the formative years of our childhood. We got to try different activities every season, every year. Some were favorites and we looked forward to that season each year. Some were great to try once with no pressure of tough choices or limitations. If you didn’t like it, it was just for a season and you’d try something new that season the next year.
I loved playing sports for fun as a kid. I played little league (yes, girls were on the same team as boys!) on the worst team in our town. We lost every single game. I spent my time in right field picking dandelions and turning cartwheels. But I loved getting my turn at bat and running the bases. It was fun. I only did it the one year, but I enjoyed it.
It wasn’t until high school that we typically chose what “our sports” were going to be. It helped us learn flexibility and allowed us to experience a multitude of different interests in our elementary school years. It also helped us to use different muscle groups in our bodies, and hone different skills and strategies in our minds.
Now, as a parent, I see this trend toward forcing kids to play the same sport all year round. We’re asking them to specialize in one sport, and if they haven’t decided by the ripe old age of eight years old, too bad. Apparently, age eight is now too old to be a beginner in any sport.
I have seen this happen three different times, for three different sports for each of my three kids. You’d think I would’ve learned my lesson and “started my kids younger” on those teams, right? Nope. Each of my kids played different sports in first and second grade and wanted to try something new in third grade. But so many kids had already had SO MUCH experience, that we were told that my 8-year-old beginner would have to play in the beginner clinic or younger classes with the 5-7 year olds.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? Since when did EIGHT become too old to be a beginner in a sport? When did we decide that our kids could no longer change their minds and try something new? When did we stop encouraging our kids to be adventurous?
When I have asked these questions, I usually get responses like, “We wanted to offer an option to the kids who really LOVE this sport.” Or “My son/daughter doesn’t like (insert fall sport here), so we wanted to give them an opportunity to play (insert spring sport) again.”
I get that most of these year-round leagues first came about with good intentions. However, I feel like we’ve missed something important. Kids can still play their favorite sports with friends in pick-up games year round. Why do we need to create entire leagues for off-season sports? The impact is detrimental to the on-season sports teams, not to mention hurting our kids.
Instead of encouraging our kids to try new things, we have created entire teams just for the ones who refuse to try something different. There have been studies proving that specializing in one sport all year is actually harmful to developing bodies. Plus, many kids end up feeling burnt-out in what used to be their favorite sport because of all of the added pressures that come with commitments and competition for formal leagues. Yes, burn-out by the age of 10.
I see too many teams suffering the impacts of these year-round leagues. We have a youth football team in town who can’t find enough players to field a team. Instead of 18 boys, they may have to tell the 14 who registered that they can’t play. Why? Because many of the boys their age are playing fall baseball instead. So coaches and league leaders are struggling to find solutions.
A 3rd grade cheer squad might have a portion of the girls quit because the fall softball team is holding practices on the same days and times as cheer practice. Spring baseball has lost half of its players to spring soccer teams. As a result, coaches are left on game day with half of a roster or a crumbling stunt pyramid because the kids playing year-round sports don’t show up.
Now kids are forced to choose. Either play our sport year-round, or you’ll lose your place on the competitive travel team. We are forcing 8, 9, and 10-year-old kids to choose only one sport or else suffer the consequences. These pressures are not coming from the kids, but have been forced on them by the adults driving the rules of the year-round leagues.
I get that most, if not all, of these leagues are run by well-meaning parent volunteers. I have volunteered and coached myself. I know it is a thankless job and it feels like everyone is a critic. We feel that if our league isn’t pushing the year-round participation that our teams might suffer. But we as adults owe it to our kids to stand up to the pressure from other towns, other leagues and other sports. It is time to say enough is enough.
We need to show our kids by example how to stand up to the pressure to follow along. We need to heed the advice of the sports scientists, the behavioral therapists, the child psychologists and the pediatricians instead of blindly following the trend. We need to STOP PUSHING YEAR-ROUND SPORTS and instead, encourage our kids to try new things, experience being a beginner again and go play pick-up games with friends for fun.