“If you want your child to play at the next level, they need to specialize and focus on one sport!” – that seems to be the prevailing wisdom. More and more, kids are pressured to play one sport year round. The rise of club teams and travel squads has changed the athletic landscape in our country. No longer do kids simply participate in school sports and take summers off. Instead, at the cost of thousands of dollars each year, kids are playing year round with a club team often at the expense of their school team.
In the interest of full disclosure – I have always struggled with kids playing one sport year round so I come at this conversation with a particular bias. To be fair I should also mention, by my best estimation, my kids have combined to participate in well over 200 different sports seasons. Put that together and what you get is an opinion with some credibility. All of my children have been multi-sport athletes through high school.
There are several reasons this trend troubles me. I’ve seen many families (ours included) either struggle to afford the cost of these travel teams or simply be excluded from participating. It’s also sad for me to see kids choose a club team over a school team. Once upon a time you and your community friends played together and proudly represented your school. Nearly as problematic are kids that do both, running from one practice to another, trying to keep two different demanding coaches happy. I warned you, I have an opinion on this subject. There are exceptions, but this is what I see so often.
All that aside, I want to offer three reasons your child should avoid playing a year round sport:
- Overuse Syndrome – If you google “Dangers of Year Round Sports” you will find multiple articles outlining the dangers the medical field is exposing about this phenomenon. The earlier the specialization begins the worse the effect. Using the same muscles over and over again, year round begins to put a strain on young developing bodies. Without the change in seasons there isn’t a recovery time for joints and muscles.
- Burnout – I can’t tell you how many well-meaning parents (I’m giving the benefit of the doubt) encouraged (maybe pushed) their kids to focus on one sport to give them the best chance of making it to the next level. Only to have those kids lose interest during high school and in some cases quit the sport all together. For many of these athletes what used to be fun is now nothing more than a chore.
- Wrong Motive – I would suggest, especially for us parents, a desire to see our kids play at the next level is the wrong motivation for sports. Athletics should be about exercise and fun. It should be about learning teamwork and how to compete. Sports is such a great opportunity for teachable moments and life lessons. It shouldn’t be about parents living vicariously through our kids. And the constant pressure to earn a scholarship, “at all costs”, takes the enjoyment out of the game.
I know for some, the year round plan worked and they earned the scholarship. In my experience the D1 athlete (highest level of college sports) is going to attain that level regardless of what plan they put together. I know it’s competitive. But what is the ultimate message we want to send our child; that athletics is the most important thing in the world? Or do we want them to know athletics is just a thing we do?
Do your kids play multiple sports or do they specialize? We’d love to hear your stories.