Kids and Sports

Emilie butterflyThis morning as I was driving to work, I listened to a story on NPR, How Likely Is It, Really, That Your Athletic Kid Will Turn Pro?  that really caught my attention. I was amazed to find out that about 26% of parents believe their children have a shot at becoming a pro athlete, and the percentage is even higher in low-income families at about 49%. Compare this to the reality of the situation:

According to the NCAA, out of the nearly 8 million children playing sports, only 460,000 will compete in college, and only a tiny fraction of that group will ever become a professional athlete.

So what is this all about? Why do so many parents start pushing their children so hard, at younger and younger ages, with the hopes that they will one day become a superstar? I don’t remember kids sports being that intense when my girls were growing up, and it certainly wasn’t that way when I was growing up.

I was somewhat athletic as a child, and aside from a year or two on the track team, I didn’t have a chance to be a part of any teams because of all the chaos going on in my household, and also, because parents just didn’t run their kids around that much back then.  I remember being on the first girl’s soccer team, which wasn’t really a team, since there weren’t any other teams to play. Mostly we just spent a few weeks learning how to play.

So I have to admit, I was pretty excited when I became aware of how many opportunities were available to my daughters. We lived within walking distance from the neighborhood YMCA, and the girls tried just about everything, water ballet, swimming, softball, t-ball, basketball, gymnastics, jazz dance, tap and ballet, karate, drill  team, diving, and lacrosse, not to mention the non-sports related activities they insisted on trying like chess club, acting, trumpet lessons, and violin.

Believe me, I spent a lot of hours watching my girls sitting in various fields making daisy chains, getting karate chopped in the face, and knocked in the head by a ball they didn’t see coming.

The thing is, we didn’t really take any of these activities too seriously, and none of them took much time away from their time running around playing with the neighborhood kids.

That is until they reached high school and they each found their true passion. One started dancing her heart out, practicing hours on end, attending classes, competitions, and workshops, for the sheer joy of it. The other daughter took to the water, getting up early in the morning and going back in the evenings every day to spend hours in the pool.

I must admit, it was hard not to get sucked into their excitement, especially when they were doing so well. It can be quite addictive watching your child compete and do well, and heartbreaking when things don’t go so well for them.

Eventually my daughter who loved to dance gave up competing and spent several years teaching dance before family life took over.

My other daughter did make it as a four-year division I athlete, although it was at times very difficult.  She learned a lot of lessons in that process about the importance of maintaining balance and dealing with the pressures that come with that level of competition.

I’m glad I took the good advice one of her coaches gave me one summer, when my daughter asked him what he thought about her starting to swim year round. She was about 12 at the time, and many kids had already been swimming year round for a few years. His advice to her was to hold off on that for a few years, so that she didn’t get burned out.

My advice to anyone wrestling with how far to push their young children is this: let them have fun while they are young.  If they show a lot of potential in a particular sport, help them to pace themselves and keep it fun.  There are lots of benefits to participating in sports, such as the team spirit, physical activity, and mental endurance, and these benefits can be easily lost when parents become too intense and worried about how far their kids talents will take them.

17 thoughts on “Kids and Sports

  1. Great post! Having lived in the same community/same neighborhood for 25 years, we watched a lot of children grow up. My younger daughter played club soccer with a young woman who was pushed to excel to such a degree that she sustained too many injuries to earn a soccer scholarship (the family’s original intent). She wasn’t even able to play during her senior year of high school. She loved soccer and it was a joy to watch her, but the family pushed her way to much…to the extent of ignoring their less athletic children. Their family life was built around her soccer schedule. But, overall, team sports were lots of fun to experience with our younger daughter (soccer, dance and track). I’m so glad she was able to participate before her illness presented. She is taking tennis lessons now…slow and steady…but making progress and enjoying it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The difference might just be “organized” sports and activities and the idea that we need to schedule our children’s lives to a fault. When we were young, we went outside to play. Period. If it led to formal athletics, fine, but it was never expected.

    Maybe that huge percentage that hope for a professional athletic career for their kids are the same ones who believe they will win the lottery some day ??

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Parents do a lot of pushing when there isn’t a good racial reason for it
    Even when I was growing up
    Children know a lot more than they are given credit for as far as what they want out of life
    Listening is something that a parent has to learn as far as a child’s ambition is
    This is a good post Amy thank you
    As always Sheldon

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My parents had no illusions about us! But we did love to get out there anyway. We were dabblers – but the second you pushed us, we probably would have given up.


  5. Interesting stats and reality check! I ended up being a Div. I athlete too. My parents were real relaxed about the whole thing and let me drive it forward–or not. I appreciated that. They supported but did not push. As dysfunctional as I would say my family was, I always knew there was more to life than sports and that they would love me even if I didn’t continue.


    • It is great to hear from someone who was a Division I athlete that was able to maintain balance. That is hard to do so kudos to you, and your parents for being supportive without being too pushy.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. DD has always been a good dancer (in my biased opinion). This year, she’s been invited to train intensively (after school) at one of the top ballet schools in the world. We talked long and hard about this as a family and we are allowing her a three month trial. As flattering as it is, I am worried about the toll it will take on her little 9yo body. I know several other mothers who think I am nuts and that she should just commit all out. I don’t ever want her to lose the joy she gets from dancing, and I hope this training enhances, not destroys, it.


    • I think you have a very healthy perspective about it. It sounds like she loves dancing and has a great opportunity and it is wonderful that you are keeping in mind that you want her to continue to stay healthy and not over-train. Hope it goes wonderfully for her 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is such an important post to all parents who begin to take their kids sport’s participation too seriously. I have often considered if because the parents get so invested upfront with equipping, lessons, scheduling, practices, transportation..all the details , that by the time a game is actually played by the kids there is a real sense of THEY BETTER BE WINNERS!


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