I am sitting in a hotel room in Champaign, Illinois, after a day of 8th grade girls basketball. My daughter’s spring schedule includes a number of out of town tournaments for basketball that include an overnight stay. Insane, right?
In addition to her busy life of basketball, she also practices soccer three nights a week and plays games on weekends (when she’s not away at a basketball tournament!) Add to this the fact that she just completed a season of track with her middle school, and you see we have crossed over to the dark side of youth sports mania.
Never mind that the desire for all this athletic activity is coming from my daughter herself. I worry that we are allowing too much emphasis on competitive sports and have to wonder to what end we are subjecting her to so much strenuous physical activity and potential injuries.
I am all for children living an active, healthy lifestyle. Sports are a great way to get kids outside, to help them maintain a healthy weight, and to give them lessons in team work and sportsmanship. All four of my kids have participated in sports to one degree or other during their childhoods.
Yet we have gotten to a place where our lives are dominated by these ever more demanding athletic programs. I worry that we are losing a sense of balance in our family life. I ask myself whether 10 years from now, we will look back and wonder why we let ourselves be so consumed by 5th grade football, summer swim team, or middle school basketball?
To be sure, my daughter is having a blast with the girls on her team. For her, sports are as much social as they are athletic. I enjoy driving a car full of girls to a soccer field and listening to their giggling and chatter. I appreciate the camaraderie of my son’s “band of brothers” on the football team. I have had many moments of pride as my children accomplished positive things in their chosen sports: my son’s MVP award in varsity football, my daughter’s spectacular assist on a soccer goal, my older son’s willingness to dive into a cold pool every morning at 5:45 for swim team practice.
I just hope that in years to come, my kids feel that the good things about youth sports outweighed the negative. I hope the hours of practice, the long drives, the wins and losses, victories and disappointments all add up to a positive influence in the development of their character as they move into adulthood.
Time for bed. It will be an early morning at the gym.