Simplicity Monday: Children and Sports

It was a most beautiful fall weekend here in the Deep South…and I spent the majority of my weekend at a continuing education course for my physical therapy license renewal.  It was long hours in class, but very interesting information.  In the Pediatric Sports Medicine track I attended, there was a really interesting session regarding “Youth In Sports:  Are We Pushing Too Hard?” and I wanted to bring this information to you all because it is so important.

This information comes from the medical community – doctors, athletic trainers and therapists -  who love and care for student athletes and who really do want children to have free play and yes,  also to be on the field too,  but in a safe and healthy way.

The presentation opened up with a case study of a student athlete who was practicing a certain sport three hours a day, conditioning for an hour, plus scheduled practice at night, plus weekend tournaments, and was being homeschooled because there was not much time available for other activities.

The kicker?  The student was ten years old.

There were many other case studies of student athletes, who by the age of 15 or 16, had had three or more surgeries due to sports injuries, plus hours of rehabilitation.

The presentation went through how in the past, children played games that children created and ran themselves.  The goal was to have fun, the rules were flexible, teams and the players on the team were often switched,  and sometimes better “athletes” were given handicaps to compensate for their athletic prowess.   This was typical when I was growing up, and maybe when you were growing up as well.  Organized sports started somewhere around the later middle school years typically or even first year of high school.

A lot has changed in recent years.  Now forty million children sign up for organized sports each year in the United States.   In contrast to those games of childhood we remember, organized sports are led by adults, with adult rules that are inflexible.  The goal is winning, being better,  and working as a team to win a goal that is often adult-oriented (ie, MVP trophy, all-stars, etc), often with the best players leading and the rest of the children left behind.  The best facilities are often used for elite, hypercompetitive teams, along with the  best coaches while the “leftovers” often go into community sports where the fields or other equipment may not be as in good a condition and the coaches may be parent volunteers.  (Which in and of itself may not be a bad thing, but this particular session was looking at such factors as safety – for example,  the elite clubs may have better access to athletic trainers and medical personnel on the sidelines when injuries and concussion occur as opposed to parent-led clubs).  Most youth coaches, whether professional or a volunteer,  are not typically trained in childhood development so sometimes developmental readiness cues to play an organized sport are not known and the way practices are conducted completely miss the developmental stage of the child.

The kicker to all of this is that recent statistics show by age fourteen, 73 percent of children who were in organized sports DROP OUT.  It is no longer fun.  My family went through this ourselves last year with our then fifth grader, and I can attest to this. Continue reading