Today is another look at the wonderful book “Completing The Circle” by Thomas Poplawski and available as a free ebook. Today’s chapter is about “Children and Sports: Finding A Balance”, which is an area in which I have some personal experience with my own children and what we have found to work and not work.
The hurried child syndrome has extended to the world of sports. In a world where children often played pick ups games unsupervised by any adult for long periods of time, the sporting realm has now turned into teams organized and run by adults, with adult rules of play, uniforms and other realms of organization that used to be relegated until the high school level. This I can attest from my own personal experience.
Poplawski writes the following, which is also something I have personally seen as a pediatric physical therapist:
The growing muscles and bones of young children are not strong enough for
the rigorous, repetitive training and practice regimens used by adult athletes. When
these regimens are imposed on children, problems arise. Overuse injures are so
common that “pediatric sports medicine” is now a recognized medical specialty.
Tendonitis is a very common problem among child athletes. Stress fractures, caused
by repeated overtaxing of the bones that are not yet fully calcified, are also very
common. To make matters worse, almost a quarter of all children with athletic
injuries are—according to a study by the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission—
encouraged by parents and coaches to continue playing.
Poplawski writes that there is no proven advantage of a child being involved in an organized, team sport until the ages of eight or nine, and I would argue that really the age for organized sports, which used to be about the age of middle school, really is most suited for those 12 and up.
Sports really impact family life. It is difficult to see when your child is younger and doing something organized once a week how this can grow over time into more and more practices and competitions or games. Many children start out playing once a week or so, and then if they are a “good” player, this blossoms into more teams, traveling teams, more practices, more competitions. If you have young children, I urge to think about when you start a child in a sport and how fast this might progress if your child is a good player.
The other issue about sports is one that Poplawski brings up and that is that in the past, when children did play sports, they often did not play the same sport the entire year. This is often the case now, and goes back to the physical stresses the young and growing body incurs in this.
Children need a lot of unstructured time, probably much more than what the typical family gives their children. Children become used to going, going, going and often will not settle into any kind of meaningful play if one is out of the home every day of the week.
However, sports can play a truly important role for those entering puberty. Poplawski writes:
For teenagers, sports and physical activity are very important. They tend to
have a surplus of energy that needs to be channeled. When those energies can find
no focus, the three temptations of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” become overly
seductive and the dangers of teenage depression and obesity rear up. Sports and
physical disciplines such as dance, eurythmy, and martial arts, as well as drama
and music are ideal at this time. Unfortunately, with the current emphasis on
early sports, many young people are burnt out by the time they reach high school.
Having played a hundred soccer games a year before they set foot in high school,
they are ready to take a rest. The high dropout rate in youth sports means that
when young people really need this outlet in their adolescent years, many have
already given up on it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released the following statement in 2000:
Those who participate in a variety of sports and specialize only after reaching
puberty tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries and adhere
to sports play longer than those who specialize early.
If you live in a neighborhood and have children below the age of 12, I urge you to take the lead and organize some neighborhood get togethers to play kickball or baseball. Make balls and other equipment available. This can be a wonderful alternative to the organized competitive model and great introduction for grades-aged children to play.