Kid’s Sports: Where is the line between fun and burnout?

Photo credit: StuSeeger / Foter / CC BY

There’s a growing trend in the good ole’ US of A, and it has to do with our kids and sports. Kids playing sports aren’t anything new, I played baseball, basketball, and football growing up and for the most part loved it. My parents took me to practices and games and stuck around as much as they were able to. Then in the summer I participated in some basketball camps when I got older to try and improve my skills.

My parents sacrificed to let me do this stuff, as do loads of parents today. So what is changing? Well, I know what I’ve seen as my boys have jumped in and out of leagues as they have grown up, and the culture is not what it was when I was a kid. It really isn’t even that similar to what it looked like a decade ago. For some reason, parents of kids as young as 8 or 9 years old are now putting their kids into “ultra-competitive” leagues.

Leagues, where the kids have to try out just to make the team, and not everyone plays. Leagues, where the kids are traveling around the area, and sometimes out of state, for tournaments. Leagues, where baseball teams are starting their practices indoors as early as December (when the season begins in April.)

This approach in baseball bears a resemblance to the AAU culture in basketball, where the kids are playing hundreds of games during their time in the program, while parents drive and drive and spend and spend. And one of the problems with the AAU culture is that there are so many games, the kids really don’t celebrate wins or hurt from losses very much, because the next game might only be hours away.

I realize that saying this is a problem might put me in the minority. And I understand as a parent that we want to give as much to our kids as we can while they are young. We want them to have a great coach and a competitive environment so they improve as players, but whatever happened to just playing to have fun?

How many of our kids are going to play professionally? How many are going to get a college scholarship to play a sport? Some might, but most will just look back on their experiences and remember the fun they had and the relationships they formed with their coaches and teammates.

The detriment of these types of leagues is burnout for your kids, and yourself. It can also lead to a situation where the parents have adversarial relationships based on how much each of their kids is playing or not getting an opportunity. And it could also lead to injury. Here is an excerpt from a piece on Huffington Post.

Young athletes, ages 10-14, are often putting in more time on their sport than professional athletes do.

Pediatric orthopedic surgeon, Ron J. Tucker, who’s done a plethora of ACL knee surgeries on young athletes, says the paradigm has changed from kids growing up “playing” sports to becoming professionalized athletes.

Super-organized, adult-driven youth sports leagues and tournaments have replaced pick-up games, where kids organize the action by calling all their friends and telling them to meet in the park in 30 minutes to play a game.

Adults — coaches, parents, league administrators, sport trainers, etc. — pressure kids that show some talent for a sport, to show “commitment” by specializing in a single sport.

Overall, at this young of an age, I just don’t think it’s worth that. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try and set our children up for success, but at what point does it become more of a job and less of a game for you and your kids?

Where do you stand on this issue? Will you try and put your kids in the most competitive situation possible, regardless of age?

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2 thoughts on “Kid’s Sports: Where is the line between fun and burnout?”

  1. I agree 100%. My struggle as a parent with kids in sports is the pressure I feel to have my kids compete just so they can keep up and at least play high school sports. Regardless of my beliefs, the thoughts that my choices and actions will hold my kids back makes me set my instincts aside and continue spending loads of money and even watching as my son slowly loses his passion for a sport he once obsessed over because now we’ve invested so much, how can we turn back?

  2. I think this article is spot on. My son plays football, travel hockey, and is in two baseball leagues. I coach both baseball teams and also my daughter’s softball team. The day either of my kids says they no longer want to play, we are done as soon as the season ends. They committed to a team and they have to honor that commitment.

    I hold no delusions of professional sports. My son is super talented, but the miniscule fraction of athletes that make it as pros is stacked against any particular individual. A scholarship would be great, but we are still saving for college as we are not relying upon a scholarship.

    Let the kids be kids. Let them have fun. Let them have some disappointment so they learn how to deal with it. They’re only little once. Try not to screw it up too bad.

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