Football, Baseball, and Soccer, Oh My!

4 May

Spring is finally here in my part of the country! How do I know? The soccer and baseball fields are inundated with kids of every age, from sunrise to sunset, every day of the week!

Sixteen years ago, when we were having our first child, my husband and I marveled at the way families lived in our new hometown. Parents worked during the week, Saturdays were spent working around the house and Sundays were for church and family. Kids participated in activities but it seemed liked kids were also playing outside more often.

Fast forward four years and we entered the world of organized sports. We enrolled our daughter in her first soccer experience, often called herd ball. This term refers to the way the kids move in a herd towards the ball and somehow the ball is moved by the kids’ trampling feet. Needless to say, our princess of a daughter, who had not fully developed her coordination, was not at all interested and just walked around the field following the other kids. We continued to cheer, encourage and even bribe her during the season to take part in the game. She wouldn’t bite. So we thought, soccer wasn’t her thing, and moved on to a different sport.

On and on this continued with her, and then, her brother tuned four. It was time for him to start organized sports, just like all of the other kids. Now we were shuttling two kids to practices during the week and our weekends were taken up by games. The older they got the more practices and more games. It was a vicious cycle and was not conducive to a relaxed family-oriented weekend.

Now I have the luxury of looking back on these experiences and realize how ridiculous all of it was. If I could do it all over again, it would be so much different. First of all, I wouldn’t put my kids in organized sports just because everyone else it doing it and four, five and six is really too young anyway. You will never get those years back and who wants to spend it standing on the sidelines listening to parents screaming at their little ones who don’t even know what they are really doing.

It is commonly thought that if your child doesn’t start sports early, they will be far behind their peers. This is so, so, so far from the truth. We observed many children on the fields who were big for their age at six and seven and were considered the “superstars” of the team. When they had a growth spurt at 10 or 11, they were gangly and didn’t know how to use their body and were devastated because they were no longer the pride and joy of the team, or their parents. The kids who were smaller, and may not have been as dominant initially, continued to improve their skills over time and became the backbone of the team. Team sports doesn’t always build self-esteem, many times it can break a child’s confidence to the core.

Research has also shown that children who play the same sports year-round, year after year, working the same muscles are more prone to injure those muscles. General outdoor play is better for children because they work so many different muscles and develop balance, dexterity and coordination that are beneficial to team sports. My favorite example of this is from Richard Louv’s book, The Last Child In the Woods. A professional baseball player said that he learned how to hit a ball by tossing a rock in the air and hitting it with a stick and he learned to be an amazing pitcher by throwing a rock and trying to hit a tree trunk. Can your kid do that?

Finally, the thing that most disturbs me about organized sports at an early age is the parents; screaming at their kids, disrespecting the officials, coaches and other teams and the list goes on. But, the biggest issue I have with parents is that many of them think that if their child doesn’t start sports early, they won’t get the almighty scholarship to college. THEY’RE FOUR YEARS OLD!

So what would I do differently if I could do it all over again? I’d go outside and just play with my kids. I would be the one teaching them how to bounce, kick, throw, climb, crawl and run just for fun and just because they’re my kids. I missed those teachable moments that create memories that last a lifetime. What will you do?

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