The days when children could try their hands at sports about age 10 are long gone.
By the end of the elementary school years, many children have chosen a sport in which to specialize. It is likely those children have been participating in that sport since preschool.
Youth sports are becoming increasingly serious business. Competition for spots on high school teams and the potential for college scholarships are driving the push toward earlier and more intense involvement in youth sports. The amount of time and money required can put great strain on families. It also unfairly excludes kids whose parents cannot afford the cost or get home from work in time to take them to practices.
How does your family fare in the course of modern youth sports? Are we expecting too much of young athletes? Some of our Moms Panel members weigh in:
Kim Gleske: I get nervous thinking about my boys and all that goes into them being involved in a sport these days. The most experience I've had is with baseball. My boys do play other sports, but this just seems to be the most important one in our house. We started both boys playing tee-ball at age 4 in recreation center leagues. When my oldest was about 8 years we felt that he may be good enough to try-out for a travel team. I was nervous about the whole try-out thing and how that could make an 8-year-old feel. We decided to wait another year until he was 9. When he tried out he was up against boys who had been playing travel ball for over two years! He made the team and we were so proud and excited. I was shocked to find out training began in December and lasted through out the entire winter and spring with practices two or three times a week at an indoor facility. This was serious business and expensive too! He is now going into his second year on the team. Last year was a great experience. We lived and breathed baseball the entire summer traveling across the Cleveland suburbs. I have to say that I looked forward to every game, and each time I saw my son in that uniform I got an overwhelming feeling of pride.
Some may say that it is crazy to have our son involved so seriously at age 10. I also believe this to be true some days. For one reason, it is a bit more than we can afford. I also think that if we don't expose him to this level of play that he will not be able to compete when it is time to try out for high school baseball, which of course is his goal. It is sad that this is the case but this is what society or at least our generation has created. The playing field is a lot more competitive than it was 20 years ago. My parents would have laughed at spending so much time and money on a sport when we were in grade school and now it is just what is expected. I know that my son will never play Major League Baseball, but this is what he loves. It is his passion, so how could we not support this? For now I will try to stop stressing about how he is performing, his playing time, the money. I just enjoy watching another season of baseball and my boy doing what he loves.
Dana Petry: My son wants to play baseball this year and I'm actually holding back because I know that even though he's 10 years old, he's years behind some of the kids he will be up against. Whatever happened to the days when it was appropriate to sign up for sports around the age of 9 or 10? Now if you don't start by the age of 5, you're pretty much out of luck. On the other hand, I do like that some sports are offered at an early age, such as track and cross country for kids as young as 5 years old through the CYO, because it gives them the ability to get outside a few days a week and get some exercise. At least with my experience in track and cross country, my son was never pushed to do any harder than what his body allowed him to do. He came in last place almost every time, but the coaches cheered him as if he was in first place, giving him the confidence he needed.
Jennifer Matthews-Pate: I believe that sports are a positive influence on a child's life. I'm the mom who has the "whatever-it-takes" attitude towards sports, and have supported both of my kids along the way. My daughter has been involved in gymnastics since she was 13 months old and now at age 10 is a level 6 competitor. She has gotten where she is with hard work and dedication, and none of it has come easy in any way. This is the most valuable lesson that I as a parent can't teach her, and she has learned this completely on her own. On our end as parents, we have had to sacrifice a lot of time and money, but are completely glad to do so because of how much joy it brings her.
On top of the gymnastics, she is also a Pre-Preliminary competitive figure skater which she started for fun when she was 6. Between the two sports, she currently practices about 15-17 hours per week. As long as she is keeping up her grades and enjoying herself, we as parents are making it happen. We've been there for every success and every heartache. My belief is that she is only a kid once and this could end at any time due to an injury or just losing interest but at least she can say she gave it her all. Which down the road in work, relationships and life - hard work does pay off.
Mary Canonico: I think competitive sports can still be just for fun, but not if a child has any plans or even potential interest in playing for a high school or college. My sons, ages 9 and 6, play in the Strongsville Soccer Organization travel program. My older son now plays with a premier soccer team as well. The time and financial commitments are pretty big, but I know we need to do this if my boys want a shot at playing soccer for Strongsville High School.
My older son wants to sign up for football, but he’d have to quit travel soccer and work to catch up with boys who have already been playing football for years. Who knows if he’d even like football, and I’d hate to set him back a whole season in soccer. I feel bad at times that it has to be this way, but we have a lot of soccer, basketball, baseball and swimming to attend. Sometimes their friends complain that they are hardly ever around to play after school or on weekends.