Kids and Sports

I am going to just smack a disclaimer up here right at that top before I go on.

This is an examination of some segments of our society (yes, that includes me) and our involvement in kids sports. It includes a cold, hard look at my motives and actions as one of ‘those parents’. The discussion does lead into homeschooling eventually.

I was going to start this post with a chronology of my oldest in sports but then I realized the back story to this must be told. Both my husband and I played sports. In fact we met at the ripe old age of 15 waiting after our respective practices for moms to pick us up. I have to admit that the fact that my future husband to be was the upcoming basketball center star was part of his appeal. For him, I think he liked my uniform (I was a competitive swimmer)

I started competitive swimming young. I can’t give you the exact year but my childhood is full of memories of the pool. I know by grade school, I was working out 5 hours a day. I was up at the pool for a two hour workout before school. After school is was back to the training center for an hour of running or weights before I hit the pool for the last two hours of the day. My parents supported this, but they didn’t push me. I loved it. When I look back at all the kids in my neighborhood and all the crap they got into, I know it was swimming that saved me. I was just busy to hang with those kinds of kids.

My husband started sports late. Yes, he played summer baseball leagues and such but he didn’t become serious about basketball until 8th grade (senior citizen age by todays comparison). Between 7th-9th grade he grew over foot and more, finally settling at 6’8″. Because of his gigantor status as a young high school kid, he was quickly pushed through the teams and his non playing status until then was forgiven ;0

I had an accident early in high school that ended my swimming career. I broke 3 vertebrae in my back and by the time I healed I had met the love of my life and found out there was way more to high school then swimming up and down a pool. I was done. Early burnout as studied these days? Probably.

My husband went through high school as our shining center star. He played a little college ball before the burnout hit him. He quit playing as a freshman in college. He didn’t enjoy it anymore.

When my oldest was the ripe old age of three we started t-ball.
It was the age of using tee’s, kids running the wrong way it was all in good fun. It stopped being fun around 3rd grade when baseball became more competitive than the MLB. He lost the love the of the game because the whole atmosphere changed. There were drafts, trades, coaches screaming. Yeah, just not the kind of pressure a third grader needs.

Picture from Penn State

Picture from Penn State

He had intermittently played basketball during the baseball off season. He threw himself into basketball and golf. He liked golf but never wanted to compete at it. Basketball was a whole ‘nother story. He was playing rec leagues and was so frustrated with the level of play. He wanted more. We found a very rough year round league which we all credit with giving him a unique ability to understand the intricacies of street ball vs. basketball. It was rough, it was tough, and it was FUN! Then we moved.

It took a while to find his groove here in our new town but he has done two leagues in the last 6 months. He is looking at local private high school so he is going to play on their summer league as an upcoming 8th grader. And I guess this is where I begin to look at the 7th-8th grade sports mentality:

Most parents I know stopped looking at whatever sport their kid plays as fun and cute around 4th-5th grade. That seems to be the age where the fee’s, schedules, and commitment seems to ramp up. I know soccer parents that pay well over $1,000 a season. There are a few seasons in the year as I understand it. Swimming, gymnastics, dance, the fee’s are unreal. I don’t have experience with hockey, but I hear the cost is sky high. When you factor in travel, time, equipment, lessons, camps parents report spending thousands easily a year on kids in sports ramping up to competitive levels.

It is not just the money, we become emotionally invested. This last season of basketball I saw parents and coaches screaming and discussing at coaches, refs, other parents and kids. We even had a ref call one of our guards a “little mf”…except he actually said it, not the abbreviation. The pressure is unreal at this age. Yet, my kid loves b ball. He wants to play high school ball and so the we need to get him exposure at the high schools he may want to go to. Yes, it is a reality. I know parents who had professional video’s done of last season (and not just on my kids team), had them edited into highlight reels and sent them out with invitations to recruit their kids during the 8th grade season. Did I do this? No. Not that I am judging the parents that did. But I did just pay $500 to get him into the basketball camp at the high school he wants to go to this summer. Am I hoping they pick him up for their 8th grade league? You bet your booty I am! I asked on twitter about this issue and got a response that tend to reflect my thoughts:

kid’s sports.? We spend plenty on hockey and soccer….but it’s so fun to watch her and her teammates!

There have been a lot of articles written on kids sports injuries, especially over use injuries at young ages. Baseball leagues are reacting by limiting the number of pitches each kid can throw in a game in an effort to protect their shoulders. I haven’t seen this limiting in basketball where Osgood-Schlatter Disease is prominent. Osgood-Schlatter is prevalent at this age in running and jumping sports. It happens cause the kids are growing so fast and the stress on their bones and joints is too much. In fact, my son played the last season through this which you are not supposed to do. But, what are parents and kids to do? With the prevailing mentality that you need to be noticed before high school, they just play through it.

So, when we were kids the push was to get yourself noticed by college recruiters. Today’s kids have to get noticed by high school recruiters. Why are we as a society doing this to our kids? The drive to succeed is so prevalent it hits younger and younger. My grandkids will probably be competing for a kindergarten team at this age. I believe in sports though. I believe in the values it teaches: we may not always win but we always try, hard work does pay off, and yes, sometimes life isn’t fair. I like that it teaches health and nutrition in a way that makes my kid actually care. It provides a sense of accomplishment, a feeling of pride, keeps kids busy and builds strong relationships.

But do I believe in the levels we have come to at such young ages?
I don’t know. I really don’t. I struggle with it. We continue to ‘play the game’ (pun intended) but what have we done to protect our ultra-competitive 7th grader? The one decision I am happy with is that we have consistently refused to allow him to play for coaches that yell and demean kids. I know, he will encounter this soon enough but as a younger kid, we have been adament about protecting him from this. I look at some teams and cannot believe parents sit by and let someone talk to their kid like that. We put him in situations to situations to be noticed but we don’t go pimp him out (like videos). Sadly, he is one of those quiet hard workers. Not one of the showboaty kids getting noticed. What he does on allows his teammates to shine. Sadly, we have told him he needs to start showboating his stuff a little more. Harder boards and bigger blocks. We have not let him weight lift yet but we do make sure he trains cardio at the gym consistently. I don’t know that we are doing the right things. I don’t want to push him so much (or let him push himself so much) that he burns out mid way through high school but if you don’t push he may not even get the chance to play.

And where does homeschooling come into this? Homeschooled athletes are getting some real attention. From Shaun White to Tim Tebow, homeschooled athletes are becoming more main stream. It makes a lot of sense, this last season when games were 8 pm on a Sunday night I really didn’t care. We didn’t have to get up for school the next morning. When do we hit the gym? When all the kids are in school of course. Travel teams? Not really a scheduling concern for us. Is this a valid reason to homeschool? Well, it is not our reason for homeschooling but it sure makes this whole sports dilemma more doable. But, we all homeschool for such a variety of reason, be it a religious advantage, academic advantage or philosophically lifestyle advantages, the competitive sports advantage seems just as valid to me. I guess it depends on how much of the rest of this post you buy into. Please, tell me what you think? This is an open discussion on the issue not just my thoughts.

To follow up here is an article from Time (which I credit the basketball photo to): Courting Eighth Graders


  1. My father, brother, and reluctantly I, were involved in sports while I was growing up (I didn't enjoy any of it, I'm just not athletic). I remember the over-invested parents at the rink. Unreal the things that people will yell at children. I know it's worse now, hockey was expensive in the 70's, it's insane now. Unfortunately when people put that much money into something, they start to look at it like an investment and expect to see a return – ie. pro career or scholarships.

    The thing that is disturbing me now, is that I'm seeing this attitude outside of sports. In fact, I'm seeing it everywhere. Parents are competing over everything from speed of toilet training to number of vegetables their kids will eat, and nothing is allowed to just be fun anymore. Kids are going to kindergarten to prepare for grade one, going to preschool to prepare for kindergarten, going to camps to prepare for preschoool. Everything they do has to have some skill building or educational merit, and it starts when they're infants.

    I don't want to go off on a rant that might offend someone, so I'll try to stop now ;) but I really don't understand what's wrong with this society that we can't just let children be children, and why nothing they do can just be about today. I'm sorry, but I don't think sending 3 year olds to school is OK; I know that offends the vast majority of parents in my province who, in fact, are actually trying to get schools to take them even younger, but I can't help it, it's wrong, it's just plain wrong. That's why my kids are home – because despite what everyone around me seems to think, they are too freaking young to be anywhere else.

    Ok, sorry, I guess I couldn't stop ;) and it ended up having almost nothing to do with sports.