In a recent article in the Washington Post, it is reported that participation in youth sports is declining. Determining factors include 1) the rising cost of youth sports and 2) a lack of qualified coaches.
"Athletic participation for kids ages 6 through 12 is down almost 8 percent over the last decade, according to SFIA and Aspen data, and children from low-income households are half as likely to play one day's worth of team sports than children from households earning at least $100,000."
"Sports in America have separated into sport-haves and have-nots," said Tom Farrey, executive director of Aspen's Sports & Society program.
"Youth sports make up a $15 billion industry, according to a recent Time Magazine cover story, between costs for equipment, uniforms, travel, lodging, registration fees and so much more. And as elite travel teams reach into younger age groups, coaching often becomes privatized, too."
This does not surprise me in the least. If you have children and have attempted to play sports even at a tame and recreational level, you know it's incredibly expensive. And the closer you get, especially to competitive sports, you realize that this is big business. Coaches, private leagues, and concession vendors are some of those who benefit the most in the big business of youth sports.
The article, while insightful on a cultural level, calls a foul on this as a great social and cultural ill that is falling upon society. Included are noble statements regarding the concern over the health of children who might otherwise waste away in front of the television playing video games.
This is where I want to call a much-needed timeout.
As parents, we need clear heads when we read articles like this. Warning, I want to throw a curve ball here. I have gone on record several times warning families about the potential dangers that accompany competitive sports specifically. But my concern is not limited to competitive sports. Even at the recreational level, families often find themselves serving the demands of their child's involvement at the expense of much-needed time at home and essential parental engagement.
Why do I think the decline in youth sports is a gift to families?
I don't think sports are bad. Heck, I grew up playing recreational sports. But as this article reveals, youth sports have become something altogether different today than when I was a kid.
But what about…?
I can hear you as you read this blog, “But what about teaching my child teamwork, perseverance, hustle or giving them an outlet for exercise?" Or, “What about developing skills and aptitudes?"
Yes, sports can provide a platform for teaching these things, but sports are not the only platform for teaching these things. That being said, I'd like to present another option.
"Home is the greatest place on earth."
My kids hear me say this all the time. I say it enough that now they roll their eyes at me when they hear it. But I believe it's true. Home is where the greatest impact and influence will take place in the life of your child.
Deuteronomy 6 contains what is known as the Shema in Hebrew. It teaches us that God intends the most important values in life to be established in the home, from one generation to the next, from parent to child. There is no replacement for a parent protecting the sanctity of home for the good of children. I'm not suggesting an all or nothing approach here but maybe a more reasonable approach.
A mother recently told me her son was "retiring from baseball." I said, "What!? He's in the 7th grade!" After years of competitive baseball, he was tired of the intense play and incurred an injury in his arm that required surgery. Someone has to say it, so allow me, this is ridiculous. Just before this young man is about to enter his years of physical prime, he can't go on. Parents, if your child has the physical ability and mental desire to be an athlete, he or she can find full expression in their high school years without you forfeiting the tender years of child development in your home chasing sports greatness.
I know there are exceptions.
Some kids don't have a healthy home life and sports are the only outlet for positive input. I know some families that walk the tightrope of sports and a great home life. I know some kids are just hungry for it.
But let's not allow the exceptions to be over applied. In the vast majority of cases, sports and other extracurricular activities are not good for kids or families. And I see it personally when couples come to my office with broken marriages as another unfortunate and potentially avoidable casualty of busyness. I certainly can't make decisions for you or your family, but I hope to be a voice of wisdom that causes you to pause and do what it takes to make every day count with your kids, with or without the sports. After all, you only get one chance to raise your kids. You’ve got 7000 days.
In late October 1993, I remember walking off the field at the end of my very last high school football game. My "career" was over. Playing at the next level was not in my future. There were some mixed emotions of sadness, the satisfaction that I completed something and the reality that the rest of my life was still in front of me. Sports are great. And they are temporary. Maybe it would do us some good to keep our eye on the ball of what really matters.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Share your comments below.