Adults, get a grip! I mean really. A high school pitcher in Rochester, Washington last week threw 194 pitches over 14 innings in his district tournament game, and the best his clueless coach could come up with for an explanation was that he didn’t think the kid was tiring. Dr. James Andrews, the guru when it comes to performing the infamous Tommy John elbow operation for major league pitchers, says that a large percentage of the problems with the big leaguers linked back to minor injuries when they were kids in youth baseball. And he and other experts recommend that young pitchers take 3-4 months off each year from throwing, and instead develop other muscles by playing a variety of sports. Fat chance of that happening in this age of ultra competitive select sports.
The mantra for young athletes today is work hard, play more, get more exposure to college and professional scouts and coaches, and get recognized. Big time recruiters who used to show up just at high school games now routinely are seen at grade school show case tourneys. There is a lot of time, money, and energy invested in little Johnny and Jane’s athletic career, which makes it hard for kids to take time off or quit because they are so afraid of disappointing their parents, coaches, and teammates. And it encourages them to work and play through pain when they should be resting and rehabbing.
When kids are left to their own devices in unsupervised, unstructured sports activities, overuse injuries are rarely seen. It’s only when adults step in and start to change the intention for playing that troubles ensue. Instead of the focus being playing for the love of the game and to have fun with your buddies, it shifts into a win-at-all costs mentality with college scholarships and the pros becoming the Holy Grail. Many kids quit playing sports by middle school with the main reasons being it was no longer fun and the coaches were too intense.
I fully understand the potential value of playing sports: learning new skills, learning the value of hard work and persistence, learning how to be a good winner and loser, teamwork, having fun with friends and making new ones. But I think you can learn those lessons playing 15 games a season, not the 60-80 baseball games travelling teams play each summer. I’d rather kids have plenty of time to go on vacation with their families, go to some non-sports related summer camps, and God forbid, to have some free time to follow their own interests. It infuriates me when girls can’t come to a week of my summer camp because their soccer or cheerleading coach won’t let them miss practice that week. Parents have to literally beg these coaches to allow their kids a few days off to go on vacation with their families. And that is ridiculous!
Parents take charge! Make participation in sports or any activity first and foremost be about having fun. Take charge of your time: only one sport and team a season; have many months off for any sport they engage in; encourage your budding athletes to try non-sports activities like art and theater and building things. Help them become well-rounded and to have balance in their lives. Ensure that most nights you can sit down to dinner as a family and to have more than enough down time for unsupervised and unstructured play. Don’t allow your family to get caught up in the frantic, competitive rat race that youth sports have become. Let balance, moderation, and common sense rule the day, not the culture or keeping up with the Jones’s kids.