Do Competitive Sports Start Too Young?

BlogHer Original Post

When I was growing up in the 1970's and 80's, I was not involved in any community or school sports.  As far as I knew, competitive sports began in junior high school and kids would be shuttled in buses after school to play against other schools in the area.  There were no soccer moms, no minivans, and no kids playing sports competitively in elementary school.  Of course I may be totally mistaken, but I don't remember a huge emphasis placed on youth sports as there is today. 

Since my parents never stressed athletics when I was growing up, I wanted to provide these opportunities to my kids by being a good soccer mom.  When my son was four, I signed him up in our town soccer league.  Now at four years of age, kids are still in preschool and just a year or two out of diapers.  But apparently, most of them are mature enough to participate in soccer (emphasis placed on "most").  I watched in wonder as my son transformed from a confused toddler who kept kicking the ball out of bounds to one of the top scorers on his team from the fall to spring seasons.  It was definitely a positive experience for both of us.  He was playing in the youngest age group, the U6 league, or "under age six".  The age of the players ranged from four and a half to six.  By the second year of U6 soccer, he was running circles around the other players and scoring up to eight goals per game.  For the spring season of that year, at age six, I appealed to the soccer board to allow him to play in the U8 (under age eight) league.  Thankfully, he adjusted well to the more structured practices and more competitive games.  At this level, emphasis is placed on passing and teamwork.  At the end of this season, I heard all the parents talking about the tryouts for the U10 travel team.  The kids who were age eight were eligible for tryouts.  Since I didn't have interest in pushing my son to that level before his age, I figured that his time would come naturally in two years.

During my son's first official year in U8 soccer, he was in first grade and among his peers who were either in first or second grade.  At the same time we also enrolled him in a Learn to Play Hockey program which had one practice and one game per week.  This meshed nicely with his soccer schedule which also had one practice and one game per week.  In the spring, all the hockey parents were abuzz about the tryouts for the Mites team (age 8 and under). Now this team had fees in the 4-digit range and required two practices and two games per week including travel.  At four hours a week plus travel, it would mean that soccer would have to be dropped.  We opted not to tryout and felt that he could continue in the Learn to Play program.  Plus we would be joining the ranks of infamous hockey parents.  The Learn to Play Hockey level is fantastic, but once you get to the organized team level, some parents inevitably get out of control.  Perhaps it's the large sums of money they are investing into the sport.  A brave 9-year-old spoke out about this negative behavior in this video urging to parents to stop yelling and start cheering more.  The video has appealed to many and and its positive message is spreading around the Internet like wildfire.

At the end of my son's spring season of U8 soccer, his soccer coach insisted that he was ready for the U10 travel team, even though he didn't try out because he was underage at seven.  His coach went ahead and appealed to the board for us.  All around us, in hockey and in soccer, the push was to get your children to play at a competitive level as soon as possible.  We let it play out and in the beginning of second grade, my son started playing in the competitive U10 travel soccer league.  The switch to the competitive level went fine and again my son held his own among the older players. However, this pushed our soccer schedule to two practices and one travel game per week.  Although it didn't conflict with the times of the Learn to Play Hockey program, it was just too much, so we dropped hockey. Our younger daughter was also starting in youth sports and we can only schlep the kids so much! 

But why the huge time commitment to youth sports when kids are only seven years old?  There is no way to carry more than one sport at a time.  Why do kids need to specialize in youth sports by the time they are in second grade? 

Adam runs down the ball

My competitive soccer star.

Contributing editor Angela contemplates juggling sports, school and work over at mommy bytes.


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