Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How Far is Too Far with Team Sports?

I recently heard about a book that took on the issue of kid's sports, and the degree to which they have changed over the past couple decades. Like technology and media, kids sports have become overwhelming and highly competitive in nature, squeezing out the unstructured time that is so important to kids.

This is an interesting topic to me, as I coached for several years at a boarding school, including a couple of undefeated seasons on the softball field and a n extremely rewarding three year stint as a girls ice hockey coach, even though our record was less than stellar. To me, the test was if you lose a game 12-0 and the players are still upbeat and ready for that next 5:30 AM practice call, you're doing ok. Winning was secondary to the experience. But things have changed since those coaching days in the late 80s. I'm sure we've all heard of the stories of bad, "win at all costs" coaches and obnoxious team parents ("your kid's screw ups are impacting my kid's chances of being the next Roger Clemens").

Despite the fact that the chances of any kid becoming as professional athlete are very small, parents and coaches are driving kids more than ever. This is in spite of the fact that only .08% of men's soccer players in high school would ever become professional, which translates to 8 in 10,000. It's 3 in 10,000 for a basketball player. Here's some backup info.

Not very good odds.

With this in mind, the book, Revolution in the Bleachers, written by Regan McMahon poses some important questions.

I remember the day it happened. It was yet another jam-packed Saturday morning, and my husband, Blair, and I were facing a logistical challenge to the space-time continuum sufficient to qualify us for the Rally of Monte Carlo. We had to get two kids to three games in 2 cities all before lunchtime. Hayley, then 11, had a soccer game at 9 in Alameda on Bay Farm Island, a lush, green soccer paradise on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay 20 minutes from our home near downtown Oakland. Kyle, then 14, had a soccer game at 10 in the Oakland Hills, 20 minutes in the opposite direction, at a junior college field surrounded by redwoods, laurel and eucalyptus, where just before turning into the parking lot you can catch spectacular views across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. I stuffed Hayley in the minivan and Blair whisked Kyle into the Honda. Gentlemen, start your engines.

When Hayley's game was finished we zoomed up to catch the rest of Kyle's game and then switch cars, so Hayley could change out of her soccer clothes into her volleyball uniform while her dad drove to her Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) game in East Oakland, fifteen minutes in yet another direction. En route she'd wolf down a sandwich I'd packed as she exchanged her shin guards for knee pads, while I dropped Kyle back home (luckily his baseball season was still three months away) and then rushed to her game, hoping to get there before the ref's whistle.

Somewhere between the girls' post-game snack on the island and the handoff in the hills, it hit me: This is nuts.

Like many folks, I have experienced the new "summer break" phenomenon, where each day is so structured with sports and other activities, that the days and weeks may be more hectic than during the school year. Author McMahon writes about this in a recent commentary.
For many kids, traditional nature-oriented summer camps have been superseded by sports camps. So instead of paddling a canoe and sleeping under the stars, children are focused on keeping their skills sharp and learning new strategies for winning. There's a high value placed on perpetually striving to be better and little value on just being.
I need to get the book and read it. Will report back on some thoughts once that's done.