You Are Going to Hate What I Have to Say About Sports

You are going to hate me for saying this. My friends, family, and people I don’t even know won’t like it.

I think childhood sports are a bit out of control. I think they are interfering with academics and take up too much of a parent’s time.

There I said it. I feel better for putting that out there. I know many will disagree and that is fine, we are all entitled to our opinion—maybe it will spur a few comments at the bottom of the blog this week?

Is it just me or do you wonder what has happened to childhood sports over the past twenty, thirty years?

Back in the day, my friends and I would ride our bikes to a park district led “Ponytail Softball” league. We would play our games and ride home. Not one parent coached. I don’t think any parent came to watch us…ever. My friends and I “learned” about teamwork, competition, the value of exercise and independence. Above all it was fun!

It’s just too much!

Today I talk with friends who are parents and when it comes to kids’ sports it is so stressful. It is all about the practices, games, schedules, traveling teams, parent coaching, snacks, team shirts, team photos, and team celebrations. There is an incredible amount of time sunk into these sports and an increasing level of competition built into every activity.

I admit with three children we began to buy in. I even paid my parental dues by coaching basketball four years. By most people’s standards we were not heavily involved in sports. Still, it seemed like a lot. We had to get some balance back before it got to out of hand. We set some limits.

I am not against sports.

There is no doubt that sports have so many benefits. It is when they start to overtake other areas such as academics or parental involvement that I think the benefit starts to outweigh its usefulness. At school, children I worked with would tell me they didn’t have time to read because they had “fill-in the blank-- with a sport” the night before. It was a standard response. Teachers say they hear it a lot. Are parents aware that we are unconsciously sending these messages to kids: schoolwork can take a backseat to sports?

Look at the trends in the news:
• Doctors treating more children for overuse injuries
• Parents holding back or “red-shirting “ kindergarteners for academics but also sports advantages
• Churches are reporting low attendance, one factor -families sports schedules
• School boards that approve funding for Astroturf instead of textbooks
• Cuts to education but not pay-to-play for sports

I have had friends tell me that their child burned out of football by high school, he had played so much as a child. Others say they feel pressured to get their kids to pick a sport and specialize otherwise their child won’t be able to compete with kids in the community who were playing since age 4. One cheer parent was concerned that her second grader won’t make the high school team. What I am trying to say is...everything in moderation.

Maybe you don't hate what I have had to say...maybe you agree? What do you think about children’s sports? Have you ever stressed about it? Has it ever interfered with school or funding for educational services? I am ready for your comments! Tweet, share, or contact me at


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  • Great discussion to open a new week with!

    Moderation IS the operative word. I have watched a group of men convening at a local pizza pub pouring over stats and having animated discussions about players' abilities. I thought they were part of a fantasy baseball league, but they were actually coaches of a ten year-old little league team! There are too many parents that are living vicariously through their children or hoping to recapture their own lost youth.

    Your childhood experiences jive perfectly with my own. I rode my bike to practice and it was rare to have more than a handful of parents to watch our evening or Saturday games. And if we performed poorly at school, we were prevented from playing sports as a PUNISHMENT. Sports were just another play activity - a reward for doing well in school and completing chores.

    There is much being written about how all of this managing and micromanaging of kids' activities can actually become a detriment as a child grows up. Many children are so accustomed to parents and coaches organizing activities for them that they become dependent and lack the initiative and creativity to do these things for themselves.

    One study I read recently showed that kids who are driven everywhere by car couldn't even draw a map of their communities. Kids who walked or rode a bike, by contrast, were able to produce very detailed and accurate maps. My point? The difference between passive and active involvement.

    Doing everything for our kids to keep them safe and "focused" can actually prevent them from developing critical thinking skills. If they survive into high school without becoming burned out on sports (or any other organized extracurricular activity), they may become great team players, but may never know how to actually lead.

    One of the themes of my writing is how bicycling as a child fueled my imagination, gave me a sense of independence, taught me personal responsibility, and expanded my physical universe as I grew older. That lesson is true with team sports, music lessons, art classes or any other activity a child CHOOSES to participate in.

    We have to let our children explore, understand, and cultivate their passions in a way that is relevant to them - not just to us. These activities are for their benefit and can serve as valuable life lessons, but we have to let them learn those lessons on their own.

    And we can't let their education take a backseat to extracurricular activities.

  • In reply to Brent Cohrs:

    Brent- Thank you for your insightful comments and that study you mentioned sounds very interesting!

  • Great comments Brent. I have to agree with your bicycling analogies! There was a point in my life when our bikes were our world. We rode them everywhere, baseball practice, pick-up games, our fishing holes and even to the local minor league baseball games. We bought and installed banana seats, handle bars and constantly fixed our own flat tires! We knew the price of a tire and tube down to the penny! The study contrasting kids that bike or walk versus kids that are driven makes perfect sense. We knew our small town intimately and we learned to plan our arrivals based on distance and the time it took to ride our bikes to our destination! I'm with you! Kids should be put back on their bikes!

  • In reply to rmccann99:

    Growing up- we were always on our bikes...until we turned 16! Thank you for commenting and I hope you return for future postings!

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    Doctors treating more children for overuse injuries (This one bothers me a lot, but, in my situation, it's not the parents in our house that push the kid, it's the kid that pushes himself. He will ask for someone to go outside and throw with him before we even leave the park headed home from practice and games. However, because he is really well conditioned from playing outside early and often, we've avoided injuries so far.)
    • Parents holding back or “red-shirting “ kindergarteners for academics but also sports advantages (Where we are, this is no where near as big of a problem as parents pushing their kids to play above their level. Guilty as charged! My 4 year old played tball with 6 year olds, when he was 5, he played with 6 year olds, when he was 6, he played with 8 year olds and now that he is 7, he played with 8 year olds again. He is already prepping to play with 9 year olds this fall while he is still 7 and we haven't made a decision about the spring yet. School sports take a real backseat to some degree here because so many people are more interested in getting them on the ball field at age 3 and working them out until they are old enough for school ball.)
    • Churches are reporting low attendance, one factor -families sports schedules (This doesn't come into play in our area until All-Stars which amounts to the possibility of missing 4 or 5 Sundays. However, we choose to play Upward Bound Basketball because of the atmosphere at church. It's all about perspective again and deciding what is really important.)
    • School boards that approve funding for Astroturf instead of textbooks (Again, not sure how this even happened but in our area, sports programs fund themselves for the most part and school boards don't typically fork out large sums of money for such)
    • Cuts to education but not pay-to-play for sports (This one I don't even know about at all, no clue what it means....sorry)

    So, that said...because I was a coach in public schools, I can honestly tell you that sports are all that keep some kids from leaving school. Up until that point, the idea that parents are pushing the kids is horrible but I think that many times we don't realize who the pusher is. I literally stand at our park in the spring and try to convince coaches that their 6 year old son is not a bad ball player because he doesn't hit like a 10 year old. I talk til I am blue in the face. I answer "what is wrong with this kid?" with "he is 6 years old" or whatever a million times.

    Now, all that said, my parents never watched me play either and I played organized sports in and out of school. They simply had other things to do. And I turned out ok. However, we spend an inordinate amount of time preaching "parental engagement" so we can't exactly start faulting the parents for spending time at the ball park with their kids instead of at school. If we want parents to be engaged, we have to let them be engaged in the best way they know how to some degree. Then, we need to take advantage of that involvement to help them understand the importance of being involved in other areas.

    One example is the teacher that shows up at the baseball park on Saturday morning even when she doesn't have a child playing. She comes to interact with the parents that are showing up there but not at school conferences. She befriends them on that level and encourages them to be at the next conference or parents night.

    It's definitely a personal call but this is just how I see it...

  • In reply to Jerri Ann Reason:

    Jerri, you make an excellent point about sports keeping kids in school.

    My b-day is in late August, so I was already the youngest person in my class. Then I skipped 1st Grade, so I turned 16 at the start of my senior year. I dominated my age group in baseball, and while I was still really good in HS (All Bi-County, All-Sectional, Western Indiana All-Stars), I wasn't good enough to play college ball at (barely) 17 as a Freshman.

    I quit after one year, and while it was more my own apathy than my immaturity, I have no doubt that if I had stayed in my own age group in school, I could have at least gotten a scholarship to play D-3 ball.

    I can absolutely guarantee that if I would have played college ball, I would have stayed in school and gotten my degree.

  • In reply to Jerri Ann Reason:

    Jerri Ann- being a self-proclaimed sports parent and coach, it is interesting to learn your views on the topic. Again, it is not that sports are bad...just we need to take a step back and look at the level of involvement and the big picture. I love that story of the teacher that reaches out to parents on the ball field that don't attend conferences or parent it working? Are the parents then gaining a comfort level with her and showing up at school to support their child's education as well as sports activity. Thanks for sharing! Come back soon on another post!

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    In reply to Lisa Stiegman:

    I think it is working, I think it means a lot. One of the barriers that we face in this rural area is that often the parents are intimidated just walking into the building. Some because the administrators were there when they went to school there and they see them as the authority figure and won't address the concerns they have because of it. Others had the teachers that are now teaching their children and have the same problems.

    As I said on the facebook thread, if we want parents to be engaged, we have to let them choose their place of engagement? Don't we?

  • What I like about Children Sports.
    My child is on travel team and most of her games are in the afternoon on Sunday and if there is a game during church time, we go to church another day, like Saturday night mass. Sports have provided my daughter a sense of team work,displicine, and friendship. If homework is not done or a project is not done, then no sports. Also as Tara Parker-Pope noted in the NYTimes, girls who play sports are shown to have lower teen pregnancy, higher self esteem, and better grades. So that is what I like about my daughter playing sports.

    Also Harvard Medical School put a study about girls playing sports.

  • In reply to Nick:

    Not everyone has an alternate church schedule. Church service is Sunday morning. PERIOD. If there's something else scheduled, oh well.

  • In reply to Nick:

    Nick- thank you for sharing your comment. I bet your daughter also has built self-confidence and strength from her involvement in sports too. That is great! It seems you have struck a balance and keep everything in perspective with your homework vs. sports policy. Thank you for commenting and I hope you continue to read School Zone.

  • All excellent and thoughtful observations. Perhaps the parents who should be considering the issues, aren't.

  • In reply to banksjeri:

    Thank you for commenting...sometimes we all need to step back and re-evaluate things.

  • I think there should be no and never should have been any organized sports in schools. Sports teaches nothing whatever -- at least nothing that can't easily be taught in other ways.

    And I agree that all sports in school does is take too much time away from academics. It also takes away much needed budget money from teaching worthwhile things to kids. We should be canceling sports and putting that money into music as music has been found to be far, far more beneficial to kids than sports.

    Sports outside school is fine. Have your park district leagues or church softball. Fine. But get useless, expensive, and silly sports OUT of our schools (and I mean from grade school all the way to the university).

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    Ah, where to start?

    First, this post was about the effect EXTRACURRICULAR sports participation is having on schoolwork. While sports is the topic, it could apply to any outside activity that takes precedence over education - even music.

    Second, participation in sports - whether inside or outside of school - teaches teamwork. Corporations desire individuals who understand how to work in a team. (You may have been absent on the day that talking point was issued)

    Third, since we're conflating extracurricular and school-supported athletics under the term sports, I'll go one better and conflate it with physical education. In case you haven't noticed, we have an obesity epidemic with 2/3 of our adult population overweight and an alarming number of children obese and/or suffering from Type II Diabetes. A little more emphasis on sports and physical activity could actually be beneficial in reducing this alarming trend.

    I think you're off message on this one, Warner. Participating in sports (and other physical activities) is taking personal responsibility for one's health - ultimately saving our Socialistic government money in future treatment. Participating in sports is also teaching future corporate employees how to work together to achieve the organization's (team's) goal.

    And lest you should forget, small town residents - the heart and soul of "Real America" - take great pride in their towns' sports teams. You'll see as many of them at a Friday night football game as you will in the pews on Sunday morning.

    We'll give you another chance to reframe your argument and comment on the topic at hand. Try not to rattle the base this time!

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    In reply to publiusforum:

    That is absurd. I have a lot on my mind as I just returned from a 6 year old tournament that ended with coaches fighting and well-meaning parents who are school teachers being thrown out of the park .......and I can promise doesn't have anything to do with whether the games are played through school league or summer programs...there are lots of lessons to be learned including "it's just a game people". As one of the park admins who has to deal with this craziness this time of the year, I am still a big big big proponent of sports and they have their place........and they do teach much that can't be taught sitting in a classroom.

  • In reply to Jerri Ann Reason:

    Sounds like the parents are ones that could use a few "lessons"!!! What a terrible example they are setting!

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    In reply to Lisa Stiegman:

    Oh, indeed the parents were in the wrong in all kind of ways..including the parent that is a school teacher......but that doesn't mean the kids weren't learning all kinds of good things.

  • publius, I couldn't disagree more.

    How many poor kids have gotten the chance to go to college because they received an athletic scholarship?

    And sports are a HUGE business all over the world- not just athletes who make millions, but broadcasters, coaches, trainers, etc. Kids develop that interest by participating in scholastic sports.

    As for the budget money, I agree when it comes to many sports- but there are many sports that make enough money off ticket and concession sales that they pay for themselves. The kids often do their own fund-raisers to help pay for things as well.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Oh, please, Don. They went to college and.... so what? They went for SPORTS not to learn anything. And the ones that "make millions" off sports is about 1% of those that attend. Not a good return, I'd say, and certainly not enough to justify the waste.

    Further the money colleges make from sports almost NEVER goes to education. It all gets plowed right back into sports. Sports does precisely NOTHING for the actual job of a university: teaching.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    I have to agree with publiusforum: from Sports Illustrated:

    By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.

    • Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

    So did they get an education? Did their college experience prepare them for life?

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    In reply to rmccann99:

    It's not exactly fair to peg that group for many people file bankruptcy every year? I can promise you my college education prepared me for life, the part that was scholarship as well as the part that wasn't. And, I can say that college itself didn't prepare me for my current career path. Although I have used my college degree, I only took advantage of the piece of paper for 5 out of the last 21 years but the education I received overall has always been part of my life.

  • In reply to publiusforum:

    I agree with you here - because these "sports gods" were passed through school and had their yes men encouraging them, they never learned fundamentals about education. They blow through their money and are left bankrupt and without any fall-back career.

    And those are the ones that make it to the professional level (rare) for any length of time (more rare).....

    Take my nephew, for example - my brother is counting on him to be the savior since he was REALLY, REALLY GOOD in little league. He raised a kid focused only on sports (which he doesn't really have the heart or the skill to make it to the the minors much less the majors) and he's extremely mediocre in school. No drive. No passion.

    Plus this "teamwork" that people speak of - he doesn't have it. If someone is better than him, he gets angry. If someone isn't as good as him, he's a bully.

    I don't hate the kid but unless he gets chosen for some MTV reality show, this kid doesn't have too many other options for a viable career.....

  • No publius, almost all kids who get a scholarship DO NOT play sports professionally. Thousands and thousands graduate every year who wouldn't have gotten the chance to go to school if it weren't for sports.

    I suppose schools should get rid of music too, right? The odds of becoming a pro musician are pretty slim as well, and music does nothing to bring revenue to the school. How much money could be saved by firing the music teacher.

    Journalism club, math club? Get rid of it all.

    The flag corps? Dance team? Get rid of it all, right? Nothing but classes.

  • In reply to Don Ellis:

    Apparently, being a sports fan, you are blissfully unaware that studies show that teaching kids music INCREASES their ability to learn. So, no I would not get rid of music. In fact, I put the money wasted on sports into the music program.

    As to the rest of your silly rant, you obviously don't understand that writing and math is something we call USEFUL!

    If you are an example of what sports produces, you've made my case for me. So, thanks for that.

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    In reply to publiusforum:

    Teaching kids to be physically active is a good idea too....not just music and art...and I posted earlier but it said I was posting too many kids that do no participate in sports go home and get some good exercise? Very few I would bet and they aren't getting any physical activity at school b/c most states don't require it anymore.....they go to school and do school work, they come home and do more school work...sports= fun for a lot of folks never mind the opportunity to further their education and since when is having fun a bad thing for our youth? Seriously, let's be realistic here.....all work and no play.....makes you a dull me when I say I am not just a sports fan and I am not blissfully unaware that music is a great piece of the is physical activity, so is learning the physics of bat hits ball and the end results is? so is, hitting a volleyball at one angle will render a point for one team and hitting it at another a point for the other...the long term takeaway is that the volleyball or baseball player has a heads up on the whole physics lesson when the time comes.......of course that's if the teachers and coaches are doing their jobs and not just bellyaching because they weren't part of the jocks in school.......I personally played 2 sports, was in the band, served on the quizbowl, was in Honor Society and Beta Club and had both academic and athletic scholarships waiting on me...not because I was some amazing athlete...but because I was a well-rounded individual....and the reason for that was academics, sports, music, and my PARENTS..... not money, not money at all......again, the sports funded themselves...the academic-extras were when I had to sell donuts for activities......

  • Thank you all for visiting School Zone and commenting - lots of passionate views on this topic. Please visit often!

  • I agree with Lisa 100%.

  • Something odd must have happened with sports in the last ten to twenty years. Remember in the old days when people used to tell kids that if they got involved in sports, they'd stay out of trouble with the law? Now some teams' rosters look almost like an episode of "America's Most Wanted".

    Also, think about it: there's always a pep rally before a big football or basketball game. When was there one for something like the math club or a spelling bee champ?

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