Thursday, December 10, 2015

Sacrifices for Youth Sports

Today's post is written by Michele Phillips, a senior at the University of Notre Dame majoring in Information Technology Management. Michele is a student in the Social Foundations of Coaching course taught by Play Like a Champion founder and director Professor Clark Power and program director Kristin Sheehan. Michele is also a midfielder for Notre Dame's Women's Lacrosse Team.

I recently read this article and as an student-athlete, related to it.  I think that children and parents alike can find some truth here. 

What age do we need to start specializing? At what age does a child need to stop playing multiple sports so that he can earn a scholarship for college? Can we skip the tournaments over the summer for a family vacation, wedding, or traditional sleep-away summer camp?

These questions are haunting parents right now. As the pressure to stay ahead keeps rising and the age at which children specialize in one sport keeps dropping, it is not getting any easier for parents or their children. The problem is that recruiting is not slowing down, therefore parents are not allowing their children to slow down and they are stripping the child’s childhood away. It is rare to hear of an athlete in college who has only been playing the sport for two or three years; these are rare and special cases, most have played the sport since they could walk.     

I specifically remember crying all night in 6th grade when my dad told me that I had to choose one sport or the other. At the time, I was playing both travel soccer and travel lacrosse, in addition to the town leagues. My parents would race me from one practice to the other, and I would frequently have to choose which one to attend because they overlapped, especially for tournaments away from home. While my parents were perfectly fine with me playing both sports, they felt it was unfair to the teams I was on, because I was not fully committed like some of the other girls, and they definitely got grief from the coaches about missing practices and tournaments.

In addition to club soccer, my summer camp that I attended every summer since 2nd grade began to conflict with summer lacrosse tournaments. For a while it seemed acceptable to blow them off because we were still young and there was no pressure from the college recruiters. As I entered high school, I signed a contract before signing up for my club lacrosse team stating that I would attend all practices and tournaments. This led me to miss both of my brothers' graduations from high school.          
I really cannot complain, however, as deciding to focus on playing lacrosse took me all over the world, and got me to my dream school for college. I was lucky that I was able to pick soccer back up when I entered high school. Though I’m not sure that I could have gotten away with this if I started all over today. I'm now watching my younger sister go through the same process, but with much more difficulty. She wants to play in college and attend summer camp and be able to attend our family vacations and special events. She is having a really hard time making it all happen because of the tournaments, practices and camps that have been added to the schedule over the years. 

How much are you supposed to sacrifice for a sport?
I think it really depends on the child. No child should have to miss out on family vacations or traditional summer camps during the summer because they are feeling pressured to be at tournaments for their sport. And no child should have to give up playing multiple sports too early if they truly are enjoying all of them. If the child is meant to and wants to play a specific sport in college or beyond, it will happen for them, but that does not mean they should not have a childhood like any other kid. 

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