My friend Julie’s son is in an after-school football program that meets three days a week for three hours each practice. He is 9-years-old. If my son wants to play on his 7th grade soccer team, he needs to commit to practice three days a week, and devote a fourth day to playing games. My daughter would like to try ballet. Of the four places I called, only one offers a less than three-day-a-week option for kids her age. She’s 12.
It’s no wonder kids are dropping out of sports and other physical activities.
The problem is simple: recreational sports has all but disappeared for school-aged kids. Somehow, in our zeal for our kids to be perfect at everything, we’ve forgotten that they can just have fun at some things.
True, I’ve written posts before about Why It’s Better to be a Drama Mom than a Soccer Mom, so I am biased, but I am not alone.
Last year, I interviewed Carl Lewis, 10 time Olympic Medalist – including nine Golds -about his involvement with the Hershey Games, a great national program to get kids moving. He told me that across the country, schools are increasing the requirement for after school participation, thus discouraging casual athletes from participating at all. “The fact is,” he told me (and yes, I’m paraphrasing, it was a year ago), “less than one tenth of one percent of these kids is going to be me – an Olympic Champion. They don’t need to train that hard.”
So they opt out all together, and that’s where the problems begin.
Once kids are in High School, I can see why more intense practice hours and a bigger commitment to your team matters. But for nine year olds? Give me a break. Some kids want that kind of intensity, and good for them. And I’m certainly not saying that sports can’t offer kids valuable lessons, give them skills that will translate into other areas of their lives. It’s why Wicks recently ran a FIT clinic for inner city kids in NYC, celebrating a grant from the Coca Cola Foundation. It’s why Lewis is a spokesman for the Hershey Track and Field Games. And it’s why I think those lessons and skills should be available to all kids – not just the super jocks.
“For kids, sports should be about kids being active, not about being the best.”
Kids are just as (un)likely to become famous artists as they are famous athletes. Yet, no one thinks that if your kid likes to draw, they need to be in art class twelve hours a week. So why, if kids like to do sports, do they need to participate in them to the exclusion of all else? Because what happens is, kids who are casually interested in sports end up not participating at all. By the time they’re 10 or 11, casual options have all but disappeared. That’s when a sedentary lifestyle takes hold.
It’s hard to think all of this is not contributing to the 20% obesity rate of kids 7-11. According to the CDC, “Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.” In addition, obese kids “are at greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep apnea, and social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.”
Being active can help with all of that: helping to combat obesity, increasing self-esteem, fostering teamwork and friendships.
So shouldn’t all kids have the opportunity to participate?
“Let them play and enjoy the sport” says Wicks. “That’s the most important part.”