I have two children, one in elementary and the other in middle school. Fall soccer takes up a lot of time, for them and our family. My son is now being asked to join a team that practices year-round, at least two to three times a week. Is it good for kids to spend so much time on one activity? It seems so competitive and it cuts into our family’s weekend camping and family visits.
You’ve hit on a question parents across the nation are asking but is difficult to answer.
Intense sports can be both positive and negative for kids and their families. As youth sports become more practice- and competition-intense starting at earlier ages, we are seeing some negative impacts on children physically, psychologically and socially. It also can impact quality family time, such as shared meals, which research tells us are critical.
Like most parenting issues, early competitive sports require parents to balance the physical and emotional well-being of their children.
Physically, consider if your child can bear the practice and game schedule without undue tiredness, stress, repetitive injury or falling behind academically.
Also, consider the benefits of youth playing a variety of sports which allows for the development of different muscle groups and the opportunity for variety and exploring different passions. Getting enough down time for unstructured play and learning to cope with boredom are crucial for positive brain development.
In the emotional and psychological realm, ask your child if they truly enjoy their chosen sport. Are they happy going to practice? Are games rewarding or only stress-inducing?
Another consideration is that some children might enjoy the sport for the sport while others might be in it for friendships — either reason is positive.
Sports can teach some great lessons but should not replace time with friends and family which are important for healthy social-emotional development. For those children for whom it works, paying attention to other details remains important.
For example, an encouraging coach focused on building skills for the long haul, not just one winning season, can make a positive difference. Consider if the league or coach allow ample playing time for all and hold true to the bottom line that sports should be fun.
Coached well, sports can teach perseverance, self-regulation, self-esteem, and team work along with humility and shared joy.
Especially for those youth who love the practice, the camaraderie and increasing competition, organized sport is a real asset. For others, sports will be a passing interest and parents can help kids understand this, however unpopular it might feel to them.
When considering sports, talk with your child openly about the pros/cons, realistic demands and schedule check-in points during the year to revisit the discussion.
Mercer Island is a high-pressure community for youth as it is. Help your child understand the need to balance competing demands from family, school, friends, faith, and other passions and help them engage sports within their means.
Ultimately, you, the parent, must determine if soccer is having a positive impact on your children’s life and development. Keep your eye on the long game. If a sport is enhancing your child’s social, emotional, academic and physical skills and making good memories, help your child stay involved.
Sports can play a positive role in child development, and so do camping trips and family time.
Cynthia Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services.