Kids & Sports: How Much Is Too Much…or Not Enough?

It wasn’t my proudest time as a youth sports parent. I broke one of my cardinal rules by allowing one of my sons to not only be overscheduled, but way overscheduled.

For a period of about six weeks, he played on a select baseball team, an AAU basketball team and competed with a track and field club. One Sunday in May, he had an early morning track meet, an afternoon baseball game and an evening basketball game. Oh yeah, and the track meet was two hours away.

Our day went something like this:

4:45 a.m. Wake up.

6:00 a.m. Eat breakfast as we drive for two hours.

8:30–10:30 a.m. Compete in the track meet (one race and one field event).

10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. Drive home, and eat along the way.

12:45 p.m.–2:30 p.m. Shower and rest at grandparents’ home (near the baseball field).

3:30–5:45 p.m. Baseball game followed by a snack.

7:00 p.m. AAU basketball game.

8:50 p.m. Return home (16 hours, 200 plus miles and three sports later…).

Normally we encourage our children to participate in one sport per season, but at certain times of the year, seasons overlap and my boys will play two sports at once. It’s usually not a big deal. But this day was over the top. Luckily it was the only time during the six weeks that all three sports happened on the same day.

Looking back, though, there were some positives. The time spent together was priceless. And my son learned a little something about planning and responsibility. He was 10 years old at the time.

Before his big day, I asked him to write down all the equipment, uniforms and other items he would need. Since two of the sports were outdoors and the temperatures were high, he had to remember sunscreen and plenty of water. He had to estimate how many drinks and what kinds of snacks he would need. What would be healthy alternatives to fast food?

He spent nearly two hours preparing, thinking, making lists and laying out his stuff, sport by sport. I would consider that time well spent.

Tips to Avoid Being Overscheduled
Some parents won’t budge like I did. It’s one sport per season, period, but here’s where it gets hard—many children will show an early aptitude for a sport. Basketball, for instance, used to be a winter sport. Now you can play it during fall, winter, spring and summer. It’s the same with many other sports. So if your kid is good, they will be encouraged to specialize and play more than one season of that sport throughout the year.

And what about trying new sports? There’s a lot of value, physically and emotionally, in playing multiple sports. So, how do you balance playing a variety of sports without compromising an increased focus on one specific sport. It’s tricky. Usually the answer is two sports per season.

When helping plan my children’s schedule, I make sure:

  • There are periods of the year with nothing organized scheduled, usually one month;
  • My son who plays baseball takes three consecutive months off without throwing;
  • They try unorganized sports just for fun. This could include hitting a tennis ball or learning to throw a Frisbee well.

If Your Child Doesn’t Want to be Involved at All
For many kids, sports stop being or never were fun. Some go from being overscheduled to dropping out altogether. A lot of children leave organized sports by ages 12 or 13. If you value the lessons taught by youth sports, one option at this point is to help your child find a different sport other than what they have been playing.

This might involve moving from a team sport to an individual sport, like soccer to martial arts. Or it could mean switching from a mainstream team sport like basketball to an emerging sport like lacrosse or rowing. There are many possibilities—track or cross country, bowling, skiing, rugby, etc.

Remember, children have different needs and desires at various points of time. Keep the lines of communication open with them. Are they having fun? Do they want to try something different?

Be a good guide and try to help them find the right balance.

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