To everything, there is a season, turn

Sports seasons have disappeared. Children are choosing to specialize in a sport too early. Pre-teen kids should be allowed to experience the seasons, where they still exist.

It seems sports seasons exist only in schools. And even there by rule only.

In the classroom children are told decisions should be made after all the options have been tried and considered. On the field or court the message received is to specialize. Both call for dedication to get better.

Children are not for school sports; school sports are for children. As they grow, learn, and build skills they begin to find their best sport. A few will be champions of a sport. They all learn to be champions of something.

Specialization is not just in athletics. Choosing an instrument for the band, a role in the school play, or a style of debating is a call to specialize for the team. Those choices should not be forever. Athletes are making “forever choices.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently focused policy statements on pre-teen youths who specialize in a single sport. Their conclusion was that specializing too early, too much, year-round and never-ending seasons contribute to serious health risks.

Steven Anderson, chairman of the organization’s Committee of Specialization in Children said, “The returns for this early investment of time and energy do not seem to justify the costs.”

School coaches and athletic administrators offer programs in which kids can participate in a range of activities which build self-esteem and athletic benefits.

So why has the number of kids specializing in one sport continued to increase? Is it really overzealous parents, overlapping seasons and win-at-any-cost coaches?

Headlines and trends give curious answers:

A sideline fight between fathers at a pickup hockey game in Reading, Mass., ended in a death.

Parents and fans at a T-ball game attacked and injured the umpire.

Five soccer games were stopped after all the coaches from both teams were ejected.

In 1990, 350 Little League Baseball leagues played a “second season.” This year 2,342 did.

The number of off-season basketball programs have tripled since 1990.

Participation in youth soccer has doubled in the last decade and many participants play year-round.

Forty new year-round clubs joined USA Swimming last year.

Beyond being inquisitive, this trend is alarming:

Seventy-five percent of those who played organized sports quit by the time they were 14 years old.

Fewer than one percent of high school athletes receive college athletic scholarships.

School sports seasons allow youth to diversify. It’s part of that total education we want children to experience. In fact, 99.6 percent of those children are our future. The .4 percent who become professional athletes seem to have forgotten how they got there.

Three cheers for those who just love to play!

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