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Juggling Youth Sports

How a sports-minded family with four children handles competing activities.

(Page 2 of 3)



"It's hard," Mrs. Garlick says, "because you're asking a little person, who's 9 or 10, to choose a sport."

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The parents, though, say this makes sense for two reasons: It doesn't overtax the family support structure and it encourages the youngster to become a full-fledged member of a team. Some youngsters are hard-pressed to achieve the latter as they split time between soccer and baseball in the spring or between basketball and hockey in the winter.

"These kids are constantly choosing which practices and games to attend," Mrs. Garlick says. "I've seen some children who end up just going to the games as if they were some kind of superstar. Those aren't the kind of athletes we wanted our children to be. To be a part of a team means going to all your practices and all your games."

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"There's a great opportunity in sports for kids to learn how to be responsible for their actions and decisions," says Karen Partlow, who is the director of an educational program for coaches, parents, and sports administrators run by the American Sports Education Program.

Ms. Partlow is in agreement with the Garlicks' approach about committing to a team and letting young people assume some of the responsibility for making it work.

The challenge for adults when it comes to organized youth sports, says experts, is to help children identify what they like doing and not be afraid to let them switch - just not in midseason.

There's a tendency, says Mike Pfahl, a vice president at the National Alliance of Youth Sports, for parents to place too much emphasis on cultivating an adult work ethic in sports.

"Sports is playing, is fun, it's not intended to be work for kids," he says. "Sports can be a training ground for things that carry over to work, such as dedication, commitment, and stick-to-itiveness. Those are the kind of values you can gain from sports participation, but it's not supposed to be work."

Partlow, like the Garlick family, endorses variety in children's activities. "If they are more well-rounded I think that's good for the adults," she says. "The problem, however, is not in having a lot of sports experiences, it's having an overemphasis on winning. That's the No. 1 reason why we lose over 75 percent of our kids [from organized youth sports] every year by the age of 12. They're dropping out because there's too much pressure to win, too much pressure to perform."

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Monica, the Garlicks' oldest child, played on a girls' lacrosse state championship team her senior year at Needham High School. (She is now a sophomore scholarship student in engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. A co-op student, she lives at home while working for Needham's engineering department, then moves back on campus when her academic studies resume.)

She was such a natural talent that she got put on the junior varsity high school basketball team as a freshman based solely on her athleticism. "But basketball never clicked for Monica," her mother remembers, and before long she was relegated to seldom-used reserve status.

In the Garlick home, one parent tries to make it to every child's game, and Mrs. Garlick regularly attended the jayvee basketball games with Andy.

"One day we got out to the car and Monica was pretty shaky," Mrs. Garlick says, relating a favorite story. "She had tears in her eyes and she said, 'I want to thank you for coming to my games all the time because I know you never get to see me play.'