Juggling Youth Sports
How a sports-minded family with four children handles competing activities.
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"Andy, who was probably three or four at the time, said, 'Monica, we don't come to see you play, we come to see you.' I love that. We were going to be where Monica was. She didn't have to play for us."Skip to next paragraph
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Alex too has benefited from his family's unstinting support. Several years ago during a family vacation, he and his mother drove the five hours home so Alex could play in a baseball tournament. His team won two games, but lost the championship game. After the final out, rather than console him, his mother, uncles, and cousins stood around celebrating the moment. "All these people stood around telling him how proud they were that he played in the game," Mrs. Garlick recalls. " 'Let's go for pizza,'.the relatives said."
"I see a lot of kids looking dejected after they lose, "Mr. Garlick says., "and you look at their parents on the sidelines and they look dejected. We've just never had that attitude. There isn't time to dwell on the losses."
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Few would disagree that playing sports is good for children. But what is a healthy time commitment to organized youth sports?
The National Alliance of Youth Sports sets forth a standard that it encourages parents, coaches, and league administrators to follow. It calls for a limit of three, one-hour practices a week for children through age 12, and for no more than four, 1-1/2-hour weekly practices through age 16.
The reason for this standard, says Pfahl, an alliance spokesman, is "there's this idea out there that more is better."
The escalation of time demanded by youth-sports coaches is what Bob Bigelow, a nationally known speaker and researcher on youth sports and former pro basketball player, likens to "the strategic arms race."
In Mr. Bigelow's view, this is absurd because practice does not guarantee success among prepubescent children. "I don't care if they spend 20,000 hours on a soccer field, we just don't know [how they will develop]," he says, citing his own career as a late-blooming basketball star. "To make a future assessment on a kid who is 12 is meaningless."
The tendency to stratify athletes at an early age by creating what Bigelow calls a caste system, with youngsters who make traveling, select, and all-star squads at the top, leads to two unfortunate developments.
It drives off children whose motor skills are slow to develop, even though they might come on like gangbusters later. "They'll be gone before we ever find out," Bigelow says.
Then, too, identifying stars too early creates prima donas who arrive at high school convinced they are blue-chippers. High school coaches often find these athletes a challenge.
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Sports are a strong current in the Garlick home, but schoolwork, music practice (Alex plays the trumpet and Andy the trombone and piano), and other extracurricular activities aren't allowed to take a backseat. Making them all fit requires some sacrifices and one of them is a no-TV rule, which is in effect from Sunday night through Friday afternoon.
On the whole the parents believe sports participation has encouraged their children to use their time wisely. As parents, too, they have benefited. They've learned that a willingness to see the big picture - not just the momentary crisis - is a major asset.
Mrs. Garlick says she sometimes turns to her husband with this reminder, " 'These are the good ol' days.' It's a beautiful time in our life. To have the opportunity to stand still and watch your child in action is a wonderful thing."