“I have a question,” said a mother recently at one of my speaking engagements. “I have an 8-year-old son who loves soccer. But the only soccer team in our town requires that he play all year round, and he still wants to play other sports. What are we to do?”
Across the country, I hear similar questions all the time. I meet parents who understand that playing a single sport year-round prior to high school is not good for their kids. But they are stuck. There is no alternative. Name any sport, and parents are often faced with a similar dilemma. The only organizations that provide higher level coaching, and where most of the better athletes play, require all or nothing commitments far before any experts recommend them (As a caveat, this article does not pertain to sports considered early specialization sports such as female gymnastics, figure skating, and diving, where elite competitors reach their athletic peak in their mid-teens).
Want a spot for your 8-year-old soccer player? Welcome aboard, as long as you make soccer your primary commitment 11 months a year. Want to play basketball this winter for three months? Sorry, we will give your spot to someone else. Does your family like to camp on summer weekends? Sorry, we have baseball tournaments every weekend, and we don’t take kids on our spring baseball travel team who won’t commit to playing in the summer and fall.
Want to make the high school team? Want to be recruited for college? So many parents feel the pressure to force their kids all in too young, especially when colleges in sports likes women’s soccer and lacrosse are scouting middle school age events. (The NCAA, sadly, has refused to take action, even though the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Associations have drafted and supported proposals banning contact with kids before September 1 of their junior year! Even the Ivy League has asked the NCAA to put a stop to early recruiting.)