Are Your Kids Doing Too Much?

Are Your Kids Doing Too Much? Mar 1, 2014


Now, no one is a bigger advocate for kids to participate in sports than me! But kids need time to be kids!

I must confess that I was struggling for something to write this month. I try very hard not to repeat ideas and thoughts that I may have had in past columns. That’s not always easy. There are only so many things a coach can suggest for parents to think about as they go through the world of youth and scholastic sports. Then it hit me. Right under my nose something happened that made me think about what we do as adults with our sports playing kids… sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but always with the best intentions.

I happened to be talking with my sister who told me that my nephew had a mini-revolt in the past week. He has always played soccer and, in the past three years, had taken to playing both indoor and outdoor soccer on a number of teams. This winter, he tried out for his middle school basketball team and made the squad. They practice every day and play a full schedule of games from December through the end of February. Well, my brother-in-law is a huge soccer guy. He played in high school and helps run his town’s junior soccer program. He kept trying to get my nephew to play indoor soccer this season as he had done in the past, but my nephew just wanted to play basketball. He was having a good time, seeing some playing time and enjoying the experience of playing on the school team. When my brother-in-law strongly suggested that he should play in an upcoming indoor soccer tournament with his travel team, my nephew became very upset and started to cry. This was so unlike him. He is usually pretty upbeat, energetic and always willing to play just about anything at any time. Seems this time, he had reached a small breaking point. “I just want to do one thing at a time”, he said through his tears. My sister saw that he was stressed and reassured him that whatever he wanted was fine. He has since concentrated on basketball and is really having a good time playing for his school team.

When my sister asked me if this was a normal reaction from kids his age, I knew I had my column for this month. The answer is not that simple. Many times as parents, we place our kids in a position of having too many choices and too much to do at one time. Running all over with practices, games, different teams for different sports, music lessons, homework, friends, family responsibilities and other things we haven’t mentioned can cause some real stress for our kids. They may not tell you. Either out of fear for disappointing you or because they think that is what they are supposed to be doing, many a child has burnt out at a young age from just such a schedule. Throw in additional pressure to excel and you have the potential for a real disaster. Poor school work, lack of sleep and other problems that can and do arise may just be the tip of the iceberg. I won’t suggest that any particular sport or another is to blame. Some kids can handle it… some can’t. Everyone wants what’s best for their child. However, I just find it usually helps the student to stay focused on one sport at a time. Rare is the kid who can compete in two or three sports at one time. It’s important that parents communicate with their children and watch for the signs that indicate there is just too much on the plate at one time. Are they skipping meals? Is homework being rushed or poorly done to get to yet another game or practice? Are they missing some social time with their friends and classmates? Are they just tired?

If you answer yes to one or more than one of those questions, it may be time to re-evaluate the number of teams and sports your child is playing. Now, no one is a bigger advocate for kids to participate in sports than me! But kids need time to be kids! My sister is a wonderful mother and generous with her time in support of her own children and other organizations in the town she lives. But when I asked her when was the last time my nephew had gone to the movies or done something with his friends, she had to admit that it had been awhile. The problem was not overwhelming for us… the adults. But to a 12-year-old boy who was eager to please his parents and loved playing sports, the situation seemed insurmountable. Luckily everything turned out all right. He didn’tplay in the soccer tournament and he has been playing on his school team and having a blast. His beloved Seattle Seahawks even won the Super Bowl so he has been ca-cawing around ever since! It’s great to see him smile and laugh and give his “NY Giant” loving uncles a hard time again. As we move into spring and all of the spring sports our kids may play, let’s agree as parents and coaches to watch our kids and check for those signs that may indicate they are doing too much. Let’s set aside some time for them to be kids and enjoy those things that we enjoyed when we were young. Something as simple as watching a movie together can be as much fun as a game- winning goal or basket and maybe even more important in the long run for their overall state of mind.

Tom Curry has been an Athletic Director in Bergen County, New Jersey, as well as an adjunct professor in the Wellness and Exercise Science Department at Bergen Community College for 24 years. He has coached high school basketball and golf and was voted Bergen County Basketball Coach of the Year in 2002. He has spoken at the New Jersey Medical Society Sports Symposium and to parent groups on various issues pertaining to youth sports. He was inducted into the NJ Coaches Hall of Fame in 2012.

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