As you know, I’m the mom of three teenagers (19, 17 and 14). All three have participated in sports throughout their lives. The boys: soccer (does pre-school count?) baseball, football, and basketball. Gabby: gymnastics, dance, softball, basketball and volleyball. But Gabby is the only one who’s participated in club sports: volleyball, for the past three years.
We learned the hard way with the boys that if you haven’t been participating in club teams (competitive, traveling teams that cost an arm and a leg) since you were in grade school, you probably don’t stand much of a chance to make the high school team, at the varsity level anyway. The one exception seems to be football. Sammy played varsity for three years. Oh how I miss those Blue Valley North games. Go Mustangs!
According to a recent article in Time magazine, youth club sports is a $15 billion industry! Parents all over the country are spending small fortunes to fund their kids’ competitive sports careers, often it is money they don’t have. And if you’re in a lower-income bracket, you’ll have to rely on scholarships which are few and far between.
Why do we do this? Because we love our kids and want the best for them, right? And we want to support their passions and interests! We also want to give them the best shot at making their high school teams and potentially even earning college scholarships, which no longer come from little league “rec” experience.
According to the same Time article, “Neighborhood Little Leagues, town soccer associations and church basketball squads that bonded kids in a community–and didn’t cost as much as a rent check–have largely lost their luster. Little League participation, for example, is down 20% from its turn-of-the-century peak.”
Still, with all the time, money and stress we invest in club sports, in the end, “only 2% of high school athletes go on to play at the top-level of college sports, the NCAA’s Division I.” In most cases, the money we parents shell out to fund our kids’ club sports participation probably would have been better invested in 529 college savings accounts.
Also, the intense competition that these clubs breed in young people only adds to the pressure they’re already putting on themselves to success in all areas of their lives (including getting good grades in school). The pressure is real. Research shows they are a competitive bunch. They know there are winners and losers, and they want to be the winners. But what happens when they’re not?
From the Time article: “Children sense that the stakes are rising. In a 2016 study published in the journal Family Relations, Dorsch and his colleagues found that the more money families pour into youth sports, the more pressure their kids feel–and the less they enjoy and feel committed to their sport.”
Even if your child loves playing club sports and you make great friends with the other parents (as we have with Gabby’s fellow volleyball club parents) is it really worth it? Again from the Time article, “Intense specialization can also tax minds. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “burnout, anxiety, depression and attrition are increased in early specializers.” The group says delaying specialization in most cases until late adolescence increases the likelihood of athletic success.”
We know anxiety and depression among teens today is a serious problem. Why contribute to that stress? If you see your child experiencing burnout, getting injured (like Gabby did yesterday at a competitive tournament: she suffered a concussion and re-injured the wrist she broke last year), and wanting to trade practice time to have more time for academics and/or to spend with friends, what’s the logical choice? For me, the answer is easy. No more club sports. Gabby’s a strong, scrappy player, and I seriously hope she’s good enough by now to make her high school team next fall. But she seems to want/need a break from three-times a week practices and the intense pressure to perform.
And I’m not inclined to continue to spend upwards of $5,000 a year on club volleyball if it’s not HER ultimate passion. All too often, I think it’s the parents pushing our kids in this direction. Shame on us for continuing to push and push and push. I, for one, won’t continue. Pushing her to get good grades in school? Yes. But even that’s not worth causing extreme anxiety.
I’m not knocking club sports – for some kids – it’s the real deal and their ticket to success down the line. It also teaches self-discipline and how to win, and lose, with integrity (for most clubs, anyway). And Gabby has had some great coaches and made good friends along the way! We have one tournament left in the season but with her injuries, Gabby may not be able to play. Our family’s club sports experience may be coming to a close.