Competitive Sports and College Recruiting: Time to Pry Them Apart

Lisa writes: Competitive sports and college admissions often get intertwined, as if the only reason for the former is the latter. But aren’t we confusing two issues? If there were no college recruitment would there be no competitive sport? And, are there advantages to kids and teens to competing athletically at a very high level, regardless of collegiate outcome?

soccer, boys soccer

The reality is that most kids, even those involved in an intensive athletic experiences, will not be recruited to college. Getting recruited to play sports in college is the dream of many athletes, but the facts surrounding this process can be bleak. There are over seven million high school athletes and more the three million kids playing competitive soccer. Only around 5% of high school athletes will compete in the NCAA. And, it is a mere 1 percent of the seven million who will find themselves on a D1 team with scholarship money.

So if you are a parent whose kid has been playing hockey/lacrosse/soccer/football/basketball or you name it, for 10 years and they did not get a place in college, or if you are a parent staring down the barrel of those 10 intensive years, the question is are the time, money and effort you and your family put into sports wasted?

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Why Parents Should Push Their Kids to Play Team Sports

Lisa writes: One of the great parenting quandaries is when to push our kids and when to back off. This issue surfaces in every aspect of their lives from academics to music lessons to team sports. For each child there is a different answer and for each family a different story, but on the issue of sports, there seem to be a few universal truths.

team sports, varsity sports, soccer team

Sports loom large in our world and while there are many insidious aspects to this, the value of sports, particularly team sports, in a child’s life cannot be overstated.

One of the good thing about sports is that many bad things will happen. Games will be lost. Injuries incurred. Your child might be benched, demoted, or not perform up to his/her abilities. Your child might hate his coach and feel that he is incapable or unfair. And all of this will be good. All of this will be the solid foundation that his later life will rest upon.

But kids sometimes want to quit. The practices can get tedious and time-consuming and the work involved can feel like all too much. We have been there. As moms raising four boys and one girl between our families we have been through this many times. All five kids have participated in team sports in middle school and high school, and three of them in college.

All five kids have had rough days or weeks or months.  When they were younger we pushed them to stay with their sports over their protestations, knowing what was to come.  The sport our children selected did not matter, neither did the level of play.  The benefits accrued from just being on a team. We come down hard on the side of team sports and of making our kids stick it out, and here is why:

1. Teenagers and Trouble

Teenagers get into trouble and extra time on their hands doesn’t help. Teens who have practices, games, team dinners and fitness sessions have less time for mischief. A study in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine showed, “A survey of more than 14,000 teenagers found that those who participated in team sports were less likely to use drugs, smoke, have sex, carry weapons or have unhealthy eating habits.”

2. Happier Kids

Teams broaden a kid’s social world and research shows team athletes are happier than kids who do not participate. This study showed that among middle school teens who participated in team sports, “boys were five times more likely, and girls 30 times more likely, to describe their health as fair/poor when they were not playing on a sports team.”

3. Common Goal

Being part of something larger than yourself and working toward a common goal is always good, always.

4. Sense of Belonging

Beginning in middle school, cliques and mean girls can be social minefields. Boys can splinter apart into groups with well-defined lines. Sports teams cut across social divides pulling together kid’s from disparate groups on campus and increasing the number of kids your child comes to know. Being part of a team gives kids a sense of belonging.

5. Parents on the Sidelines

As kids gets older, they naturally develop their own lives and there will be fewer ways for parents to be involved; the sidelines are not a bad spot. Even teens who seemed determined to shut their parents out, tolerate mom and dad attending their games.

6. Practice and Determination

Teams set goals and thrive through cooperation, discipline and commitment. Parents can lecture all they want, but words only do so much. Sports is one of the best places for kids to learn the importance of practice and determination. In team sports there is the added element of teammates depending on you for participation and performance.

7. Expertise

Getting good at something, as good as your kid can be, through perseverance and repetitive hard work is one of life’s lessons. It is hard to teach in the abstract.

8. Good Health

Athletics encourages strong healthy bodies. Kids who compete know that they are only at their best of they are well fed and well rested. Alcohol and drugs impede performance and every kids knows that. In sports, strength and speed, rather than skinniness or other distorted body images are desirable. Team sports help kids better avoid obesity problems even better than activities like running or biking does, according to research.

9. Future Employment

A new study, conducted by Kevin Kniffin, a behavioral science professor at Cornell University, shows that kids who played team sports in high school make better employees.

10. Memories of Home

Sports teams are the stuff of lifetime memories. The triumphs and defeats of a sporting season stay with us long after the season is over. And then one day our children are 18 and getting ready to go off the college. They will miss their family, dog, friends and their team. And that is a good thing.



How Parents Ruin Youth Sports…By Obsessing About Winning

Lisa’s story on The Atlantic.com, “Parents Ruin Sports for Their Kids by Obsessing About Winning,”  appears below:

Every sports cliché you can think of, I have uttered: teamwork, respect for the coach, being part of something bigger than yourself, and practice making perfect. But as I look back over a decade and a half watching my sons play youth sports, I have to confess the dirty truth: I wanted to win.  I worked hard, I spent hours in preparation and I wanted to win.  I had organized snacks and brought drinks.  I scrubbed uniforms and cleats.  I drove for miles, arrived an hour early, stood in freezing temperatures, forsaken anything else I might have done with my day. I did not want to return home without a win.

youth sports, youth soccer

The aching desire to win can be seen on the sidelines of competitions even among the youngest participants. Parents pace the sidelines, twitching at every kick or pitch or shot of the ball, shouting exhortations at their children and the team. I have watched parents cover their eyes, unable to watch, such is the stress they feel.  In many cases it becomes clear that it is the parents who want to win. Parents want the dopamine thrill of winning, the heady rush that adults feel with success.  Winning, even for spectators (and the research was done only on males), gives a testosterone surge, and losing actually lowers hormone levels.  As parents we so identify with our kids that their success quickly becomes our own.  As spectators, parents seek confirmation even at the earliest stages that great athletic possibilities exist for their child:  a better team, starting spot, varsity experience or college scholarship.

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Soccer Moms and Dads Misbehaving

Lisa writes: And then there are the jerks…Earlier this week, we sang the praises of parents who have made standing on the sidelines such a joy, but we would be remiss if we failed to mention a few others.  The list of what we are grateful for is long but, examples of soccer moms and dads misbehaving abound.  Here, on the other end of the spectrum, are those parents we will NOT miss:

Soccer Mom

Badmouthers

Soccer moms who say bad things about other’s children, criticizing their play, their abilities or their contributions to the team.  You know who we mean.  There is the dad who grumbles about the amount of playing time someone else’s child receives, or the mom who mumbles biting comments when she thinks she sees a mistake in the play.  When it comes to other people’s children, the rule of thumb is pretty simple, STFU.

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Saying Goodbye to the Sideline

Lisa writes: It is the beginning of the end.  As the cool autumn air descends, Mary Dell and I stand on the sideline for one final season, watching our seniors take to the fields with their respective high school soccer teams. We are breathing in memories from the days when their little legs were so small that their soccer shorts and socks had barely a gap between them. We also recall the final inning home run in third grade and the game-winning touchdown in high school, both straight out of a feel good movie. There were spine-tingling buzzer beaters and heart breaking losses. There were seasons spent mostly on the bench and seasons spent in starring roles.  We remember it all.

Team Sports, sideline parents

As we move from the sidelines of our kids’ games to the sidelines of their lives, still watching, still cheering, but at a distance, it all comes rushing back. We remember terrifying trips to the ER for x-rays or stitches, clutching a child in our arms and wondering, if only for a minute, whether competitive sports really were such a good idea.  There were tears to be wiped, tears of disappointment, frustration, anger or confusion. But, these tears reminded us why our kids play on teams and how many of life’s lessons can be learned on the playing field.  And there was joy, pure exultant joy, the cup-overflowing happiness that comes to a child who has worked and practiced and, with a bit of luck, finds the success they pursued.

We have cheered and consoled.  We have offered first aid and Gatorade. But we have never stood alone.  At our sides stood some of the most wonderful parents we ever hope to meet. Some of these parents were our closest friends, others we might never have crossed paths with and count ourselves lucky that we were able to share a bleacher.

In the spirit of offering our thanks, will be eternally grateful to:

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