Marriage and Family

High School Sports – Part 2 Are We building Programs or People?

Its mind-boggling what varsity sports have become at many high schools. Because of my work I talk to parents all across the country about their kids. They’ve shared with me what it takes to make a high school varsity team. And frankly I’m amazed and, at some levels, appalled at what high school coaches often ask of students and their parents.

For example, one young woman I know was clearly told that if she wanted a chance to play on the varsity soccer team she had to begin playing soccer year around, meaning she couldn’t play any other sports. Ok, I understand commitment to your sport but the issue in this case was the young woman was in 6th grade. Yes, 6th grade. How could any high school coach or school tell or strongly suggest athletes begin to specialize in a sport in 6th grade? How can 6th graders make such a choice between sports?

When you’re in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade you should be playing lots of sports, experimenting, learning what you like, and what you may be gifted at. When I was in 6th grade my favorite sport was the one that was in season. There’s no way I could have picked between baseball, basketball, tennis and football, all of which I played recreationally and loved during their proper season.

Worse yet, what if the student picks the wrong sport when they’re in 6th grade, invest years in “the one sport” and then they stop growing or discovery there’s 10 goalies in the program? It means a student who loves sports, sacrificed and worked hard may not play at the varsity level.

Ironically, many professional sports teams look for college athletes who’ve played multiple sports in high school because they’re usually better athletes. Research has also shown that multiple sport athletes develop better physically and are less likely to be injured. Encouraging multi-sport athletes sounds like a sound philosophy for a high school varsity coach to adopt if they want to build a program around better and stronger athletes.

Now hear me when I say this, I don’t believe every athlete has to be a multi-sport athlete at the varsity level. But I do believe it’s healthier (and saner) for elementary and middle school athletes to be so. And to encourage anything less is a disservice to the athlete and most likely to the program as well.

The question we parents and schools need to face is – will this generation of kids look back on their athletic experiences and ask us “why did sports have to be so serious at 6th grade? It took the joy out of being a kid.”

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