Let me make this very clear; I like sports. In fact, I would even say that I love sports. At this very moment I am very contently watching Sunday Night Football and I play indoor soccer in the winter. In these times of rampant child obesity, learning to enjoy physical activity is more vital then ever. Sports teach children physical coordination, sportsmanship, and help them develop a competitive edge that they'll need as adults.
In my youth, I have very fond recollections of waking up early on crisp fall mornings, my brother and I piling into the family mini-van and heading over to Hallowing Point Park, which was a 20 minute drive from our sleepy hometown. Hopefully mine and my brother's games be at roughly the same time so we wouldn't have to spend all day there. But even if we did, I would have fun playing on the jungle gym or playing another pickup game on an empty field. I was never on good teams, I don't remember winning many games, and there were lot's of unconvincing "good games" muttered under my breath to the opposing teams at the end of the game. That taught me a lot about losing with dignity, winning with grace (when we did) but most importantly it taught me that winning wasn't as important as having fun. Losing didn't ruin my life, it didn't ruin the rest of my day. After games, my mom would take us Wendy's where I'd always get a Frosty. Sometimes we'd laugh about how bad we were beaten.
However, sports aren't the good natured pastime of out youth. Sports have developed an insidious stranglehold on kid's lives. The number reason my students give me for not having practiced is sports. Many of the students I teach don't just play one sport or even on just one team in any given sport. I have had students that will play on two travel baseball teams at the same time. When I think about the time commitment it makes my head spin, practicing up to SIX times per week, driving to two different games every weekend, two tournaments ect... Once I asked "What if both teams play at the same time?" to which they replied "We just pick which team we think is going to win." What's the lesson we're teaching out children, that it's ok to over commit yourself, to not be there when your team needs you? Children need time to be bored. Studies show boredom boosts creativity and creativity isn't just necessary for artistic endeavors but also for everyday problem solving. Kids need time to be kids. They need time to play in the woods and pretend that sticks are swords. Kids need time to draw, they need time to find themselves, their real selves, not the selves we want them to be.
With college tuitions spiraling out of control, I understand that parents want to provide a college education for their kid without saddling them with outrageous student loan debt. Travel teams thrive on promises of turning every child into a professional athlete who will undoubtedly get a free ride to the university of they're choosing. When you say it out loud it sounds pretty far fetched right? Travel sports are expensive. This team, a travel baseball team from Colorado, admits that their feels clock in just south of $3000 for a single season. Let me repeat, 3000 American Dollars. $3000 will buy a respectable car, or could be a down payment on a house, $3000 could do a lot of things. From the website:
"Some parents want to avoid the potential of “Daddy Ball” so they’ll pay for independent coaches. I’m not familiar with many of these cases, but I’ve heard that it can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to $1,000 or more (per player) to hire these coaches."
If a child starts playing travel baseball at age 8 and plays for 10 years until they age out, their parents will have paid a ridiculous $30,000 in registration fees alone. Remember travel baseball also means traveling, which means gas in the car and nights in hotel rooms. It also means buying and replacing equipment. Look at this gem from the comment section of the same website:
"One cost that adds up over the season is admission fees for the family to tournaments. While some tournaments charge a team fee, others charge per person just to enter the gate. We also spend a small fortune on water, sports drinks, and snacks to keep our boys going throughout the weekend. Our Sam's membership pays for itself during baseball season."
It's not a stretch to imagine that these hidden costs more than double the actual cost associated with playing. If we very conservatively, estimate the cost of playing a single season at $6000 at 2 seasons per year for 10 years, parents will have paid an astounding $120,000. That amount of money will put at least kids through college at state schools.
It's easy to think that when we allow our children to participate in these highly competitive league, we are at least keeping them healthy. However, too often these leagues may be doing more harm than good:
"Throwing injuries are most common in baseball and softball pitchers and in football quarterbacks. They are increasingly common among young athletes participating in year-round baseball. During throwing, the shoulder moves through an extreme range of motion that causes gradual stretching of the capsule and ligaments of the joint. Over time, these structures loosen and cannot hold the joint in place (instability). Instability exists when the ball of the shoulder can slip partially out of the socket. The muscles and tendons around the shoulder must work harder to keep the ball in the socket, which can result in inflammation of these structures. Excessive throwing can also cause inflammation of the growth plate of the upper arm, which is a condition known as epiphysis. "
-Mike Lauffenburger, MD Columbus, Georgia
Let us also not forget the troubling rise of concussions among child athletes in the US. With increased scrutiny on head injuries, even the NFL has had to concede just how serious concussions actually are. This USA Today article outlines just how troubling the rise in sports related injuries among children really is.
"It finds that in 2012, 12% of all ER visits (163,670) involved a concussion, the equivalent of one every three minutes. Nearly half (47%) were in kids ages 12 to 15.
That's particularly troubling, given research showing that younger athletes take a longer time to heal than older athletes after a concussion, which is a traumatic brain injury, because their bodies are still growing, Carr says. "And we know that a second concussion later can cause even more issues."
Concussions have linked to all a manner of mental issues, including declined performance in school and depression. If we truly want our children to grow into healthy adults we need to give them a chance to enter adulthood healthy and happy, with ought lifelong injuries and diminished mental capacities.
I won't take long to defend music, because music needs no defense. Music isn't just a lifelong skill, music is a physical skill, a mental skill and a social skill. It has the uncanny ability to bring people together from disparate backgrounds and unite them with a wordless bond. I could link all the studies that show music increases performance in math or on standardized tests. But I don't need to, music doesn't need me to. I need music, I need my favorite albums when I'm feeling bummed. I need play my guitar and sing a song everyday, or it doesn't feel like that day mattered or even happened for that matter.
So parents, I'm not criticizing you, and I'm definitely not trying to pass judgement on you. I truly believe that every parent I've ever come in contact with is doing what they think is best for their children. I'm simply asking for you to take a step back a reevaluate.