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“But my kid is really good at sports”

How many times have we heard a friend or loved one say this about their 8 year old?

Here are some cold hard facts:

  • 70% of children drop out of all organized sports by age 13.
  • Of the 7.8 million high school students who play high school sports, only .03% will play professional sports. That means only 2300 will PLAY professionally.  Many of those will never make a full time living –think men’s professional lacrosse, women’s professional soccer, arena football—almost all of those sports require their athletes to have a “regular “ job in the off season.
  • Only 5% of high school athletes will play in college AND only 1% of high school athletes get scholarships.

Now that reality has set in, let’s ask why should children really play sports?

How about FUN, HEALTH, and LEARNING.

If kids learn at an early age that the purpose of sports is to have fun, they will continue to enjoy them for a lifetime. I personally just stopped playing organized soccer a few years back when I hit 40. As pediatricians, we love that sports can help children be healthy, if done correctly. Especially in this video game, iPhone, iPad culture, sports offer the opportunity to get kids moving and decreases the chance of childhood obesity. Not only do kids learn motor skills in sports, they also learn the importance of practicing new skills, teamwork and leadership, which can carry over to all facets of life.

This past September the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a report advising athletes not to specialize in anyone sport until late adolescence.  I know some of you parents are now saying “but you don’t realize how good my child is at baseball (or soccer, or tennis, or football)”  – but the above noted statistics actually prove the AAP knows exactly what they are talking about. As parents we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves “what do we really know?”

Ask almost any professional athlete and they will tell you playing multiple sports was the best thing they ever did.  Over 50% of injuries come from over use injuries.  When a child specializes in one sport, they use the same muscles over and over. This leads to more injuries. Taking one month off 3 different times per year has PROVEN to lead to fewer injuries. It also has PROVEN to decrease burnout and lengthen athletic careers. It is PROVEN that kids who specialize have twice as many overuse injuries. Participating in different sports adds to their emotional health as they get the opportunity to meet different kids and coaches, which will be healthier in the long run.

Not believing me yet??

Of the 322 athletes that went to the NFL training combine in 2015, 87% played multiple sports in high school and only 13% played football alone.  As parents we must always advocate for our children!  When some coach is trying to relive their childhood and urges you to have your child pick a sport and give up all others, ask yourself why is your child playing sports? Be an advocate so your child stays healthy both physically and emotionally! Resist and nicely educate the coach that in the long run, it is BEST thing for your child is to stay involved in many sports until at least age 15.

Some real world examples

  • Sammy Sosa, baseball’s home run king (ok-he supposedly had help from performance enhancers), didn’t even start playing baseball until 14.
  • Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team.
  • Olympic star Jackie Joyner -Kersee was an elite college basketball player at UCLA.
  • Hall of Fame basketball player Hakeem Olajuwon was an outstanding goalkeeper in soccer.

The AAP statement from September 2016 and Parenting Young Athletes The Ripken Way by Cal Ripken JR. were used to prepare this article.