A+ Advice for Parents

Summertime Sports Can Drain Kids, Parents

Q: Our boys, aged 12 and 10, are going to soccer camp this summer. The younger one is a good player. The older one hates it -- and while I can't show it, I do, too. It's expensive, time-consuming and takes the leisure out of summer. My husband wants the boys to become good players, so they can get athletic scholarships. What are the odds?

A: Not great. There are 7 million high school athletes, and spots on college rosters for just 2 percent of them. Of those, only 1 percent get a "full ride" scholarship, says Tiffin, Ohio, coach Seth Almekinder, who has taught in U.S. and international schools. "Many of those are worth less than the family's investment in getting kids to that level."

Less than 9 percent of boys who take part in high school soccer play college soccer at any level, says Almekinder: "Division III doesn't offer athletic scholarships, so those students pay to play unless they get academic scholarships." (Go to www.scholarshipstats.com/varsityodds.html.)

A more pressing issue is your son who hates soccer. "Don't force a child to participate in any non-required activity in which he or she isn't a willing participant," urges Almekinder. "I'm not advocating quitting a team midseason -- kids learn from seeing a commitment through. But that doesn't seem to be the case here.

"Summer should be fun and enriching. There are so many activities your older son might enjoy -- from robotics to museum classes to hiking. Find one. Your son will be happier and so will the family."

Three of four families with school-aged kids have at least one in an organized sport. "By age 15, as many as 80 percent of these youngsters have quit," says Massachusetts coach Jay Atkinson, referencing data from the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine.

Almekinder says it's because most parents, whether coaching or cheering, don't understand the developmental levels of youth sport.

"The first is entry-level recreational," he says. "Participants are ages 4 to 10. The purpose is fun exposure to a sport. Everyone participates, and playing time is equal. Score can be kept, but winning and losing are secondary to participation. Coaching is focused on fundamental skills, not team tactics or strategy."

The second level is developmental. "Tactics and game strategy are added to skill development," notes Almekinder. "This stage corresponds to middle school through junior varsity, when travel teams begin."

The final level is competitive. "This is where winning and losing matter as an aspect of participation," Almekinder explains. "Players are selected based on ability and skill. The best play the most. This is sport at high school varsity, college and the pros. When parents or coaches pressure young athletes, allow poor sportsmanship, and make winning the goal, they lose sight of the developmental levels of sports and turn kids off."

Unstructured pick-up games in the backyard or alleyway add fun to vacation. "They bring kids together without oversight of adults," says Almekinder. "Before the rise of organized youth sports outside of school, that was what summer was for most kids -- playing with friends in the neighborhood. There's nothing wrong with that!"

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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