5 Loving Ways to Stop Overscheduling Kids with Sports

We are now back in the full swing of school and sports and activities-and I am starting to feel overwhelmed by it all. So many carpools, schedules, and activities to arrange and manage and so many moving parts.

I find myself saying often,”When I was a kid…” following by some sage advice about how life was simpler 30 years ago, and how everyone today has gone crazy with busyness, and why are we all trying to do so much in so little time, and what the heck is with all of these crazy competitive parents?

As though I have no control over my schedule, or my kids schedules.

There isn’t a magical force out there making me set up our lives in a certain way–but it sure feels like I don’t have a choice.

We have all been sold a line of garbage-that for our kids to be ‘successful’ (as defined by who I might ask?) they must be exposed to a WIDE variety of sports, arts, activities, academics and be pushed to Olympic level proficiency in every area.

There is no room now to just be a kid, to sit and watch the dust motes float in the sunshine streaming through the window.

No time to do nothing.

Because every moment is a scheduled routine, a need to accomplish, always working to be better than the kids next door.

Who has created this cultural norm? Is it the kids? I don’t think so. Is it the parents? Possibly. Is it society? Most likely.

We have pushed kids so far that many are depressed or suicidal, suffering from eating disorders, and anxiety and unhappy at younger and younger ages. And for what? So they can kick a ball harder, run faster, and spend an entire childhood working towards an athletic goal that for over 90% will never be used once they play that final high school game?

Less you think I am sitting on my high horse here, all four of my kids are over scheduled, over involved, doing too many activities, and have far too little down time.

I often ask myself, why? Why don’t I just stop?

For the same reason that other parents don’t stop. Because deep down I fear that if my kids aren’t given all the opportunities and pushed to be the ‘best’ they will suffer somehow. That they will be unhappy and less fulfilled. That they might waste their potential.

But doesn’t it appear that the opposite is true?

Doesn’t this expectation to perform at an elite level rather than just enjoying themselves as they play a game create that cycle of insecurity and stress?

Sports Burnout in Grade School

My son played tackle football starting in 3rd grade (I know, that’s insane, right? Another case of social pressure).

By the 5th grade he had received 2 concussions and was under huge pressure to perform, with coaches screaming and demoralizing him and other players from the sidelines.

We decided it was enough. After I lost it a game yelling right back at the coach I realized that this wasn’t healthy for my son or me-physically or emotionally.

We pulled him from football.

Where we live football is a BIG deal. Coaches call the shots and parents are at the mercy of the schedule and the coaches behaviors.

Family vacation? Forget about it. Kid getting yelled at by the coach? Better accept it because if you make waves your kid will be benched.

And we all act like getting benched is the worst thing that could happen to them, but worry little about the emotional trauma they are suffering.

When did it all get so out of control?

Sports are designed to be fun, to teach sportsmanship, provide exercise and teach kids a bit of discipline and dedication. But it has all gone too far.

Is there a solution?

If you want your kids to play sports and benefit from the positive aspects of sports without the negative side effects what can you do? Here are a few things we are trying.

Take Back Childhood

Stop doing it all. Kids don’t need to do every sport that catches their momentary attention.

To see if they are truly committed, have them pay for a portion of their sports fees that is large enough to cause them to really stretch. It will surprise you what they actually want to do and what you are pushing them into doing when they have to put their money on the line.

For your family it may be enough to play a sport one night a week. For another family they might choose to focus on music and play sports recreationally as a family. Another family may cut out sports all together.

Give kids an out. If your child started playing a sport, or an instrument or got into drama when they were 6 years old, they might feel like they have to stick with it for life.

If you knew that anything you tried as an adult you had to now do for the rest of your life, you might choose to start nothing new. Kids are not different, so give them an out.

Make sure they understand that you will love and support them whether they stick with the sport, or switch their focus to something else entirely.

Allowing them to quit partway through a season is not the best option usually as it teaches them to quit.

But give them a new chance to decide each time registration for a new season comes around. Make sure it is their hearts desire not yours.

Keep priorities straight. While committing to a team or an activity is important, it is not more important than the core values of your family.

If it is important to your family to be at a church gathering on a particular night, don’t blow this off due to a sports practice. Make sure the coaches know going in that your child is not available on that night.

Don’t let yourself get caught up in the competition and give up what is most important to your family.

Look for recreational options. Kids don’t need to commit to the ultra super league team that practices 4 days a week with 2 games a week. Find a recreational league where they can still get all the benefits of the sport without selling away their childhood.

The fact is that such a small percentage of kids will ever play a sport competitively beyond even junior high and an even smaller percentage beyond high school, so putting kids into a recreational program gives the balance your child may need.

Accept that your child is just average. What? This is the hardest to accept. We all think our kids are super stars, destined to set records, win awards, and achieve levels of fame we only dreamed of. But lets get real. The vast majority of us and our children are ordinary people who will never grace the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Chances of your kid being the next Michael Jordan or Picasso are slim. Does that mean we don’t push them to grow and be the best they can be? Of course not. Growth is the whole point of this game of life.

But do we make them feel that they HAVE to be the best to gain our approval? That without the blue 1st place ribbon they have somehow failed us and themselves?

Shame on us if we make our love conditional. Let’s set a goal to do better in showing our love for our kiddos just as they are right now. No blue ribbons necessary.

Let Them Be Little

It is such a balancing act to find the right number of activities, sports, educational opportunities and recreation for our kids and families. Childhood is such a short time in life, and I want my children to enjoy every moment, every boring minute, and every exciting adventure.

And my role is to guide them in their decisions and sometimes to tell them No to maintain that childhood and protect them from a society that will run them ragged and force them to grow up far to soon.

So let them be little and create memories with them each day that don’t involve a ball, bat or sports field.



1 thought on “5 Loving Ways to Stop Overscheduling Kids with Sports”

  • Love this post Heather! You make some great points and nail the same topics BJ and Inhave been discussing. How to have more family time and down time yet still do their favorite activities.

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