Participation in youth sports has ballooned in recent decades, with around 44 million kids playing on at least one organized team. There’s lots to love about sports for kids: the great exercise, the chance to learn new skills and build self-confidence, and the fun and camaraderie of being part of a team. But when parents lose sight of what role athletics will likely play in the life of their child, things can go off the rails in a hurry. Consider these statistics:
- Sports injuries are responsible for 4.3 million emergency room visits in the U.S. annually. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Nearly 50 percent of all injuries sustained by middle and high school students during sports are overuse injuries. That’s over four times as many as physicians saw just five years ago. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons)
- Around 50 percent of overuse injuries in children and adolescents are preventable. (The American College of Sports Medicine)
The numbers don’t lie: we’re allowing—if not pushing—our children to participate in sports too many hours per week before their still-developing bodies can handle the impact. So what’s the hurry? What has caused parents to buy into the idea of promoting youth sports as a year-round endeavor where children specialize in a particular sport before puberty? In many cases, it’s the myth that these experiences will likely lead to a college scholarship or a career as a professional athlete. But the number crunchers at the NCAA tell a different story:
- Of all the boys in America who play high school varsity football, less than 6 percent will go on to play at the college level, including those who go on to Division III schools were scholarships are not allowed. Of the precious few who do go on to play college football, only 1.8 percent will be drafted by the NFL. Bottom line? If your child is playing high school football, his chances of making it to the NFL are 0.08 percent.
- The odds for high school basketball players are even tougher: only about 3 percent of high school varsity players will make a college roster, and the odds of a college player advancing to the NBA are just 1.2 percent. So the percentage of high school players who turn pro is 0.03 percent. His chance of being struck by lightening? 0.02 percent.
We outline these sobering numbers not to discourage parents or their children, but to help us all remember that youth sports are—for 97 percent of the kids who play them– NOT a means to a greater end. They simply are what they are: a chance to have fun and develop life skills which will translate into other arenas like perseverance, a good work ethic and team work.
So when you’re assessing whether a travel league or an expensive camp is the best choice for your child and your family as a whole, or whether to “redshirt” your child to give him an edge in size and strength, ask what it gives your kid beyond refined skills to play his particular sport. Because at the end of the day, those enhanced skills come at a cost–to your child’s health, to your family relationships, to his academic performance, etc. Make sure you’re willing to make those trades, and that the things your child will gain are in line with what you want his life to be after high school and college—which likely will be spent behind a desk, rather than on a baseball diamond.