Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Every year we as parents must decide in which extra-curricular activities our children participate. The options are many and time is limited. How do you pick what to spend money on to broaden the horizons of one’s brood? A parent who grew up loving a particular sport naturally has the desire to share their experience with the next generation. Others take a more free form tactic and sign up for things based on timing, friends participating and cost.

I realized that times had changed from when I grew up when in second grade kids were trying out for competitive travel leagues and learning from an early age the difference between the A team, B team and C team.  Some kids at the ripe age of 8 were learning what it means not to be good enough for any team. Is that really necessary? Trying out for the freshman soccer team entering high school having never played (as I did back in the 1980s) would not work in this day in age. Kids are driven to pick a sport and excel so that by the time they enter 8th grade a spot on the JV or Varsity team is within their reach. I truly don’t get this attitude and generational shift.

What is the purpose of this intense approach? Are potential scholarships the end goal?  Why has playing kick ball or capture the flag with the neighborhood kids been replaced by structured practices where parents are watching every move? We have created kids who preform for the trophies, the snacks, praise from parents and coaches and these external motivators are shown not to help kids in the real world.

Dr. Tony McGroarty wrote a great article about the differences between external and internal motivation in youth sport. Click here to see the article. Daniel Pink wrote a great book called Drive that addresses the hows and whys of motivation and proves that the common methods our society uses to motivate people at work and school are not effective and can actually be counter productive.

I believe that parents of my generation have forgotten what being a child is all about. I believe that it is important to expose your children to many activities because you do not know what might strike a passion. At some point focusing deeper will be important but that should be when your child knows what really makes them tick. To limit a child’s focus on a sport too early limits their idea of who they are or who they might want to be not to mention that it creates body imbalances that often result in injuries.

Recently I spoke to Kristi Gaylord from Midtown Athletic club (where I am employed) about the benefits of yoga versus dance. Here is a link to the article she wrote discussing the differences between the two activities from a parents and young girl’s perspective. As parents we must chose wisely what types of activities and when to expose them to our children.

There are a lot of benefits to being active in all types of sports. It is the parent’s job to decide what is right for their children. It is also our job to give our children the opportunity to learn about themselves – what they like, what they naturally excel at, what makes them happy and to appreciate the strength of their bodies

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