My daughters are getting to the ages where it's probably time to get them a little more involved in youth sports. As a sports guy at heart, I'm somewhat excited about this prospect, but also a little frightened, after hearing tales of friends and co-workers who have older children actively involved.

One of my wife's co-workers has two daughters and a son of varying ages at the middle school level, all involved in lacrosse. They're pretty good, from what I understand, and each is on multiple travel teams. It seems every weekend, my wife's friend and her husband are on the road with their kids for a game or tournament — sometimes, Mom with one or two in one town and Dad with another in a different town. It's pretty intense, and their lives outside of work seem to revolve around their kids' sports schedules. And many of their expenses do too.


It's not a life I want my kids or family to have.

Playing sports, you see, should be fun. That's what it was for me growing up, anyway. In fact, prior to high school, I didn't have much involvement in organized sports until I joined the football team and track-and-field squad. (Before you ask, I threw shot put and discuss. Anyone who has ever met me could probably guess that you can clock my 100-yard dash time with a sundial.) That doesn't mean I wasn't playing something nearly every weekend.

Most of the time you could find me playing 5-on-5 backyard tackle football (not the brightest idea, in hindsight) in any kind of weather, shooting hoops at a nearby schools, smashing whiffle balls and running to imaginary bases in the street or in the back of my friend Todd's basement playing something resembling street or floor hockey with a beanbag (without goalie gear, outside of a Jason Voorhees-style Halloween mask, shooting an actual puck at each other would've been a recipe for disaster, although I'm sure we tried it once or twice before settling on the beanbag option). I was never a world-beater athlete; heck, I flat-out stunk at some of these things, but nevertheless some of my favorite memories of my childhood are playing these games.

Some of my friends played organized sports with travel teams at a young age. By high school, it was about 50-50 with those kids — some stuck with it and were actually quite good; others quit playing because they were burned out.

There is plenty of reason to get your kids involved in organized, competitive team sports. Athletes learn discipline, how to work together with other people, leadership skills and how to deal with failure (theoretically, anyway; some youth coaches set some pretty bad examples). The exercise doesn't hurt either.

Youth sports, though, might be in the midst of a crisis, according to an article published earlier this month by the Washington Post, citing new data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and the Aspen Institute. Participation is down about 8 percent for children ages 6 to 12 over the past decade. Higher costs, sports specialization and inexperienced coaches are named as some of the top reasons.

Aforementioned travel teams cost a lot of money to be a part of, and the age at which travel teams form seems to be getting lower. Some parents, even ones doing relatively well, may struggle to afford those costs. There's also a mentality spreading to kids that if you aren't picked for the travel team, there's no future for you in the sport, so they drop out. And kids who do get picked for a travel team tend to get pushed by parents to focus on a single sport rather than trying different things, much of which is focused on their child getting some scholarship money to play college sports.

It's too bad this is the message we are sending to kids. For every one of them who goes on to play college sports on a scholarship — only 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded some form of athletics scholarship, according to the NCAA — dozens will burn out and lose their love of sport.

More youth leagues need to be available that focus on fundamentals and fun, without the pressure of hypercompetitiveness with teams in other towns and states, or among teammates, or exorbitant travel costs that drain parents' time and money.

Let's make youth sports fun again.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at