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Bird Brown: Want to avoid sports burnout? Ask your kids

As I continue my run of “first of the lasts,” with my youngest beginning to play his last season of organized soccer this spring, I’m beginning to reflect on the incredible times that I’ve had since my now 27-year-old son first laced his boots up and strolled on to the soccer field at the Hill Family YMCA.

I fondly remember beating the heck out of my dream car — my Chevrolet Suburban — for a quarter of a million miles, many of which were clocked dragging one or more of our three sons to league games across the state, and tournaments in far-off places.

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I watch my nephews now, and their schedules are jammed packed every weekend with commitments to basketball and lacrosse (as well as academic club commitments) and I feel my sister- and brother-in-law’s pain as they shuffle their kids from gym to turf, from hoop to cage, splitting up when necessary to divide and conquer and even enlisting the help of the grandparents when things get really absurd.

We were the sports family in every sense of the word. We would drag our youngest to all of his brothers’ games and feed him apple juice and Goldfish on the sidelines to keep him occupied. We would leave a basketball game at Sacred Heart in Glyndon and run the gauntlet back up Md. 140 to Carroll Indoor for an indoor soccer game.

If we had an opening in our schedule, we would make sure to fill it as not to waste any of our precious time.

Life was so much easier “back in the day” when lying in an open field and watching the clouds float by was a real possibility. You could waste what seemed like hours trying to guess what the shape of each cloud resembled.

I remember playing sports, both organized and neighborhood, but there was plenty of time to just be a kid.

I loved walking down to my grandparents’ stream and making mud pies, catching tadpoles, or just taking a refreshing dip in the knee high water.

We left the house just after breakfast, had lunch at someone’s house and didn’t make it home until after dark. In the meantime we just played. We played games like “Capture the Flag” and “Kick the Can.”

We played tape ball or stick ball or whiffle ball. We rode our bikes everywhere we went.

We rode for 10 miles to a state park — not because it was a competition, but because it was fun. We broke out our baseball gloves and a played “pickle” or “rundown” until our arms would fall off.

Even when I got a little older the whiffle ball games didn’t stop. Instead of “Kick the Can” we shot bottle rockets at each other through dart guns. On the infamous “Senior Skip Day” my friends from the Nub Club all got inner tubes together and floated down Big Pipe Creek to the Monocacy River to waste away a whole day.

When did life get so complicated?

Even when we played organized sports, we played them one season at a time. Now, every sport seems to drag throughout the year competing for kids’ time and overburdening our recreation facilities (which could be resolved with a couple of turf fields … just saying).

Kids oftentimes are forced to choose between two sports that they love or even between going to a game or to a friend’s birthday party.

As if that’s not enough, many kids face music lessons or Sylvan educational sessions that have to be squeezed into their already overcrowded schedules.

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As they get older there are SAT Prep courses or tutoring sessions so that they can compete for the available college spots or just continue to advance their grade. (This was before we were taught that all you had to do was bribe your kid’s way into the school of choice.)

In addition to their sports’ commitments, the older kids have jobs, girlfriends/boyfriend, senior week and prom. It’s a wonder they have time for anything else.

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that life has become too complicated. But when did it get that way and how did we let it happen? Now that we know that it’s gotten out of hand, why don’t we take steps to try to simplify our lives or those of our children?

For our kids we want to make sure they can compete on the field, in the classroom, and later in life and we feel like the only way to do that is to fill every minute of their schedules. But, do we ever stop to ask them what they want? I’m sure if we asked the kids, we might get the answer we expect but don’t want to hear.

Every now and then, treat yourself to a break from all the madness.

Take the time and ask your young athlete if they’re experiencing burnout and then listen to their answer. As Dr. Seuss wrote, “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

And we can learn so much if we choose to listen.

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