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Are kids forced to play too much?

One of the benefits of going through my recent surgery is the time spent at the rehabilitation center. I say that with some sincerity and some cynicism but really the six hours per week I spend working through the stiffness and pain associated with the surgery is one of the highlights of my week. I did learn that you don't threaten to talk about your physical therapist's mom when he has your knee in his hands. I threatened to talk about his momma and he let me know that we would complete six weeks of goals for mobility all at one tug so I decided it was probably a good idea to keep our relationship positive.

I've developed friendships with many of the therapists in the office over the last several years prior to becoming a patient, and sharing stories of success and setbacks with the other patients has created a special bond as well. We push each other during every session and compare our progress while encouraging each other to push through it.

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There are plenty of people from my generation in there dealing with issues of bodies breaking down from old age or from accidents that forced their hand to attend PT. There are occupational therapists helping to give strength back to people with hand injuries and physical therapists trying to help us get our range of motion back to pre-surgery levels.

The thing that strikes me the most is the amount of kids that are in there, themselves enduring the "fun" of the therapy. There are kids that may be dealing with a broken wrist or sprained fingers from "normal" accidents, but many of the kids that occupy the tables while I'm in there are recuperating from injuries suffered in their respective sports.

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I wrote a column just after surgery about whether or not playing for all those years and sacrificing my body was worth enduring this pain to which I had an easy answer of yes, it was. But our sports experiences of our youth were much different than what we are putting our kids through right now with multiple sports during each season or sports specialization at a young age.

We played soccer during soccer season, basketball during basketball season and baseball during baseball season. I may have played soccer year-round because that was my passion, but we never had organized training or year-round games like they do now. Our idea of playing a sport out of season was meeting your friends at the park or at someone's home and we just played by ourselves. No training regimen, no fitness workouts, no coaching, no referees. Just good, fun competition followed by cookies and Kool-Aid.

I struggle with what we are doing to our kids now in the sports arena. I see both sides of a difficult issue and I don't really know who's right. On one hand, sports have become so competitive at every level of every sport that the additional training and games are essential to have an opportunity to compete just for a spot on the roster, nonetheless for playing time on the field. On the other hand, we are pushing our pre-teen and teenage kids through professional, adult-level training regimens and year-round sports commitments — sometimes in more than one sport — but at what ultimate cost to their health and well-being?

Both of my two oldest sons had visions of playing soccer at the collegiate level until their high school experiences convinced them of a better path to meet their own personal goals in the academic, not athletic arena. My younger son has toned down his desire to be the next David Beckham, marry a supermodel, and live in a huge mansion to wanting to be a veterinarian with little or no interest in playing after high school. I appreciate the focus in school which has paid dividends to his grades, but I think that will change over the next few years and he'll take a look at playing at the next level. But it is no longer is the "be-all and end-all" of his existence.

Each of us has to make that decision on whether or not the pain and the risk of injury is worth the opportunity to compete but as parents, the burden is even stronger. What if we make the wrong decision for our kid that has long-lasting effects that carry well in to their adult life?

Motivational speaker and author Stephen R. Covey once wrote, "Happiness can be defined in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually."

But is it what our kids want or what we want?

Reach Robert "Bird" Brown at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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