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Commit to your sport(s), but be flexible

When I played youth sports, you rarely had to worry about a conflict between the different sports. You played soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. If there was a conflict it meant your team from one sport made it to the playoffs and invaded the preseason space of the other sport.

I was just entering high school when I first heard about the "club" world of sports but was reluctant to join in the fun. I stayed with my Bowie travel team even though several other players decided to make the switch to the newly formed Bowie Soccer Association.

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Club sports have become such an integral part of our sports fabric since that time many moons ago. Soccer clubs and lacrosse clubs play year round. Basketball and baseball seasons run into one another. Softball and volleyball tournament seasons never seem to end.

We all know the pressure the expanded, year-round seasons place on our sports complexes and school gymnasiums. Trying to reserve a spot in a gym in the winter used to be difficult. With the extended seasons, good luck finding it for the rest of the year, too. Our outdoor fields get destroyed by the overuse of multiple teams for multiple sports over consecutive months with little to no recovery time except during the frozen months. And that's just with the "major" sports; when you add in kickball, dodgeball, flag football and ultimate Frisbee all fighting for time on the fields, it can be downright comical.

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Anyone who has been through the club sports experience knows of the financial strain participation at a higher level can place on a family's budget for the player's dues. Add to that tournament fees, family travel to out of state tournaments including meals, gas and hotel rooms and most people entertain a part-time job just to cover the expenses.

But what about the impact on the players involved in club sports, especially the older ones that juggle the club involvement with their participation in interscholastic sports as well? The players who sacrifice not only their bodies in training and competition, but their time and interaction to be involved in other social activities with other circles of friends?

There are still parents that probably want that level of competition and sports prestige for their child more than the player himself, but for the most part my experience shows that the players involved are there by their own decision. It's still a huge commitment for the parents but by the time they're in their high school years, the players know what they want, know the sacrifices involved, and willingly take them on to meet their personal goals.

Often, the top-level athlete is also very well-rounded and has the ability to play multiple sports at a high level. It's not unusual to hear about basketball players transitioning to football at the next level. Track athletes and soccer players becoming wide receivers. And many professional athletes are turning to the Olympics in their retirement to satisfy their competitive nature.

I've witnessed many coaches in my sport and others that require a player's full-time commitment on an "all-or-nothing" basis. They force the player to make a decision between playing two sports that she loves or playing for a team and in a league that may not be competitive enough for her abilities.

That decision, many times, comes way too early.

I always felt that communication with the player, his parents, and most importantly his teammates was the best route to take. If there were a conflict between club sports, as long as we communicated openly about the situation, it was ultimately up to the player where he ended up playing. Who am I to tell a 14 year-old kid that he can't go play for his travel baseball team in the playoffs, or go to an out-of-state tournament with his basketball team?

I've had the great fortune of coaching some wonderful kids and some amazing athletes over the years. I have had soccer players that played in all three divisions, but I've also had soccer players that played baseball and basketball in college and some that were national champions in lacrosse. I was even able to watch two former players (basketball, soccer) play Division I lacrosse against each other this week.

American novelist Tom Robbins wrote, "Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach."

If I had been "that" coach, they'd still have gone on to do the great things they've accomplished so far. The only one that would have missed out would have been me by not having had the opportunity to have had them in my life.

Robert "Bird" Brown is the Times' rec sports writer. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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