Ready for the sporting life?
With the new school year just around the corner, many kids are thinking less about impending homework and more about the return to school sports. But how can parents know if their child is ready for athletics, and what should parents consider before choosing to register their child for a sports team? We talked to local experts and a seasoned sports mom to find out the most important things to consider when it comes to organized sports.
From football to baseball, field hockey, soccer, track and field, softball and cheerleading, all of Benita Miller’s children have participated in sports. The 43-year-old Greencastle mom and her husband, Brian, 46, have gone to every game and even got involved as coaches and as referee. For Miller, it was a natural choice to enroll her four kids, now ages 26, 20, 13, and 12 at an early age into organized sports.
Sports were a part of the Millers’ lives and they wanted each child to have an opportunity to play at their own level. But it wasn’t just about exercise. “It’s a nice way for them to possibly learn some other kids that they wouldn’t interact with normally and just to get closer relationships with people that they go to school with. They are all really tight—that’s a bond that can carry up on through the years at school,” Miller said.
For many children, playing sports can lead to increased skills on the field and in life. “You are not building just athletes you are building young men and women,” said Jeff Laux, athletic director at Upper Dauphin Area School District. Laux said lessons learned by playing sports can be as important to a child’s growth as much as education. “I am not saying sports are more important than the classroom—that knowledge base and education is the most important thing in anybody’s life and I would never take anything away from that. But there are things that sports can teach you about working with other people—to succeed or fail, and how you got there that you can’t always learn in the classroom,” he said.
Chad Jumper, physician at Boiling Springs Family Medicine, said kids benefit from sports activity. That’s why three of his four children are currently involved in a youth sports program. “Learning structure, discipline and the importance of physical activity in overall health are just a few of the ways sports can help children,” Jumper said. “Children who play sports often are motivated to do better in school so they can continue to participate. Keeping children busy with sports or other extracurricular activities can also help teach them to prioritize time and can keep them out of trouble.”
The many costs to play
Parents need to consider the cost of a chosen sport before signing up. “The best bang for your buck sports-wise is without a doubt interscholastic sports. A lot of schools, if they weren’t beforehand, are implementing a pay-to-participate type of fee,” Laux said. Some schools charge as much as $100 per year for each child regardless of the number of sports, while other community-based extracurricular teams can cost into the hundreds of dollars, depending on how involved the child becomes. Then, add the cost of transportation and the time commitment. “The better they are, the more they play … the more competitive they are, the more they travel,” Miller said. “Time is a big factor that I don’t think a lot of parents think about. We always told them if you are playing the sport you are committed to it. You are part of a team and your team is counting on you.”
Participation in sports can also affect a child’s schoolwork. “All schools have some sort of academic eligibility requirements to play sports. If a child can’t keep up with their studies then … they will not be academically eligible,” Laux said.
When parents go too far
Mike Barr, director of coaching for Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer and dad to four children, said although sports are good to keep kids active, parents need to evaluate the reasons for putting kids in sports. Some parents push their kids to play at the expense of academics or the pursuit of the arts. “(The sport) becomes so important that they don’t value other things in life that have as much or more value,” Barr said. “The fun aspect has to be the biggest thing. If kids are not having fun then there is an issue.”
Miller said she’s seen parents get too involved, particularly at games, yelling at referees and players. Her children play soccer for AYSO, which implemented “Silent Saturday” for one game each season. “It’s just the kids out there playing, other than clapping you have to be quiet. A lot of times, the kids play better,” she said.
For Laux, who has also coached baseball for kids from age 8 through college, it’s important for parents to consider the idea that how their child plays may not match up with their child’s abilities. “Usually the 11- or 12-year-old kid that wants to be involved in junior high basketball either loves the sport very much, in which case they are ready to at least try school sports, or just wants to go hang out with their friends because that is what they are doing. But is the parent ready” he wondered. “Can the parent handle that maybe their kid is not the best at the sport and may not get to start or get as much playing time? Can the parent handle that there is a potential their kid might get hurt?”
“Most kids who start out in organized sports by the time they are 14 drop out of that sport. A lot of that is due to parents and coaches creating too much pressure,” Barr said.
Marina Shannon is a freelance writer and married mom of two energetic boys in Waynesboro.
Chad Jumper, physician at Boiling Springs Family Medicine and sports medicine physician for Boiling Springs High School and Dickinson College, said children need to take precautions before playing sports. “Use proper equipment, warming up, cooling down and staying hydrated are some of the basics that can aid in injury prevention,” he said. “Parents can make sure their child has the safest, most enjoyable time by learning how to prevent sports injuries.”
Jumper said common sports injuries include muscle strain, joint sprains, fractures and concussions. “Long term consequences of injuries, especially concussions, are always a consideration with sports participation. Parents should consider these risks, depending on the sport, along the benefits of playing organized sports,” Jumper said. “Before allowing a child to participate in team sports, I would recommend parents make sure their child has an up to date physical exam, is reaching all developmental milestones, and is completing their schoolwork.”
Jeff Laux, athletic director for the Upper Dauphin Area School District, said kids must get their doctors OK to play. “That is a PIAA regulation. Every student must get a physical no earlier than June 1 for the upcoming school year,” Laux said. “Concussions are another major issue. Every athlete who suffers a concussion must get cleared by a licensed physician in order to be eligible to play again.”