By Mike Woitalla (Soccer America Magazine)
"Come on," yells the parent to the child, "you're gonna be late for unscheduled time." That's from an anecdote in Regan McMahon's book, "Revolution in the Bleachers: How Parents Can Take Back Family Life in a World Gone Crazy Over Youth Sports."
So structured have our children's lives become, parents have begun scheduling unscheduled time! McMahon cites a study indicating that, since 1981, American children’s unstructured outdoor activities have decreased by 50 percent. Their playtime has dropped by three hours per week. Also, since the late 1990s, American schools have made drastic cuts in recess and P.E. classes.
What is on the increase, dramatically, is participation in organized sports, particularly soccer, which emerged as a convenient substitute for P.E. and for the unsupervised neighborhood play that American parents believe is no longer a safe option. But then “parents and kids began to see soccer not just as weekend fun but also a ticket to a college scholarship or even a career path. Consequently, the excitement over soccer went from passionate to frenzied.”
Along came the explosion of elite clubs and the proliferation of competitive tournaments. Children are joining travel teams and specializing in a single sport at younger and younger ages.
"We all know the many benefits of youth sports," writes McMahon. "But as youth sports have escalated in intensity, competitiveness, time commitment and parent involvement, certain risks are beginning to surface as well, from overuse injuries, stress and depression to inappropriate sideline behavior and fractured family patterns."
McMahon asks and investigates the key questions, such as: What drives the proliferation of tournament play? Are children being asked to play year-round because professional coaches rely on year-round play to make a living? Are parents driving the craziness?
For sure, any parent attempting to navigate the organized sports landscape will find of great use the guide that McMahon has created to "bring balance back into their kids’ lives and reclaim family life apart from the kids' team activities."
(The article first appeared in the July issue of Soccer America Magazine).