Spring Sports

in Essential Ramblings

As the spring sports ramp up this weekend, I am having some thoughts back to a lecture I attended as part of the Rippowam Cisqua School Foundations of Education series a few months ago.  I am sure this won’t make me popular with some, but these are just some items to think about as you make your own family decisions over the next few weeks.

The presenter was Richard Ginsburg, Co-Director of the Massachusetts General Hospital PACES Institute of Sports Psychology, and faculty member of the Harvard Medical School, who shared his insights on how to get the most out of athletics.  Ginsburg is the co-author of Who’s Game is it Anyway?  if you are looking for a full read, or for a shorter intro piece check out this article on teaching kids to enjoy sports.

Some interesting take-aways I took note of follow below…

On college financial aide and athletics:

— Of those kids who play varsity athletics in high school, only approximately 5% go on to play in college.
— Less than 1% of those kids get a sports scholarship — with the average scholarship being $10,000.  Consider how much you spend on sports lessons, equipment and team fees each year.
— Academic performance is a better predictor of college acceptance than any after-school activities or sport.

On sport specialization and injuries at young ages:

— The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) claims that specialization in one sport can jeopardize the physical and emotional health of young athletes by exposing them to over-use injury, burnout, and stress, while undermining the benefits of varied physical activity.  Up to 50% of the injuries seen in pediatric sports medical clinics is due to overuse.
— Concussions: brains of younger athletes are more vulnerable to the effects of injury.  There is an increased likelihood of secondary concussions after getting one concussion.  Researchers have found links to depression, sleep privation, and a decrease in cognitive functioning that can cause short and long-term consequences. Read more about concussions from the American Academy of Pediatrics

A three step approach to judging your child’s athletic engagement:

1. Know your child.  Who are they, what is their age and what is appropriate for that age, what is their motivation and temperament.

2. Know yourself.  What is your motivation to have them play sports?  What were your childhood issues or fears?

3. Know your child’s environment.  Who is the coach, and what is their temperament and philosophy — do you agree with it?  When, how, and where does the sport fit into your lifestyle?  How does it affect you and your child and their schedule/homework/school days?  Does it fit?

And some hints on how to parent in sports effectively and with optimal health:

1. Use a 5:1 ratio of accurate praise — praise 5 times first to the 1 criticism

2. Avoid post-game criticism for 24 hours

3. Instead of “Did you win or score?” as your first question post game, ask “How was it?”

4. Kids are not mini-adults.  They should not be coached or judged as such.

5. Talent develops well into late teens — Michael Jordan was cut from basketball in tenth grade.  Consider your child and whether they are just not ready.

6. Make sure your child is the one who wants to play.  Is he/she happy going to practice? Happy after? Watch and listen.

7. Recognize when it’s time to step back from the game. Listen to what the coach is saying.

8. Be aware of the pressures that the coach is under too – respect their job and their opinions.  Especially those who are VOLUNTEERING!

9. FUN and JOY are the best predictors for success and long-term benefits.


So — that all said, enjoy your tennis star, your laxer, or your little pitcher — but try to keep it light, fun, and to the point.  Sports should be about exercise, getting outside, socializing on a team or any myriad of other healthy choices — if little Joey isn’t a star yet, give him some time and space to develop his interests, abilities, and grow.  If you burn them out at 5 you may have lost your chance for good. Have fun and enjoy those green fields!

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