Where Have Our School Sports Gone?

Here’s my immediate disclaimer: I never in my life thought that I would be writing a sports blog. Sure, maybe a blog as a mom about the sports her kids play and how cute they looked while doing it, but never “covering” a sports topic. I grew up one of two sisters, with my dad watching NFL football (the New England Patriots, to be exact), but both my parents were involved with the sport of professional water skiing - hardly considered a “popular” sport in my time. I was “encouraged” to take part ion that sport (which all of my friends thought was super cool) until my “self-decided retirement” around age 14. My sister did play tennis for our high school, I danced and took part in musical theater and my mom was a local racquetball pro, but that… that’s the extent of growing up in sports. 

Now a big girl, my husband (who I will note played baseball through college) and I are raising two girls of our own - one a high school aged competitive cheerleader and the other a middle schooler who dances and, ironically like her aunt, also plays tennis for a local high school. I still don’t watch sports on the weekends and prefer the social aspect of going to SEC football games, rather than watching the actual plays. I don’t have a “favorite team,” unless I’m a guest in someone’s house or have been given super-fun game day tickets by friends (you know who you are - thank you!).

So there, I’ve pointed out the fact that I’m not an avid sports-goer, but I can’t help but notice the slow demise of number of participants in some of our local high school sports. Have you seen how many travel ball teams or competitive clubs that are now in our area? Club soccer, competitive cheerleading, travel baseball, softball basketball and volleyball… and many of the athletes are leaving their sport in high school to take part in these highly competitive (and often expensive) club teams.

This increase in club sports play offers children sometimes a more intensive training in the sport of their choice at a younger age than say a middle school or high school team. Playing in these clubs can offer an athlete a few more years of play time before heading off to a college team, which for most of these athletes is the goal. The coaching can sometimes be better (as clubs can offer former pro’s living locally without having to be a member of the school faculty) and the equipment (depending on the school funding) can also be better. But with these advantages for the child athlete, also comes, shall I say the word, disadvantages.

At what cost are we willing to sacrifice our children’s mental and physical states? Sure, I do believe personally it’s turned into a “keep up with the Jones’” mentality. If you don’t allow your child to start travel ball at age 10, how will he keep up with “Sammy” down the street? According to statistics, the number of injuries has also increased in recent years with the increase in club sports sports, and the amount of stress it’s put on not only the children but the parents as well. I think some club sports kids have started thinking of their sport more as a job and a requirement, than something that started to be a fun activity.

Personally, we’re a divided family when it comes to this subject. My high schooler decided not to try out for the school Varsity cheer team her junior or senior years (after cheering for middle school and then 9th and 10th grade) because of the time, training, and travel constraints of her competitive team. My eighth grader, though, plays tennis for the local high school team (tennis is not offered as a middle school sport in our district), and although takes part in club clinics outside of the Varsity season, does not compete with a club.

I can personally attest that the club training has been far more intensive, at least for cheerleading, than in high school (unlike what I can see other sports do have). If she wishes to compete with a squad in college, she will have that training, no doubt. But with all this training also comes a year round battle with injuries, exhaustion, and no “bodily rest time” that her doctors always suggest she needs to fully recover. There’s that “chicken and the egg” thing.

I’m realizing that what started as a mere observation in the decline of participation in school sports in our area of South Alabama (obviously, football not included here), could amount to a large conversation. So I ask, do you too see this happening? What are your thoughts as to why? And why do you allow your children to participate in club sports over school sports? Regardless of the choice your family makes, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Discussion now open…

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